Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Borderline ADHD?

The Question:

Dear Jane,

  I have a questions about ADHD. My 6 year old son, who has been diagnosed with "borderline ADHD" ( he doesn't meet all the criteria for full-blown ADHD) has been a great challenge for me and my husband. He doesn't handle transitions well, is very rigid at times, and is beginning to show anger and defiance toward us when we tell him what to do. The doctor said his brain is "wired" differently than most kids and will probably be ok, but I am worried. Do you have any advice or experience in this area?

Thanks so much-


The Answer:

Dear Felicia,

I haven't experienced ADHD in my family, but I have definitely worked with difficult children and teens.  Maybe because I only know one way to work with children, I've come to believe that a loving approach generally brings out the best in people--without exception.  You realize by now, that by "loving", I don't mean permissive.  I mean clear, consistent and firm.  But in a way that always communicates love.  In most cases that I've observed, anger comes when children feel dominated, forced and backed into a corner.  When they feel listened to, respected and securely loved, they almost always become more reasonable.  I understand that your son might have difficulty accepting limits. But he needs them and if you are clear and consistent and kind as you enforce them--giving generously in other areas (saying "yes" with a twinkle in your eye whenever you can) he will accept "no" more readily.  He is still young and in danger of being earmarked as "bad" and unlovable.
So, to me, the principles I advocate on this blog, completely apply with your son--maybe more so.  Between outbursts, during day to day life, work very hard on your relationship with him.  Discover his talents and learn to genuinely appreciate aspects of his personality.  Express love often--both in words and by holding him close to you.  Realize that because of his behavior problems, he may not have many people who smile at him and treat him warmly.  Let him see love in your eyes.   Help him over the bumps that other children seem to handle well on their own.  Just try to be on his side instead of being embarrassed by him.  Discover ways of working with him that really seem to hit the mark.  Pray for insight. 
You know that old saying about how nice it would be if kids came with a set of instructions.  Well, if I were to boil it down to step one and two, it would be--- love and teach---in that order.  When I feel loved I feel good.  When I feel good, I want to be good.  As my wise mother used to say, "a misbehaving child is a discouraged child".  That little piece of information gives us a map to follow.  
Finally, don't compare him with anyone ever.  Maybe his behavior will not be ideal by the world's standards and he might even be the worst kid in the class.  But stay focused on him and on his small improvements and praise his efforts however hard to see.   Be his fan and maybe sometimes, his only friend.
I believe we have the children we have for a reason.  Maybe we can best help them to grow. Maybe they can best help us to grow!  It's an amazing plan and if we step up to it, it will bring us joy.  This much I know.
All my love,


  1. I love this answer. A book that I have found to be very helpful with my son is "The Explosive Child" by Ross Greene. On the cover it says "A new approach for understanding and parenting easily frustrated, chronically inflexible children." That described my sweet boy to a T. The thing I love about the book is that it has helped me to be more sympathetic and understanding because it gives me insight into how he views the world. It has also given me some ideas on how to help him. I've only just finished reading it, but I see improvement in his behavior and my relationship with him already. Best wishes, I know it can be rough=)

  2. I know it can be really hard. We have had the same "problems" with our son. Our councelor told us to start out by giving our son 20 positives an hour: "I like your shirt", "You are so good at that", "You are such a kind friend"-he said not to make them long positives just a few seconds long-but often. Another thing is being patient. Changes don't come over night, and that helps me with my attitude towards it all. I agree with Jane-in the long run-it's the love that teaches.

    Good luck!!

  3. My oldest of five will be nine next week and he is extremely ADHD. Keeping his diet and environment super clean from chemicals helps bring him down to a more manageable level and less angry/impulsive. is the best place to go to learn more about that (totally non-profit and run by parent volunteers). I also felt very impressed during first grade that I needed to home school him, I never planned on taking that on, but it has really helped him and our relationship. He is able to excel academically with out the stressful social dive bomb experiences. And it helps keep him away from the more negative things that he is sooo attracted to. I hope that by surrounding him and filling his life with as much good as possible now that there isn't as much room for the bad. And that someday he will learn to choose/prefer the good for himself.
    Through this all I am learning that he is so much more sensitive to how people treat him than I ever imagined.

    Don't get me wrong, raising my son is the absolute hardest thing I have ever done in my life.
    But it is also the most refining thing I have ever done. I am so 'in the trenches' right now that sometimes I feel like I don't even have space to breathe. And I make mistakes ALL the time. But as I continue to turn to the Lord and the scriptures and give more of myself, I am strengthened and am learning more than I ever could in any other way. I have also learned to seriously LOVE the temple and go there often to recharge!

