Parenting vs. Enabling for Children with ADD and ADHD

Image courtesy of digitalart/
Image courtesy of digitalart/

One of the most difficult things for parents of children with ADD and ADHD is drawing a line between what is helping and enabling a child. With all of the challenges presented to our children in this day and age, we are almost forced into helping our children through many different challenges. Recently, I had a good example of what is not helpful for a child.

At times I will reflect on things that happen at my work. It is not because I like to gossip, but it provides a good roadmap. Recently, I started working with a local family. The child of these parents was recently diagnosed with ADHD and was given a 504 plan by the school. As I regularly tell clients, 504 plans are supposed to provide accommodations and not excuses. Let’s just say that this family abused this notion to the umpteenth degree.

After talking with the child’s teachers, I came to realize that the parents enabled their child beyond anything I’ve ever seen. They would make excuses for missing work, blame the teachers for not giving enough help, abuse the 504 plan and just make everyone’s lives miserable as a result of enabling this child. It even trickled into my work because the child missed an appointment, and after the mom told me the child forgot about the appointment, one of this child’s teachers sent me an email asking about the session. When I said the child forgot, the teacher responded that even though the teacher asked the child to stay after school, the child said that he/she couldn’t because of our appointment. When I told this to the mom, instead of addressing the behavior said that I had the gender of the original teacher incorrect (which I did, but it wasn’t the issue). It was after this exchange that I decided it was time for the client to move on.  I am not suggesting that I shy away from difficult cases, but this was going down an uncomfortable path. My clients have to be a part of the process, and when he or she isn’t willing to do so, there’s nothing I can do to make that happen. The parents enabling this child’s absence is a huge red flag.

So why do I tell this story? Am I venting? No, I’ve been doing this long enough now that I am not surprised by anything. The reason is because I want other parents to recognize that even though you may think you’re helping a child, in reality, by not holding a child accountable or failing to place expectations on that child you’re doing a huge disservice. The more excuses you make for a child, the more the child is going to expect to be bailed out. In my work, it is the clients that have been enabled that are usually the most difficult to help. The best lessons come from touching the hot stove.

For more helpful tips an suggestions, please check out my ADHD Guru podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher or TuneIn Radio. You can also find me on Twitter (@adhdguru) and Instagram (@adhdguru). Feel free to email me at [email protected] or call 877.398.ADHD (2343) with any additional questions.

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