First Person

10 tips for parents of kids with ADHD

By Ben Glenn

When a child is diagnosed and labeled with any kind of disorder, this can be just as hard on the parent as it is on the child. As a parent, I know first-hand that there are few things as frustrating, scary and unwelcome as the news that something is wrong with my kid.

Now that I’m a parent, I really feel for my parents. They had it rough with me from the get go.

Photo credit: Polina Osherov

I decided to come into the world a full two months early and was stuck in an incubator in the hospital for weeks hooked up to all kinds of tubes and wires. After getting released from the hospital, I continued to struggle with asthma.

When I was diagnosed with a learning disability in the third grade, I’m sure my parents were wondering what else was going to go wrong with me. Between trying to put food on the table and keeping up with three active boys, my parents had their hands full and the last thing they needed or wanted was a “special needs” child.

Looking back, I know that my parents did the best they could for me. My mom in particular encouraged me and took an interest in my schooling, but both her and my dad knew very little, if anything about learning disabilities and absolutely nothing about ADD/ADHD. In 1981, when I was put into the special ed classroom, ADD had been known as ADD for just one year, renamed as it was from the completely confusing “Hyperkinetic Disorder of Childhood.” I was not physically hyperactive, so my ADD remained unrecognized until I was an adult, but I spent my school years with my brain racing, my attention wandering and my productivity severely impaired. It was all blamed on my LD, but deep down I knew there was more to it.

Thankfully, now, resources are plentiful and accessible, so you must get actively involved in your child’s quest to manage their ADD/ADHD.

Tips for parents

  • Read everything you can get your hands on about ADD/ADHD. Educate yourself first and foremost. Know what options, rights and opportunities your child has open to her. Also, get out and meet and network with parents of other ADD/ADHD children. It can be a wonderful and uplifting experience to be around people who know what you’re going through and other parents can be a great source of ideas and information to help you help your child.
    • Make yourself available to share with your child what you know about ADD/ADHD. (You need to be sensitive in your approach based on your chiId’s age and personality. For example, a younger child may need for you to take the initiative to sit down and have “a talk,” ‘whereas a teenager may need more “space” and you should wait for them to come to you to have the conversation). Don’t sugar coat or omit important information, but also, don’t scare them or over-dramatize. The idea is to give your child a sense of control by providing relevant information that will help demystify their diagnosis and prevent their over-active imaginations from going wild.
    • Examine your own attitude towards ADD/ADHD and how you now view your child. Are you disappointed? Scared? Angry? Take the time to be aware of any negative feelings and to figure out why you feel the way you do. I know this sounds all touchy feely, but the truth is unless you understand what’s going through your own mind, you won’t be able to offer your child the Ievel of support and encouragement that he needs in order to successfully bring his ADD/ADHD under control. Set aside any expectations and ambitions you may have had for your son or daughter and encourage them to pursue those interests where they show the greatest aptitude and giftedness…even if they are non-traditional or unorthodox.
      • Pay particular attention to your child’s self-esteem and work hard lo boost it at every turn. Praise her when she succeeds at even the smallest thing. Remember that ADDers love praise and thrive on recognition. It may be very hard to find praise-worthy things about her, but you must try. This is crucial.
      • Involve your child in any decision-making you can. Anything from what brand cookies to buy at the supermarket to the best place in the house for him to do homework. Kids generally feel like they have no say in anything anyway; A diagnosis of any perceived disability will only convince him further that his life is completely out of his control. This may lead to an attitude of apathy, causing your offspring to use the word “whatever,” far more frequently than you can handle. Offering opportunities to make decisions (and then live with the consequences of those decisions), should help him begin to gain a sense of ownership and control over his life.
      • If the “techniques” and “strategies” you have been using to help your child are not working, don’t be afraid to try something different. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that because your child is the one with the challenge that she should be the one to make changes in her behavior, but this is counter productive thinking. It’s up to the adults to be creative and think outside the box. Sometimes only after we make changes in our attitudes and behaviors can we open the door for our child to respond in a positive way.
      • Create a fun reward system. Along with generous praise, kids with ADD/ADHD are motivated and respond very well to tangible displays of frequent appreciation.
      • The parent with the best organizational abilities should partner up with their child to help them set realistic goals in any and all areas of their life. Breakdown big tasks into small chunks and celebrate the completion of every stage of the project. Consistency in doing this will give your child an opportunity to experience and savor the feeling of “success” and accomplishment. That is a reward in itself and will serve to motivate him to continue setting goals.
      • Watch what you say to your chiId and how you say it. Become aware of your tone and facial expressions when speaking with her. ADDers are notoriously sensitive and perceptive – they will pick up on the smallest nuances of negativity or sarcasm and spend hours obsessing about the conversation. Never put down or tease your child – they will be hurt deeply and it will take one hundred kind words to undo one negative one. Build ’em up, don’t break ’em down.
      • It is entirely possible that you yourself have ADD/ADHD. It runs in families (my mom and both brothers have it). If so, take it easy on yourself. Take the time out to reward yourself for being the best parent you can be. Take a break from your parental responsibilities, even if just for the afternoon, and treat yourself to some “me” time. Parents need to be praised and rewarded as well for all our hard work.

