The One Word You Must Remove From Your Vocabulary When Parenting Kids With ADHD

A psychologist shares the secret to successfully raising neurodivergent kids.

ADHD Parenting Success Liderina / Shutterstock

What would it be like to remove the word "failure" from any description of your parenting and replace it with "efforting"?

Failure is generally defined as a lack of success. There is a finality associated with the word that doesn’t really apply to the long-haul process of parenting.

Parenting is a journey marked by highs and lows, joy and frustration, closeness and disconnection.

Parenting a child or teen with ADHD, learning differences, anxiety, depression, addiction or other issues means redefining success. What you see on social media, television, or films may not make sense for your family and your particular situation.


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What does success look like for parents of neurodivergent kids?

For many families living with ADHD, parenting successfully means nurturing a child who accepts their neurodivergent brain, identifies personal strengths and talents, has decent-to-positive self-esteem, and learns strategies for managing the tasks of daily living.


It may not center on grades, athletics, or other conventional accomplishments. This is a tall order that takes time, repetition, practice and patience. It has nothing to do with the failure mentality of fixed mindsets.

Efforting reflects a growth mindset.

You try something, see what happens, make adjustments, and try again. Efforting illustrates the adage, "Practice makes perfect." It does not allow room to assume that anything less than perfection is a failure.

Being perfect as a parent is a myth that is unachievable and toxic to self-worth.

Perfectionists tend to focus on the end result, rather than the process of getting there. They discount the learning that’s happening and fixate on the end goal or the accomplishment.


Without meeting the end goal, there’s a perception of failure.

Instead of worrying about why you can’t make things the way you think they should be, focus on the steadiness of your efforting. This helps you accept your humanity.

The reality is that you will stumble as a parent. It’s how you recover from these fumbles that is worth your time and focus. 

Sadly, guilt and shame are often the first responses of parents of neurodivergent kids.

Guilt refers to something that you did: it can lead people to amend their errors, be accountable, and make a change. You may feel guilty and say to yourself, "I wish I hadn’t done that" or "That was a poor choice. Ugh."


You can be accountable for your mistakes, apologize, make amends if appropriate, and move on.

Shame, on the other hand, refers to who you are. It pushes people to hide or deny their mistakes and engage in self-loathing. Shame leads people to say negative statements such as, "I’m a bad mother because I did that" or "I’m not good enough."

Shame spirals are toxic reactions based on feelings of deficiency that ultimately don’t serve you or your kids. Address these insecurities by practicing self-compassion. Accept that you, like everybody else, will mess up periodically.

RELATED: What You Can Do When Your Child's ADHD And Defiance Makes You Want To Yell


Stop blaming yourself for things that you can’t control, honor what is and focus on what you can actually influence.

Of course, as parents, you don’t want to see your kids struggle. Their pain is so often your pain.

It’s lousy to witness your child or teen wrestle with academic, social, or emotional issues.

You may do your best to ensure that their learning, emotional and physical needs are being met and they will experience disappointment, frustration, sadness, and jealousy along the winding path of childhood and adolescence to adulthood.

Your job as a parent is to be present so you can meet your kids where they are without always fixing things. This is tough for many. 


Make a different choice as part of your efforting. Offer your support, your availability for a conversation, or your willingness to do something of their choice.

Loving them, letting them figure certain things out, and asking for your opinion is more effective for building self-esteem and self-confidence than telling them what to do. 

President Teddy Roosevelt famously said, "Comparision is the thief of joy."

In redefining success for yourself as a parent of a neurodivergent child or teen, you’ll surely benefit from avoiding comparisons on social media based on seeing what other people’s crafted lives look like.

When you cut back on the habit of "compare and despair," you’ll reduce judgmental-ness, feel better about yourself, and replace self-criticism with positive self-talk.


RELATED: 4 Common Misconceptions About ADHD That Everyone Needs To Forget

Here’s a list of ten phrases for you to use as you take ‘failure’ out of your mindset and your vocabulary:

1. "I’m doing the best I can with the resources I have available to me right now."

2. "I am open to being positive and ready for whatever happens."

3. "I have the tools I need and, if I don’t, I have the ability to find them.'

4. "It is OK if I make mistakes. Parenting my kids didn’t come with an instruction manual."


5. "I will not compare my insides to someone else’s outsides: their struggles may be hidden."

6. "I can make a different choice at any moment."

7. "I can be my best self in the world and stumble sometimes."

8. "Two steps forward and one step back is still forward motion."

9. "I don’t have all of the answers and I am not supposed to. I am learning every day."

10. "Oops, there I go again. Let’s pause, regroup, and pivot."

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Sharon Saline, Psy.D., is an international lecturer and workshop facilitator and has focused her work on ADHD, anxiety, learning differences and mental health challenges and their impact on school and family dynamics for over 30 years. For more information, visit her website.