Enhancing Self Esteem of Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) display very low self esteem. Their sense of self efficacy is limited and they begin to berate themselves. They also perceive themselves as failures due to adopting an attitude of learned helplessness. As parents, it is our responsibility not to let this happen and work with children in such a way that they do not put themselves down. Parents need to transform symptoms of ADHD into their children’s strength. Children with ADHD demonstrate symptoms like short attention span, spaciness, distractibility, aggression, and defiance. However, it is important to treat this disorder as symptoms and not as illness then only we can take charge of the situation. It is possible to alter the problems in the child’s life, improve his focus, attention, and capacity to learn. If we contend to the belief that it is an illness of the brain via faulty genetics and imbalanced neurochemistry, then parents will have no choice but to medicate the child and not make any effort to transform their symptoms into strengths so that they can function better. Young brain can grow, adapt and change in response to its environment. There are many facets of ADHD but here we will focus on self esteem aspect of the disorder and what parents can do to improve the self esteem of their children.

A child with good self esteem does not consider himself or herself as inferior or superior to others. It is essential that the child develops a realistic and positive self esteem in order to transform the symptoms of ADHD into strengths. Children with ADHD receive so much negative criticism from others that they begin to undermine their potential and develop low self esteem. They compare themselves with other children who are more successful and begin to berate themselves. This leads to behavioral disturbances, academic and social dysfunctions as well, which look a lot like ADHD. This dynamic can create a vicious cycle. The traits of ADHD lead to low self esteem, which causes increased severity of the traits and this further lowers the self esteem.

Children with ADHD are at risk for giving up and thus making their symptoms worse and reducing their sense of self efficacy. Self efficacy reflects beliefs about the child’s ability to make changes in life. If the child believes that he can work harder in order to succeed, learn social skills, and make friends, he will work harder and do better. The opposite of self efficacy is learned helplessness when the child believes that his efforts will not bring any positive outcome so why bother? Parents need to instill a belief in their children that the child can create and change his reality. Encourage them not to give up and believe in themselves. Parents can start by reframing the symptoms of ADHD into positive traits.  It is also important to reward efforts. If the child learns to reward himself, his persistence will increase. Reward your child for his efforts at improving school work, relationships with others, and behavior. Verbal praise and concrete rewards help the child make associations with the good behavior and rewarding experiences. Bad behaviors eventually fade out and child repeats the behaviors which bring reward to him. Rewards could be goodies that a child likes in form of a snack, a dinner at his favorite restaurant, or a trip to park. Children like to play games and they learn from them easier. The more creative you are in games, the more success you will have in eliciting their cooperation. Children have very vivid imagination and fantasy. When you play pretend games with them at their level, you will engage your child’s attention and produce better outcomes. The fun you will have with them will also help in enhancing the bond between the child and you.

Try to be your child’s advocate. When you support your children and they think that you are on their side, they improve their behavior. When they get support from you, their negative feelings of anger, sadness and hostility fade away. This also helps in building their self esteem. As you demonstrate that you are your child’s advocate, your child will internalize the ability to reframe her self-understanding in positive ways. This ability will also improve the self esteem of the child. The child will learn to sooth and also begin to stand for him or herself. This will also help the child in creating positive mood states and change the internal state in the face of criticism.

As parents you need to remember that your child’s symptoms of spaciness, distractibility, and impulsiveness are essential attributes for promoting creativity. Creativity requires reframing of old thinking; openness provides a larger frame for seeing a big picture, allowing for space to solve big problems. Children with ADHD who have been labeled as spacey often have the capacity to solve problems created by rigid modes of thinking. Daydreaming is essentially the process of engaging the imagination. Daydreaming can increase social and emotional intelligence. Children with ADHD are deeply engaged with their class room material in creative and novel ways. As parents, it is important to encourage the child’s creativity.

Children with ADHD also display impulsiveness, which is defined as an urge to do things or think things that are new and daring. It is also the urge to forge ahead into new areas of thought and includes a tendency to be bored with whatever everyone else is doing or thinking. As parents, you need to reframe the concept of impulsivity and see the positive aspect of it. When you encourage your child to become more creative, they feel enthusiastic to create new inventions and transform their impulsivity into creativity. When they are able to have some successful experiences, it automatically boosts their self esteem.

Distractibility is another trait characterizes a child with ADHD. Distractibility is the tendency to shift one’s attention to thoughts, feelings, or events in the environment. It is also an essential aspect of creativity. When the child tends to assimilate ideas from apparently different and separate domains at a given moment, it is called the manifestation of distractibility.  Another word for distractibility is flexibility which also helps in generating innovation and new ideas. As parents you might want to perceive the child’s distractibility as asset and help them transform this trait in to strength. When a child begins to make new discoveries, they feel good about themselves and it helps boost their self esteem.

Children with ADHD might appear like they are goofing off but it does not mean giving up. Creativity requires goofing off, experimentation, and trying out new ideas then adjusting them to see what makes more sense and what is more fun. When your child is distracted, he might be creating new ideas and imagining fun things. It does not mean that the child gave up. When we reframe these behaviors, we can help the child’s wild energy to be channeled into creativity. This will also help in building up the child’s self esteem.

Children with ADHD often appear to be confused when called on or when participating in classroom exercises. This might give an impression that the child is not paying attention in the classroom. It may make him look like less intelligent and also can provoke harsh comments from the teacher. However, this sense of confusion can be reframed as reflecting a higher intellectual sophistication, because it could be the outcome of an appreciation of the deeper complexity of the topic. Confusion can represent an experience of the mystery of what is being taught. Confusion, although is essential to creativity, has a negative connotation. The cultural demands overlook the value of being slow and uncomprehending. If we think that we have only one answer then we are not open to exploring other ways of perceiving the world, situation, and events. As parents, when you appreciate your children’s confusion and assist them in exploring new ways of seeing these events, you will assist them in coping and not feel so bad about their disorder. You will encourage their creativity and thus enhance their self esteem. Give praise to your child for their creativity. Tell them that they have an ability to think and act in ways that are outside the box. When your child questions the way things are done and finds ways of doing things differently, it makes them more open and creative. When you give them a message that you appreciate their creativity they feel good about themselves. Also try to encourage them to have a good balance of creativity and also have respect for other people. Often children with ADHD are less tolerant and appear disrespectful to others. As parents you need to be good role model and encourage the value of respect. When they give respect to others, they get positive feedback from others and this helps in building their self esteem, as well.

In this way, we see that symptoms of ADHD can be transformed into strengths by practice of reframing, communicating, and problem solving with your child. By showing your patience and frustration tolerance, you will be demonstrating respect for them. As you change your perceptions, you will also make a dent in your child’s perception about the self. You will be on your way to transforming your child’s problems into strengths.
Hypnosis can also help children deal with ADHD symptoms. Please visit our Blossom Hypnotherapy page to learn how hypnosis can help reduce symptoms of Anxiety disorders.

Reference:  The Gift of ADHD. How to Transform your Child’s Problems into Strengths by Lara Honos-Webb, Ph.D


  1. […] Enhancing Self-Esteem of Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder It’s not unusual for a child with ADHD to compare himself to his classmates. These comparisons can make him feel poorly, so it’s important to learn what you can do to change those feelings. […]

    May 31, 2013
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