      About the author: While in grade school, Ben Glenn was diagnosed with dyslexia and other learning disabilities. After being diagnosed with ADHD as an adult, he immersed himself in the study of ADHD, ultimately developing his simple and easy-to-understand approach, a radical, yet informative, departure from the scholarly books and experts who have come before him. Ben travels the country and globe, speaking to thousands sharing his personal experiences with ADHD. He is the author of “Simply Special, Learning to Love Your ADHD” as well as a three-part guidebook series developed for parents and teachers. He resides in Indianapolis with his wife and two children. For more information, visit


      First Person

      I’m a Bronx teacher, and I see up close what we all lose when undocumented students live with uncertainty

      The author at her school.

      It was our high school’s first graduation ceremony. Students were laughing as they lined up in front of the auditorium, their families cheering them on as they entered. We were there to celebrate their accomplishments and their futures.

      Next to each student’s name on the back of those 2013 graduation programs was the college the student planned to attend in the fall. Two names, however, had noticeable blanks next to them.

      But I was especially proud of these two students, whom I’ll call Sofia and Isabella. These young women started high school as English learners and were diagnosed with learning disabilities. Despite these obstacles, I have never seen two students work so hard.

      By the time they graduated, they had two of the highest grade point averages in their class. It would have made sense for them to be college-bound. But neither would go to college. Because of their undocumented status, they did not qualify for financial aid, and, without aid, they could not afford it.

      During this year’s State of the Union, I listened to President Trump’s nativist rhetoric and I thought of my students and the thousands of others in New York City who are undocumented. President Trump falsely portrayed them as gang members and killers. The truth is, they came to this country before they even understood politics and borders. They grew up in the U.S. They worked hard in school. In this case, they graduated with honors. They want to be doctors and teachers. Why won’t we let them?

      Instead, as Trump works to repeal President Obama’s broader efforts to enfranchise these young people, their futures are plagued by uncertainty and fear. A Supreme Court move just last week means that young people enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program remain protected but in limbo.

      While Trump and the Congress continue to struggle to find compromise on immigration, we have a unique opportunity here in New York State to help Dreamers. Recently, the Governor Cuomo proposed and the state Assembly passed New York’s DREAM Act, which would allow Sofia, Isabella, and their undocumented peers to access financial aid and pursue higher education on equal footing with their documented peers. Republicans in the New York State Senate, however, have refused to take up this bill, arguing that New York state has to prioritize the needs of American-born middle-class families.

      This argument baffles me. In high school, Sofia worked hard to excel in math and science in order to become a radiologist. Isabella was so passionate about becoming a special education teacher that she spent her free periods volunteering with students with severe disabilities at the school co-located in our building.

      These young people are Americans. True, they may not have been born here, but they have grown up here and seek to build their futures here. They are integral members of our communities.

      By not passing the DREAM Act, it feels like lawmakers have decided that some of the young people that graduate from my school do not deserve the opportunity to achieve their dreams. I applaud the governor’s leadership, in partnership with the New York Assembly, to support Dreamers like Sofia and Isabella and I urge Senate Republicans to reconsider their opposition to the bill.

      Today, Sofia and Isabella have been forced to find low-wage jobs, and our community and our state are the poorer for it.

      Ilona Nanay is a 10th grade global history teacher and wellness coordinator at Mott Hall V in the Bronx. She is also a member of Educators for Excellence – New York.

      First Person

      I was an attorney representing school districts in contract talks. Here’s why I hope the Supreme Court doesn’t weaken teachers unions.

