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Low Self-Esteem

ADHD and Low Self-Esteem

This week I was going to write about something totally different to do with ADHD, but then this week my daughter had huge self-esteem issues. It really got me thinking.  When I investigated it, I found a disturbingly high comorbidity.  Hence, why I decided to research and find out why children with ADHD have such low self-esteem, and hopefully what we can do to help that.

ADHD and Low Self-Esteem

Ever imagined what it must be like for a child with ADHD?  I sat down the other day and really thought about it.  Like, properly thought about it.  Imagine constantly being reprimanded for having your learning disability.  For being punished, nicely termed ‘given a consequence’ for shouting out, fidgeting, and not following instructions. 

Can you imagine another disability where this would happen? Stand up and walk to the boy in a wheelchair.  Open your eyes to the girl that can’t see.  Listen carefully, to the deaf child.  In a word, it wouldn’t. 

So now imagine how all this negativity, over something you can’t control, will affect your self-esteem. The humiliation of not being able to control your impulsive behaviours; the constant correction; the frustration; the embarrassment; the possible social rejection and isolation the child feels.  Can you imagine not wanting to start something for fear you didn’t hear correctly or didn’t understand, or that your focus wandered?  The failure you then anticipate.  Imagine this daily bashing your child gets in school, and maybe at home too, for something they have no control over.  What would that do to your self-esteem and self-worth?  Honestly, I can’t imagine.  As an adult, I would be devastated, but as a child, well that brings tears to my eyes.

I hate myself

Have you ever heard your child with ADHD say, ‘I’m useless’ or perhaps ’I’m just so dumb’?  What about ‘I hate myself’ or worse, ‘I wish I was dead’?  I have.  My daughter came to me the other day.  She had had a meltdown over something minor to most people, which resulted in her being extremely verbally abusive to me.  She spouted some vile and hurtful comments.  All I could think was, that in a short while, she would be running to me sobbing and apologising and feeling beyond dreadful for what she had just said to me. 

And she did.  But then she said, ‘I hate myself.  I wish I was dead.  I’m just going to kill myself so that you will have a better life without me.’ She meant it too.  She literally believes because she can’t control herself and because she hates causing me pain, she would like to die.  It broke my heart and sadly it is not an isolated incident.

To see her cry like that, the remorse she feels, for ranting such a diatribe to me, literally hurts my heart.  I know she can’t help it and I know once she stops it is going to hurt her more, knowing what she said.  She adores me and she is my everything.  She has to use me as her punch bag.  I get that.  As hurtful as it can be.  But she doesn’t mean it and afterwards, when she has calmed down, it is her that is in pain, despite all the love and cuddles I give her.

Children with ADHD have very high comorbidity with low self-esteem, especially those with extra learning difficulties.  A diagnosis of ADHD can cause a great stigma to a child.  Most kids don’t want to be different.  They want to be like everyone else and fit in.  A diagnosis may even scare them.  I do talk to my daughter about ADHD, she’s 12, but she’s not likely to pick up a book at this age on ADHD (plus she has dyslexia and HATES reading) or chat to fellow children with ADHD online (still too young for social media like that).

How to help with self-esteem issues:

In School

I have two children with ADHD, one diagnosed and one in the process, which as we know takes forever and that was before the year of Covid!  My daughter got her EHCP (Educational Healthcare Plan) before she got her diagnosis.  Unheard of I know but she did.  She was given the option of staying in a mainstream school with 1:1 support or a specialist school.  This is a tough call. 

Struggles in School

I’ll give a brief view of how I felt at the time.  I really wasn’t sure if I deemed her ‘bad’ enough to go to a specialist school, but on the other hand, I didn’t think her mainstream school ‘got’ ADHD?  If she had a meltdown, they would take her out of the class to calm down, which was great, but then keep her out for the rest of the day and maybe let her bake some cookies, again.  I think they just wanted her out of the way. 

This has been so detrimental to her learning. I weighed everything up and decided, against the SENDCo’s advice in her mainstream school, that I would put her in a specialist school, at least until secondary school.  For me, it is the best thing I ever did for her.  She has smaller classes, with more adults on hand to give her the attention and encouragement she needs.  They keep her on focus and allow breaks every 20 minutes.  In a word, they ‘get’ her. 

She is now very behind academically, which she realises.  She’s a twin and she sees her brother in mainstream school and the kind of work he’s doing.  She constantly tells me she’s so ‘thick’.  I think part of the problem is she was taken out of class so often she missed loads of the basic building blocks which help you advance in school.  The other part is having Dyslexia and Dyscalculia.  I know this feeling of being ‘behind’ is a big part of her low self-esteem too.

My youngest son on the other hand is lucky to be academically very bright.  He is your typical fidget-bum, impulsive (I’ve written about the fire alarm incident…) and shouts out constantly.  He could do with an understanding 1:1 person.  I wouldn’t put him in a specialist school as he can cope with the level of work, but I just wish that schools, or his school, in particular, would have more understanding of ADHD.  It’s exasperating at times.