    One thing I tell my son when he misbehaves that seems to help him (not make him angry and feel picked on) is that I remind him that he is special and was sent to this earth for a purpose; to be a good big brother, learn the gospel, etc... (not hit his sister, yell, put holes in the wall, etc). I need him to be the team captain and a leader. This usually appeals to his higher ideals. He still seems unable to control himself and will do the exact same thing again, but I feel that any time I deal with his misbehavior that doesn't result in either of us getting angry/frustrated is a success!
    One thing I am also learning is how much my husband is guided by how I interact with our son. If I feel he is a burden and get put-out about the chaos, so does my husband. If I act totally lovingly willing to go the second mile, then my husband is willing to as well. ADHD can be extremely taxing on your marriage, but it can also bring you closer together as you both work together to help this special spirit you have been blessed with.
    I sincerely wish you the best and hope you can embrace these intense years of learning and growth as part of your Heavenly Father's individualized mortal experience for family. The hyperactivity won't last forever (they say it mellows out at about 12), but your son will and all his childhood memories will be of how people treated him, regardless of how he behaved.

  4. Thank you for this remarkable insight. I also have a difficult, rambunctious child who is full of energy but also full of so much personality and spunk and so many talents that often get overlooked by others because of his wild behavior. Oftentimes I am judged as a parent no matter how hard I try to be firm with him and teach him how to behave, so then - at least in the past - I have felt pressure to overshoot it and yell at him in public when he is acting up just as a desperate attempt to show others that I am trying to be in control... I have long since learned this does no good for anybody, especially not my child. The fact of the matter is, all kids are different, but they do have one very important thing in common - the very thing you touched upon - they all crave love and understanding. They want to be taught. Your words bring insight and warmth to my mommy heart. Thank you!

  5. Hey Felicia!

    I just have to throw a suggestion out littlest brother is 14 years younger than me, and when he was little we could tell there was something different about him. When he started going to school at age 5, the teachers and counselors all suspected that he was "borderline ADHD," just like you say. But treating it as such did not help very much and it was very frustrating for our family for a while. Finally when he was 7 he saw a specialist who correctly diagnosed him as having Asperger's. My family has spent a long time (he is 12 now) learning about it and applying the things we've learned to how we deal with him, and it has made a DRAMATIC difference. So, obviously, I'm no expert, and maybe I'm way off here. I was just reminded of it by what you said about "borderline ADHD" and the fact that your son has difficulty with transitions--which is a major part of Asperger's. It couldn't hurt to give it a quick google online and see if your son matches up with more of the characteristics. Catching it early and learning to live with and appreciate it at a young age makes a WORLD of difference for everyone involved. Good luck! I hope you guys can figure it out!

  6. I'm trying hard to remember all of this good advice for when I have kids. I'm just glad I can look in the archives. You are great, I love your blog.

  7. My two oldest boys have ADHD. Both diagnoses were very difficult to receive, but at the same time, I felt such relief that we could get some help and guidance.

    I have studied and done my own personal research. I checked out a lot of books from the library until I felt like I had gained a better understanding of what ADHD is. It is very easy to be confused because there is a lot of misinformation about it. And the stigma about ADHD and its diagnosis is very real. But as I can tell you, unless you have a child with it, you don't really realize what it is like living with an ADHD child.

    Here are some things we've done to adjust and help our kids and homelife.
    1. I have a very strict after-school schedule. I don't schedule activities: just homework, t.v. time, play time, dinner, and family time. I have a chart and we stick to it. When I stray from the chart, my kids all complain and it creates stress and chaos. ADHD kids desparately need structure.
    2. I have been reading the book, The 5 Love Languages of Children by Gary Chapman. This book has been enormously helpful in dealing with my boys. I love them very much, but many of our interactions are negative as we deal with the ADHD behaviors. This book has helped me work on transforming our negative interactions into positive, loving ones.
    3. Consider medication. I suppose this may get me flamed or be unpopular. But I firmly believe you must know all your options. When my oldest son was diagnosed, both my husband and I felt that what our son needed most was more structure and concentrated behavior modification. My son is doing well under this system and has thrived. He gets great grades is an overall fantastic kid. My second son, is all over the place. When he received his diagnosis, I knew that what we had done for my oldest wouldn't be enough for this child. With a lot of discussion with my doctor and research and study on my part, we decided to use medication. I cannot believe the difference it has made for him. I am profoundly grateful for it because it has literally changed his life. Do not listen to the naysayers about medication. Only you and your husband and your doctor can make the right decision about medication. Do your homework, pray about it and you'll come to the right decision. That may or may not be medication. But whatever you decide, you will know that you have made the right choice.
    4. Remember that Heavenly Father is on your side and wants your child to grow up well and happy. Pray often for advice about what to do specifically about your child. I have received many answers that have helped me tremendously.
    5. Don't be afraid to grieve. My husband and I were so sad at first when we realized that something was wrong with our boys. It was hard. And we also felt like we had failed our boys. Now, after living with this for almost 3 years, I can say that we are all in a much better place. I don't feel like my boys are broken. They are fabulous boys with enormous potential. But recognizing ADHD for what it is, I am giving them all the tools they need to succeed and have happy lives.


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