I was at my wits end by the time my oldest daughter entered seventh grade—she seemed to be struggling to stay afloat. She was more focused on her social life and sports than school, and when I saw her grades suffer, I became worried and unsure what to do. I’d check the parent portal weekly to see how she was doing in her classes, and found that her grades were erratic. I noticed she was late from her carpool more often than before, and she couldn’t stay organized as the demands on her grew. Her teachers said she was an average student and doing fine, but my mother’s intuition told me otherwise. I shared my concerns with a close friend who had older kids. She told me, “She may have ADD. You might want to consider getting her tested.”
I immediately resisted the idea. My child couldn’t have ADD and if she did, I wasn’t going to put her on medication. I wasn’t going to be one of those parents. As the school year went on and her grades continued to suffer, I decided I needed to face this issue head on.
One spring day, I tried a more compassionate approach. On our way to volleyball practice, I asked, “I’m concerned about your school work. Your test scores seem to be erratic. What do you think the problems is?”
She sat in the passenger seat, silent, her head hung low, “I don’t know.”
I went on, “I want you to be honest with me. I promise you won’t get in trouble. I’m concerned and want to help you.”
I could see her guard coming down as she looked at me. “Mom, sometimes I study for a test and I do well on it and other times I study the same amount and I fail it, so I’ve stopped trying because it doesn’t seem to matter anymore.”
Sirens went off in my head as her response sank in. I tried to hide my concern. I didn’t want my thirteen-year-old to stop trying. I quickly let go of the shame and stigma I’d felt about having a child with ADD and asked my friend for a referral to a professional. I wanted to get my daughter tested and I needed to better understand what we were dealing with so I could get her the help she needed to be successful in school. I hadn’t been a great student when I was young, and probably struggled with ADD. I wanted to help my daughter to have an easier time than I did. My husband agreed, and we had her tested by a Ph.D. who specialized in testing kids for ADD.
Sure enough, ADD turned out to be her diagnosis along with a mild learning disability. Our parenting challenges with her ADD didn’t stop there. It took time to get her accommodations for her disability in school. Medication wasn’t a magic pill, but it did help when she’d take it. In the beginning, she didn’t like the way it made her feel. We coupled the medication with some cognitive behavior therapy and changed our approach at home. I stopped hounding her about her grades and encouraged my husband to do the same. I began asking to see her effort in each subject. I figured when a teacher or future boss saw her trying, they’d be more understanding and willing to help her, like I was as her parent. She was a B and C student and when she gave each subject her best effort, her grades started improving, and her self-confidence returned.
After reading more about ADD, I changed the way I viewed her struggles. I stopped getting upset when she couldn’t finish a task or didn’t do well on a test. Instead I asked, “What support do you need to feel successful?” That didn’t mean I would do her homework or her chores, but I did provide her with the support so she could finish her homework and get more organized. She would leave her phone in the other room when she did her homework and I allowed her to get up every half hour to check it. She started picking out her outfits in the evenings, and I made sure her backpack was ready for school then too. I’d reward her effort when her report card came in at the end of the semester with something reasonable that she wanted as long as I saw consistent effort. When she began seeing better results in her classes, she realized her effort was making a difference. She gained control over her life, and her self-esteem rose.
My oldest daughter made it through high school and college, and is now gainfully employed and off our payroll. My advice for those parents who find themselves in similar situations—let go of your fears about what your child’s struggles mean for you. Don’t make their challenges personal. Focus on how you can help your child be the best version of themselves by utilizing the resources available, like the South Bay Families Connected website or ask a trusted friend for a referral. We don’t think twice about asking a mechanic to fix our cars when they break down, and we shouldn’t think twice about getting professional help when we think our kids need it. I’ve never regretted turning to professionals in a time of need and I truly believe it’s one of the best gifts I ever gave my daughter.
By: Laurie James
About Laurie: Laurie James grew up in a suburb outside Los Angeles, raised her children in Manhattan Beach, and currently lives in Hermosa Beach. She stayed home to raise her four daughters after graduating from college and leaving her career as a corporate recruiter. She has given back to her community through a wide range of volunteer positions within MBUSD. She was a docent for Growing Great and Grades of Green and was on the board of the MBMS PTA. She is currently writing her first book and pursuing her passion of helping children and families through volunteering her time to South Bay Families Connected and Manhattan Beach Mayor’s Youth Council.
Resources recommended by Laurie:
Thomas Brown. Ph.D. Attention Deficit Disorder: The Unfocused Mind in Children and Adults
www.help4adhd.org - CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) The National Resource on ADHD