I just wanna move!

I digress.  What I want to say is that if your child is in a specialist school, they will ‘get’ and understand ADHD.  If your child is in mainstream school, then you may need to educate the school a bit!  They may need help to stay on track and focused with pleasant reminders, not reprimands!  They may need a bit of extra supervision at break times, lining up etc  A child with ADHD cannot control many of the actions they display, so don’t put them in situations where you are setting them up for failure.  Understanding teachers may let the assistant take the child out every 20 minutes or so for movement breaks

Don’t allow your child’s school to take away their breaks as a ‘consequence’ of not finishing work!  They need to move!  The worst ‘consequence’ they could get is!  Do not let the teachers make your child feel like they are ‘naughty’ when they have ADHD.

Peer Groups

Many children with ADHD have difficulty making and keeping friends.  They feel the need to control a situation and this can come across as bossy.  Some children with ADHD find it very difficult to read social cues which can cause them problems when reading a situation with their friends.  Unlike my boys, I have felt the need to intervene slightly over the years and help my daughter understand certain scenarios.  It is so important that they have friends, the right friends because they feel valued.  These days to be popular is even more of a status symbol than in our day!  Mix that in with social media and all the ‘likes’ they have it’s a nightmare! 

Friends are everything

So, without being a pushy parent, I have always tried to ensure my daughter has kept some lovely local friends despite going to a specialist school a bit further away.  Before Covid times, and more when she was younger, I would ensure we did a fair few playdates.  Whilst not helicoptering over them, I would stay within earshot to ensure she wasn’t getting too bossy or not quite getting the other child?   Gradually you may be able to take more of a back seat as they potentially understand more social cues etc.


I constantly try to focus on all the amazing things they CAN do, rather than dwell on all the things they struggle with.

Society places such a huge emphasis on academic success, but this is not for everyone!  My favourite cartoon highlights this.

Our Education System

I always refer to this when she gets sad and talks about hating herself.  I say a monkey can climb a tree and fish can swim forever, which one is better?  Neither!  They both have talents and they are both fabulous!

She may not be academically superior but oh my she thinks outside the box.  Ok, for example just the other day her twin was banging around in the morning and couldn’t find his coat.  He was frantic!  I said it must be here somewhere, I was trying to retrace his steps, we’d been to the dentist after school had he worn it there blah blah blah.  My daughter quick as a flash just checked our new Ring doorbell.  Watched last night’s recording and was able to tell him that he hadn’t worn it home from school! Genius!  My brain didn’t work that quick.  I mean I hadn’t even had a coffee at this point!

I think activities outside of academia can really help children with ADHD.  Find a sport, hobby or interest that they really enjoy and can immerse themselves in.  My daughter loves tennis, and she’s good at it.  She also enjoys piano.  When I collect her, I can tell she is buzzed.  It’s a break from the mental strain that school has placed on her.  She’s also good at it so she glows from the praise.  It’s lovely to see.

I read a great little parenting tip the other day by a Dr Saline.  She calls it her 5C’s of parenting (hope there’s no copyright on this but it makes sense to copy it!):

  • Self-Control: Self-Control: Learn to manage your own feelings first so you can act effectively and teach your child to do the same.
  • Compassion: Meet your child where they are, not where you expect them to be.
  • Collaboration: Work together with your child and co-parent (if one exists) to find solutions to daily challenges instead of imposing your rules on them.
  • Consistency: Do what you say you will do—over and over again.
  • Celebration: Acknowledge what is working and do more of it, day after day after day.

You know how you can be given loads of compliments but then someone says something negative and that’s the thing you focus on.  Well, imagine what it is like for our kids with ADHD!  I read a statistic the other day that said for every fifteen negative comments that a child with ADHD receives they only hear one positive!  How bad is that?  What must that do to anyone’s self-esteem?

It’s a daily struggle for a child with ADHD so we must boost them up daily.  I found this great book to read with my kids, ‘Can I tell you about ADHD?’ (I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post). Well worth the read. Find the positives, praise the positives.  Notice the amazing things they do or say.  They will have heard so many negative comments that day that we need to replace their mindset with all the good that they do.  And they do!  Until ADHD awareness is raised, we are dealing with a society that still predominantly feels that ADHD is simply naughty and needs discipline.  As unfair as that is, it’s a fact.  So, we need to ensure our children with ADHD have an abundance of self-belief to know just how amazing and loved they are, just the way they are.

I have started a private support group on Facebook for parents and carers who need support with their child with ADHD. It’s a friendly place to chat with others. Please do click this link ADHDinchildren to join. And for anyone on Instagram, I’m there too ADHD Mum.

Vicki x

Unconditional Love

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Dean Burns

    Hi Vicki,

    Thank you for writing this. I struggle with some of the issues you highlighted but you’re correct. You’re 100% right.
    You’re doing an incredible job, and you’re understanding and advocacy for your kids will mean they’ll always have a safe base at home with you.
    You’re amazing. Keep doing what you’re doing.

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