My first son was pretty close to being the most compliant child ever. When he went to school he completed his homework and always had good grades. He did get in trouble once in the second grade for rolling his eyes during a lesson but he dutifully wrote an apology letter to the teacher. He is currently in a training program to become an officer in the United States Marines which requires adherence to high standards. I raised a very compliant young man.
Nicholas didn’t qualify for the ROTC scholarship on early admission because his fitness scores were too low. He was told he had three weeks to improve them. He focused on his fitness and when he returned to the committee he had the highest scores in the state that year by a pretty good margin. I raised a remarkably focused young man.
I knew that Nicholas’s success had a lot to do with his diligence and focus and the fact that compliance wasn’t difficult for him. Imagine my dismay when my next son entered preschool and I began to receive daily phone calls from the school about incidents of him running away, throwing things, displaying violent outbursts, etc. The ability to comply with rules and focus that had come so easily to one son completely eluded the other.
Even worse, nothing I did or said would make him stop. I tried everything and spent hours pleading with Jason to “just behave”. He would tell me that he wanted to be good but then hang his head and say that sometimes he couldn’t make himself calm down. It would take me years to understand that my little boy had been clearly telling me what the “problem” was all along.
When a teacher calls a parent of a child with ADHD, trust me, theirs is not the first phone call. The parents already know that their child is not focused and compliant in class and this has probably been concerning them for a while. Most people have more than one child and the parent that you’re calling might be very good at raising children with those admirable traits. I was but when it came to Jason I didn’t know what to do. Neither my experience as a mother, nor my master's degree in education, nor having been a teacher prepared me to support Jason in being successful in school. Like many other parents of children with ADHD, I was scared for my child’s future and felt helpless and ashamed of his behavior.
Educators have an opportunity to have a long-lasting impact by opening a dialogue about how to provide support and to scaffold academic skills. Parents are looking for “solutions”. They also have valuable knowledge about their child's interests, likes/dislikes, experiences, etc. Investing time in creating a strong working relationship with parents leads to collaboration and discussions about options for supporting the child. When parents and educators come together the child now has a team of the adults closest to them in their corner.
A powerful next step is asking children for their input. Children want to succeed and to please their parents and teachers. My younger son felt very badly about not being able to measure up to his brother’s conduct in school. He received a lot of negative feedback and messages from adults in his life for his inability to be compliant and focus. We can view this struggle as an opportunity to begin teaching self-advocacy skills. They know better than anyone what they’re feeling and where they need support. We can learn from children with ADHD when we start to ask questions.
Students become our greatest teachers if we listen. As interesting as we think our lessons can be, a student might be throwing pencils every day during a writing lesson because they really struggle to focus which causes them to feel overwhelmed. What if our ADHDers can show us new ways of teaching and learning that raise engagement and achievement for everyone?
When we begin to have conversations that are collaborative and empowering rather than punitive we stop negatively affecting the self-efficacy of parents and the self-esteem of children. Instead of excluding a child and a parent's insights by making assumptions about them, we have the choice to listen. Rather than calling them with a list of complaints, consider discussing observations and asking them to collaborate with you. Listening with an open heart and mind is the first step in implementing meaningful support.
Nicole Biscotti is a mother, educator, and author who hopes to spark conversations through her writing. She’s originally from New York City but currently lives in Arizona near the Mexican border.
Please also follow her on Twitter @BiscottiNicole or Instagram @nicole.biscotti
“I Can Learn When I’m Moving: Going to School with ADHD”, a book written with her 9-year-old son, will be available in early 2021 through EduMatch Publishing. This book provides insight & strategies for everyone interested in the education of our youth with ADHD.