Building Confidence and Self Esteem in ADHD children

Building Self Esteem in ADHD Kids Print

Building Self Esteem in ADHD KidsImpulsivity and poor attention span worsen in children and teens with ADHD who suffer from poor confidence and poor self-esteem.

Just ask any seasoned grade-school teacher-Impulsive and inattentive ADHD children usually have anger-frustration issues and often suffer social problems and make poor grades due to lack of confidence and the poor self-esteem that goes with it.

This observation is so important that my friend James Sutton, the renowned child psychologist goes so far as to say; “a low tolerance for frustration is almost always a tip-off to low self-esteem.”

Unfortunately, many parents and teachers tend to think of confidence and self-esteem as one in the same. While confidence is an integral part of building self-esteem, being confident that you can do something or confident that you can be somebody does not guarantee success in building a positive personal self-image.

For a child with ADHD, or without ADHD, to build confidence in doing something; it’s necessary for them to take a risk and face the possibility of failure as a result of taking that risk. As they successfully face and “defeat” each risk, they build increasing levels of confidence and take little steps toward building self-esteem.  With repeated success in achieving the same level of risk over and over and then going just a little beyond -they have won-they are confident in their new found skill and will have “that ah ha moment”-the moment where they realize I can do this and I’m good at it. It’s at this point that self-esteem reaches fruition and becomes a part of their emotional well-being.

Self-esteem is built on bigger and bigger blocks of confidence gained from challenges encountered and successfully conquered time and time again.

As a ten-year old, I had many friends who were just like Tarzan-they climbed trees with ease and swung from limb to limb just like Cheetah-but not me. I had a cautious fear of heights. I could make it about six feet off the ground before I either froze in place or fell to the ground.

One afternoon, my father was watching as I fell one more time, landing firmly on my buttocks. Of course, he asked if I was OK, but to my surprise also asked if I really wanted to climb that tree or was I just fooling around.

Of course, I wanted to climb that tree-all of my friends were making fun at me for not being able to do so. Daddy knew that hurt-that I would never be accepted by my friends if I couldn’t keep up with them. So, he got out several scraps of lumber, a handsaw, a hammer and pounds of nails and showed me how to cut and mount steps so that I could easily reach the bottom limb and get back down without fear of falling.

After climbing those steps to that lower limb a couple of dozen times and not falling-not freezing up, I finally swung out on the limb and sat for a while. Each time I did so, I gained confidence that I could do so without getting hurt or embarrassing myself-something I dreaded much more than getting hurt. (Ironically, a broken arm would have been more preferable, because my friends would have seen that as a “what-a-go” badge of honor.”)

Daddy and I eventually build a platform tree-house on the largest limb just above the reach of the last step and as I became comfortable at that height, my confidence continued to build. Keep in mind that each of my successes helped me in building self-esteem, but I had yet to reach “that ah ha moment”-that self-realization-recognition as a person of value moment-because I wasn’t performing at the level of my friends yet and it would not be viewed in their eyes or in mine that I had accomplished anything.

Remember, as far as I’m concerned, the process of building confidence is sort of like taking a journey a few steps at a time, not a sudden or all-or-none event.

I’m sure you can guess what happened in my confidence building journey-within two weeks of Daddy helping me build those steps and that tree platform, I was climbing to the highest limb in that forty-five foot tree.  And more importantly, was climbing down with no fear and more importantly, none of that embarrassing freezing in place-holding on for dear life.

In fact, by the time I invited my friends over to see my climbing tree, I didn’t even need the steps to shimmy up the bottom ten feet to the first limb. And…I could climb to the top faster and more efficiently than any of them. My journey to this part of my self-esteem was complete when one of them said; “Wow-you can really climb fast and go high… and you don’t get scared!” It’s at that point that I realized “I did and could” and was confident that I could do so over and over-without being frustrated or embarrassed. I think that was when my “ah ha moment” happened and boy did it feel good.

Did my daddy know what he was doing? I’m sure of it. He knew that in order to develop self-esteem I had:

  • To overcome some type of fear-a frustrating obstacle or event
  • To confront and defeat that fear over and over until the fear was essentially gone
  • To gain confidence that I could defeat the task or fear in the future without question
  • To achieve something just a little bigger-better-greater than my friends because if all I did was achieve the same thing or same skill level, then I wasn’t so special-I was just another one of the guys!
  • To realize my value to others during the course of finding my own self-worth while building confidence and self- esteem.

Just like ancient Rome, confidence and self-esteem cannot be built in a day! Building confidence and self-esteem in a child with ADHD often requires weeks, months or years. I only became confident in my ability to perform surgery after working for several years with several seasoned-experienced surgeons.

Dr. Frank

Here are a few previous articles you might find of help in dealing with poor self-esteem in ADHD children:

Parenting Style Can Cause ADHD Behavior in Children

Principles of Good Discipline in Children and Teens with ADHD

Behavior in ADHD Children Often Based on Perception

How to Talk To Your Kids So They Will Listen


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