I recently saw a movie trailer where a mom prays that everyone will be nice to her child. I know exactly what she’s feeling. Knots form in my stomach daily at the thought of someone mistreating my child, just because she’s a little different and has a behavioral disorder. That heartbreaking emotion is primarily the reason that I wrote this post.
5 things to NOT say to parents of a child with a behavioral disorder
1) “What does the I in ‘ADHD-I’ stand for?”
I’m not scared to use the proper names for my child’s disorders and diagnoses, but I am scared that when I do, it’s all you see. Not only are they a mouthful to say, but they sound worse than they are. Like some questionable and unpronounceable ingredient in your yogurt, they end up leaving a bad taste in your mouth. Plus, they’re not the whole picture. Her medical diagnosis is only a small part of who she is, and it shouldn’t define her. So while I’m happy to educate you, please remember that she’s a person, not a disorder.
2) “I don’t really believe in behavioral disorders. All kids misbehave.”
Honestly, it’s not always about misbehaving. My child is incredibly well behaved, which is sometimes confusing for people that have a preconceived idea of what a “behavioral disorder” looks like. And spotting the difference between a small child struggling with an emotional and/or behavioral disorder and one that’s throwing a fit can be difficult. But, you can pretty much guarantee that any parent who’s sat through multiple appointments advocating for their child’s needs isn’t making up a diagnosis just to explain away a tantrum.
3) “Are you sure she has (fill in the the diagnoses here)? She seems so normal.”
I know you mean well, but what you’re really saying is that my child doesn’t stand out as much as some children on the spectrum do. That’s because the impulses, nervous ticks, and fears my daughter experiences often manifest in very “normal” childhood behaviors. The difference is, she can’t stop those behaviors easily. And often, she doesn’t even know that she’s being disruptive. The fact that she’s generally so high-functioning, makes the times when her symptoms take over that much harder to explain. People that normally see the “capable” side of her can’t understand why she’s so difficult or dramatic at other times.
Her moods can seem unpredictable. But the one thing that remains constant about her behavior is how deeply and emotionally hurt she is when she’s scolded. Honestly, she didn’t mean to do whatever it was that angered you. So, you may see my high-functioning child and assume she’s just like every other kid on the playground. However, I see a child who is bravely fighting an invisible battle against her genetic make up. Sometimes she wins, but when she loses I pray that you give her grace. It takes a lot of strength to pull herself together and start the fight all over again.
4) “Isn’t there a pill she could take to fix it?”
Putting a child on medication is a very personal decision. It’s not one we’ve chosen to make, but all situations and children are different. I believe that each family should do what’s right for them. Therefore, I’m not going to address IF a child should be medicated. However, I will say that nothing about this journey is easy. It can take YEARS of actively advocating for your child to see results in the classroom, with doctors, and in their everyday life.
If you have friends or family that are currently in the process of navigating this particular minefield, please be respectful of the weight they’re carrying. Choose your words with care. Remember there isn’t anything about their child that “needs fixing.” If they choose to use medicine to aid their child’s emotional or behavioral disorder, it’s ultimately like insulin for a diabetic. It’s not a cure, but rather a way to alleviate symptoms for a short time. The underlying diagnosis is still there.
5) “You’re such a good parent. I can’t imagine dealing with all of that on top of normal parenting stuff.”
Again, I know where you’re coming from, and that’s why I’m not rolling my eyes at you. But this IS normal parenting stuff. Yes, it can be time consuming. Yes, I wish there was a handbook somewhere with step-by-step instructions to make sure she gets all the support she deserves without hassle. Overall, this is just another part of being her mother. My other children don’t have special needs, but that doesn’t make raising them any less exhausting.
Parenting is just hard. Infants come with sleepless nights and limit your ability to go places without packing up the house. Toddlers are tiny tyrants. Tweens are basically emotional roller coasters in human form. And teens? Don’t even get me started. There are no EASY children to raise. We all just do the best we can. And your support, instead of your condolences, makes it that much easier.