Cultivating Self-Worth in Children and Adolescents with ADHD: Nurturing Resilience in a Challenging World

Children and adolescents, especially those with ADHD, often grapple with challenges that can significantly impact their confidence, resilience, and overall self-worth. Many organizations are stepping up to address the growing mental health crisis in our youth.  Finding ways to cultivate self-worth in a child couldn’t be more important across all fronts, from emerging science, large non-profits all the way to culture within a home, and even with ADHD Coaching.

How many of you recall the book or movie The Help and Aibileen’s famous quote, “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” If you have, you might agree that moment and those words are quite memorable. At least for me and, I am sure many others. It’s a moment of acknowledgment and speaking to the self-worth of the child. And from that sense of self-worth comes some remarkable things, including self-confidence and increasing resilience to help our children thrive in a challenging world.

Cultivating Self-Worth in Children and Adolescents with ADHD: Nurturing Resilience in a Challenging World

What Chips Away at Confidence and Resilience

From a child’s perspective, various factors can chip away at their confidence and resilience. Academic difficulties, social challenges, and the perception of being different can create a sense of inadequacy. The constant need to meet societal standards can leave children with ADHD feeling overwhelmed and incapable, further eroding their self-worth. A daily onslaught of feedback on what they didn’t do or what went wrong makes it even worse. Children with ADHD may internalize their struggles, attributing them to personal shortcomings and character flaws rather than recognizing them as symptoms of a neurodevelopmental condition. This negative self-perception can hinder their motivation and ability to navigate challenges, leading to a diminished sense of self-worth.

So what can we do as parents on the home front?

Understanding self-determination theory provides valuable insights into the best approaches for raising a resilient child with ADHD. This theory emphasizes three basic psychological needs: autonomy, competence, and relatedness. By addressing these needs, parents and caregivers can create an environment that fosters self-worth and resilience.

5 Ideas to Cultivate Self-Worth and Self-Determination at Home

  1. Encourage Autonomy: Identify opportunities ahead of time as parents where you can encourage a sense of independence by involving your child in decision-making processes or reflect back to them for their own problem-solving. Allow them to express their preferences and opinions, providing a sense of control over their life. True, some decisions need to be made by parents, but there are many others where you could provide the opportunity to choose between two or more viable choices or to do some interest-based problem-solving. Encourage curiosity and creativity, often in the top strengths of children with ADHD. Ask questions on what would help them decide, and call on past accomplishments that might inform them. A fun idea is to create a ballcap or other style hat with the words Be Curious on it. Then use the hat as a prompt for children when you want to get them thinking.  

  2. Acknowledge Strengths and Celebrate Small Achievements: Noticing what your child is good at and spotting their strengths in action pays dividends. Then teaching them how to apply those strengths in future situations. Another is to celebrate progress over perfection. Over and over again, it’s the baby steps of progress that lead to more confidence, self-esteem and motivation to work on what’s next. Some studies suggest children with ADHD experience proportionately much more negative feedback over positive feedback every single day, which in turn can lead to a doubtful and discouraged child. We have a strategy called “Shine The Light On What Is Right” that has been known to help. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge and celebrate every accomplishment, no matter how small. Pick your battles of what needs immediate attention and what you could let evolve into natural consequences. One cool idea is to have each member take a strengths quiz to learn more about their strengths. Via Character Strengths and 16 Personalities are two of our favorites. Then, create a visual poster or some wristbands that help them remember to call on them when needed.

  3. Promote Positive Relationships: Cultivate a supportive network of friends, family, and mentors. Positive relationships contribute to a child’s sense of relatedness, offering emotional support during challenging times. Let’s start with home. Opportunities for connection at home often take a hit with busy schedules. What is it that you do in your home to help your family connect? Can you have a weekly family huddle mixed with fun, conversation and an opportunity to develop some executive function skills? Can you have a traditional dinner where you can meander once a week? Our family ordered a deck of cards with questions for families. We used our Sunday dinners to pull a card and take turns answering around the table. At first, it was like pulling teeth. And then it became such a favorite tradition that everyone wanted to draw a card for each of us to answer after dinner, and we would find ourselves connecting for well over an hour after our family was done eating. This tradition still happens today for family dinners even though our kids are grown. Help kids cultivate a hobby or get involved with smaller groups of kids to build on connection and social skills.

  4. Help Your Children Learn Goalsetting: Work with your child to come up with an achievable goal of interest to them. It doesn’t need to be academics or keeping a room clean. Be open to what interests them. Then help them think through what the achieved goal looks like and break down the steps that will allow them to achieve it. Teaching kids to set goals and acknowledging their actions and accomplishments helps them build a sense of competence and self-reliance. Another idea is to integrate goal setting with family dinners or meetings, giving kids an opportunity to share their progress or challenges for that goal in a supportive environment.

  5. Provide Structure, Routine and Values: Establishing a structured routine can help children with ADHD manage their time and responsibilities. Predictability and consistency create a stable environment, supporting their autonomy and self-regulation. And taking the opportunity to explore and discuss values as an individual or family in teachable moments can help your child inform their choices and actions as they grow up.  

Wrapping up, cultivating self-worth in children and adolescents with ADHD requires a multifaceted approach. By really understanding the challenges they face, embracing self-determination theory, and finding opportunities to build on their sense of self-worth, we can make a difference in how they navigate life. We can’t say enough in words and actions. “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” Especially in these times, our kids and their future depend on it. If you have some fun ideas or questions on what might help, please feel free to reach out by email:

Robin Nordmeyer, PCAC CLC

Robin Nordmeyer, PCAC, CLC

ADHD Coach and Life Coach, Executive Skills Coach, Owner/Founder

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