It's Not Your Fault: How to Relieve Guilt About Your Child's ADHD


As the parent of an ADHD child, you may be plagued with feelings of guilt for many reasons. Let go of those guilty feelings and use these self-care strategies to help you stay positive as you parent your ADHD child.

The Roots of Guilt

To relieve any guilt you may feel about your child's ADHD, you must first recognize the roots of your guilt. Everyone feels guilty from time to time - maybe because they believe they've done something wrong, or failed to achieve what they set out to do.

Guilt about ADHD largely stems from your desire to give your child the best life possible; it's painful to watch him or her struggle. Moreover, as a parent, you may often feel that you're somehow responsible for his or her struggles.

There are two primary sources of guilt for the parent of an ADHD child: heredity and parenting. You may even suffer from the guilt of wishful thinking, which we'll also explore.

Guilt & Inherited Traits

If you have ADHD yourself, you may be feeling guilty about having passed your ADHD genes onto your child. And even if you don't have ADHD, you might still believe that there's something in your genes…or perhaps some lifestyle factor…through which you inadvertently caused your child's ADHD.

Remember, the same genes that ''gave'' your child ADHD also gave him or her a bright smile, an irresistible laugh, a beautiful singing voice, or a gift for learning languages. ADHD is a trait and may have a genetic basis, but it's not all bad: ADHD can also mean having a quick wit, seeing connections that others do not, or being extraordinarily creative.

Guilt over having an ADHD child should be tempered with acknowledgment of other gifts you have given them.
All children inherit characteristics that can make their lives easier, or more challenging. Even parents who are not biologically related can still pass on character traits, behavioral patterns, and attitudes toward life.

ADHD, for all that it can affect your child's life in myriad ways, is not the sum total of every trait you've given your child. Not all of them should be perceived as negative, and they're certainly not the basis for your relationship with your child.

Guilt & Parenting Techniques

Guilt over the traits you passed onto your child may not be bothering you at all. Instead, you may be second-guessing yourself about the everyday parenting decisions you must make while raising your ADHD child, including those related to discipline and medication.

ADHD & Discipline

Do you feel guilty about having to correct your ADHD child for acting out? After all, ADHD can make children prone to hyperactivity or impulsiveness.

Let yourself off the hook: If you did not impose discipline, your child's life would ultimately be harder. While ADHD causes certain behavioral tendencies, it is not a license for outrageous behavior. As long as the discipline is accompanied by compassion, your child will not feel ''punished'' for having ADHD.

ADHD & Medication

Are you feeling guilty about medicating your child for ADHD, especially when considering side effects like poor appetite? Do you feel judged by other parents, who mistakenly believe that the decision to medicate your child is one that comes easily?

While medication has its benefits, it also has side effects. Your child's medication may enable classroom behavior that facilitates learning—yet it might also cause headaches or disrupt sleep.

If you feel that a medication is truly not a good fit for your child, work with your child's physician to find alternatives, like using a different drug or modified dosing schedule. Explore lifestyle changes that could also have a positive impact on your child's ADHD.

If your child is old enough, discuss your concerns in an age-appropriate way. The goal here is not to burden your child with worry. Bear in mind that your child is intimately familiar with a medication's effects. Ask open-ended questions to discover which side effects your child might be experiencing.

You may also find that your child already has some concerns. This discussion will give your child a chance to express them and may actually relieve some of his or her worries.

ADHD & Family Dynamics

Your child's ADHD may lead the two of you to share more one-on-one time together, leaving your other children feeling left out or even resentful of the attention and time spent helping the ADHD sibling with homework and organization, or attending parent-teacher conferences. To avoid feeling guilty about the time you devote to their ADHD sibling, try to spend time with each of your children individually.

Find some activities that you and your other children can enjoy together.
For example, ask relatives and friends for help. Make a point of finding something unique to share with each of your children: an ongoing leisure project, or a mutual interest held by just the two of you.

However, don't use the special time with your other children to discuss their ADHD sibling. Resist the temptation to say things like, ''You're so lucky you don't have to deal with ADHD like your brother does,'' or ''I know I spend a lot more time with your sister than I do with you, but she has ADHD and it makes her life a lot harder.'' Such statements will simply foster resentment toward the ADHD sibling. They'll also reinforce the idea that all you care about is managing your other child's ADHD.

Also, refrain from asking your non-ADHD children for extra help with their ADHD sibling. Again, this could make your other children more resentful of both the ADHD sibling and the time you spend with that child.

You may also find that ADHD-related stress impacts your relationship with your spouse or partner; again, enlist the help of family and friends so you can carve out some time for just the two of you. Work together to find ways you can overcome the stress and support each other while parenting an ADHD child.

Guilt & Wishful Thinking

When you see your ADHD child trying his or her hardest to concentrate, meet deadlines for schoolwork, or even just keep a clean room, you may be struck by how much less difficult these activities are for non-ADHD peers and siblings. Since you're protective of your child, you wish with all your heart that you could shield him or her from the challenges and disappointments that life with ADHD can bring.

You may feel guilty if you wish that your child did not have ADHD.
You may sometimes wish that your child did not have ADHD at all, even with its potentially positive aspects. And that wish can lead to more guilt, because you feel you're not fully accepting of your child.

Don't feel guilty about these types of thoughts. Most ADHD parents engage in similar thoughts when faced with a difficult situation. Just remember to use discretion and avoid saying anything that would hurt your child's feelings. What matters is the love and acceptance you show your child.

Refocus Your Thoughts

Focus on building your ADHD child's self-esteem. If you're teaching your child self-respect and self-love, and not dwelling on ADHD, you can forgive yourself the occasional wish that ADHD weren't a part of your lives.

Finding Support

Parents of ADHD children often experience many of the same feelings of guilt. If you're finding it difficult to allay your own feelings of guilt, you may find it helpful to reach out to other parents who share your struggles.

Parent Groups

If you like to discuss things in person, there are local support groups for parents of ADHD children that you can attend. You may find yourself feeling much less guilty as you realize how many other parents deal with the same issues.

One-On-One Counseling

If you don't care for group settings, you may find one-on-one counseling more helpful. Look for a family counselor who specializes in ADHD. Even if you're attending counseling sessions alone, or with your child's other parent, a trained family counselor can help you understand the dynamics of the family unit. Your spiritual advisor may also help you acquire the perspective you need to alleviate the guilt you feel.

Online Resources

If you don't have the time or the inclination to attend support groups or counseling, consider using online resources. Virtual ADHD discussion groups can help you understand that you're part of a large group of parents who have the same concerns, and give you the opportunity to ask questions and develop a support network.

Whether you find support online or in person, don

Whether you find help in person or online, the bottom line is this: Don't be alone in your struggles. As a responsible parent, you need to manage your own feelings of guilt and the stress they impose on you. When you deal with these stresses in a healthy way, you'll be much less likely to do or say something that you may regret. And you'll be able to better support not only your ADHD child but also your whole family.

Turn Guilt into Giving

If you were on an airplane with your child and the cabin suddenly depressurized, you'd need to apply your own oxygen mask first, so you could breathe and tend to your child's needs. Without that oxygen, you probably couldn't help your child.

Letting go of the guilt associated with parenting an ADHD child is like breathing fresh oxygen. It gives you the strength and energy you need to help your child better cope with all the challenges ADHD can bring.

As long as you accept and nurture your child, forgive yourself for any perceived faults or failings. Guilt will only get in the way of the love and patience you need to show both yourself and your ADHD child.

By Michelle Baumgartner
December 2017
k-12 parenting tips & tricks

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