      PHOTO: Creative Commons / supermac1961

      Many so-called education reformers argue that collective bargaining — and unions — are obstacles to real change in education. It’s common to hear assertions about how “restrictive” contracts and “recalcitrant” unions put adult interests over children’s.

      The underlying message: if union power were minimized and collective bargaining rights weakened or eliminated, school leaders would be able to enact sweeping changes that could disrupt public education’s status quo.

      Those that subscribe to this view are eagerly awaiting the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. At issue is the constitutionality of “agency” or “fair share” fees — employee payroll deductions that go to local unions, meant to cover the costs of negotiating and implementing a bargaining agreement.

      In states that permit agency fees (there are about 20), a teacher may decline to be part of a union but must still pay those fees. If the Supreme Court rules that those agency fees are unconstitutional, and many teachers do not voluntarily pay, local unions will be deprived of resources needed to negotiate and enforce bargaining agreements.

      Based on my experience as an attorney representing school districts in bargaining and contract issues, I have this to say to those hoping the Court will strike down these fees: be careful what you wish for.

      Eliminating fair share fees (and trying to weaken unions) represents a misguided assumption about bargaining — that the process weakens school quality. To the contrary, strong relationships with unions, built through negotiations, can help create the conditions for student and school success. Indeed, in my experience, the best superintendents and school boards seized bargaining as an opportunity to advance their agenda, and engaged unions as partners whenever possible.

      Why, and how, can this work? For one, the process of negotiations provides a forum for school leaders and teachers to hear one another’s concerns and goals. In my experience, this is most effective in districts that adopt “interest-based bargaining,” which encourages problem-solving as starting point for discussions as opposed to viewing bargaining as a zero-sum game.

      Interest-based bargaining begins with both sides listing their major concerns and brainstorming solutions. The touchstone for a solution to be adopted in a bargaining agreement: Is the proposal in the best interests of children? This important question, if embedded in the process, forces both sides to carefully consider their shared mission.

      For example, some districts I worked with paid teachers less than comparable neighboring districts did. It would have been unreasonable for unions to insist that their pay be increased enough to even that difference out, because that would mean reducing investments in other items of importance to children, like technology or infrastructure. At the same time, it would have been untenable for management to play “hard ball” and deny the problem, because to do so would likely lead to a disgruntled workforce.

      Instead, both sides were forced to “own” the issue and collaboratively craft plausible solutions. That made unions more agreeable to proposals that demonstrated some commitment by the district to addressing the issue of pay, and districts open to other things that they could provide without breaking the budget (like more early release days for professional development).

      To be sure, many school administrators could get frustrated with the process of bargaining or having to consult the negotiated agreement when they want to make a change. Some districts would very much like to adopt an extended school day, for example, but they know that they must first consult and negotiate such an idea with the union.

      Yet, in districts where school administrators had built a reservoir of goodwill through collective bargaining, disagreement does not come at the cost of operating schools efficiently. Both sides come to recognize that while they inevitably will disagree on some things, they can also seek agreement — and often do on high-stakes matters, like teacher evaluations.

      How does this relate to the Supreme Court’s pending decision? Without fees from some teachers, unions may lack the resources to ensure that contract negotiations and enforcement are robust and done well. This could create a vicious cycle: teachers who voluntarily pay fees for bargaining in a post-Janus world, assuming the court rules against the unions, will view such payments as not delivering any return on investment. In turn, they will stop contributing voluntarily, further degrading the quality of the union’s services.

      Even more troubling, if fair share fees are prohibited, resentment and internal strife will arise between those who continue to pay the fees and those who refuse. This would undercut a primary benefit of bargaining — labor peace and a sense of shared purpose.

      Speaking as a parent, this raises a serious concern: who wants to send their child to a school where there is an undercurrent of bitterness between teachers and administrators that will certainly carry over into the classroom?

      It is easy to see the appeal of those opposing agency fees. No one wants to see more money going out of their paycheck. The union-as-bogeyman mentality is pervasive. Moreover, in my experience, some teachers (especially the newer ones) do not recognize the hidden benefits to bargaining contracts.

      But, obvious or not, agency fees help promote a stable workplace that allows teachers to concentrate on their primary responsibility: their students. Removing the key ingredient threatens this balance.

      Mark Paige is a former school teacher and school law attorney who represented school districts in New England. He is currently an associate professor of public policy at the University of Massachusetts – Dartmouth.