10 Hard (But Essential) Truths for Dads of Boys with ADHD
by Anni, ADDitude
Oct 25, 2020

Nearly 5 million American fathers have ADHD. And because ADHD is highly genetic, so do most of their sons. Sometimes, this connection forms a bond. More often, a father's ADHD misunderstandings or personal baggage complicate things - and do harm to the father-son relationship. When I see this happening, I begin by making sure the fathers understand these 10 core truths about ADHD in boys.

1. ADHD Medication + Practical Strategies = the Most Effective Intervention
ADHD medications are the most researched medications in the psychiatry field; they are also the safest. If it has been recommended that your son start on an ADHD medication and you say 'no' because you have not done your research or because you have received misinformation, you need to know this: Your son is not going to learn to the best of his ability, his social relationships will suffer, and he will be at greater risk for substance abuse problems and accidents if you deny him proper treatment. ADHD medications are safe; they don't work for all kids, but they are an essential part of the treatment plan for most kids.

2. ADHD is an Executive Function Developmental Delay
When someone has ADHD, the prefrontal cortex - the part of the brain that controls executive functions - is developing slower (2 to 3 years) than the rest of the brain. If your son is 11, his executive functioning age is really at age 8 or 9. The prefrontal cortex does catch up eventually, but it will be affected into adulthood for most people with ADHD.

3. Intelligence Has Nothing to Do with ADHD
I hear fathers say things like, "He's so smart; I don't know he keeps making the same mistakes over and over again." or "He's so smart; why can he build these complex systems in Minecraft, but he can't do long division?" ADHD has nothing to do with intelligence, and intelligence has nothing to do with executive function. Keep that in mind. Don't praise your son for being smart because intelligence is something you are born with; it requires no effort. We want to praise him for things that require effort and are helpful to other people.

4. ADHD Brings Difficulty with Emotional Regulation
If your son has difficulty controlling his emotions sometimes or if he tends to be overreactive, understand that this is a really normal aspect of ADHD. It is more prevalent in kids with an impulsive profile of ADHD. What I want you to understand is that his emotional regulation skills are not going to improve through punishment or lecturing.

I'm not saying don't hold him accountable. No, we still need to teach him what is expected in terms of expressing emotions in an age-appropriate manner. But most importantly, don't try to reason or talk with him when he is escalated and upset because he can't learn when he's in that state and you're most likely just exacerbating the problem. Wait until he is calm because that is when he's most able to hear you and learn from you.

5. Extreme Reaction to Criticism is Not Intentional
People with ADHD tend to be very reactive to what they perceive to be criticism - whether it is actually criticism or not. There is a term for this called Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria. If your son gets sensitive or feels rejected easily, understand that this is part of ADHD. Kids with ADHD tend to live in strong emotions. If he reacts strongly to something you are saying, he is hearing it as criticism even if that is not your intention. Think about addressing it at a different time or changing the words you are using. When you have to provide constructive feedback, do it when he is calm and begin by giving him praise and recognition for things he has done well before you give the constructive feedback because that's going to help him hear you better.

6. Boys with ADHD Experience Difficulty with Social Skills
If your son has difficulty making or keeping friends, people may say he has difficulty reading social cues. I wish it was that simple; it goes much deeper than that. Many boys with ADHD don't learn social information intuitively from a young age. We need to help them develop perspective-taking skills - understanding others' thoughts and feeling, and how he is coming across to others based in the context of the situation. The most helpful thing you can do is teach him context, and how others may perceive his behaviors based on that context.

7. Disrespect and Lying are Not Always Intentional
If your son has a propensity to act disrespectfully and to lie, please know that he's not doing that maliciously. It's most likely an impulsive reaction to having to transition from a preferred task to a non-preferred task, or his perception that he's being criticized. When you personalize disrespect and begin arguing with him, you are actually exacerbating the situation. The best thing you can do is not react to it and not give attention to it. Later, when he is calm, tell him his disrespect is not okay and that's not how you treat people in your family. Though he might not show it, your son likely feels ashamed of his behavior and feels remorse. He might draw into himself and avoid apologizing due to this shame.

8. Your Reactions Reinforce Negative Behaviors
Many fathers of boys with ADHD unknowingly reinforce negative behaviors - whether it's provoking a sibling or doing something annoying to get attention - by reacting to them. When you react, you are sending your son the message that if you behave this way I'm going to give you attention. For many kids with ADHD, negative attention is better than no attention, so he'll take what he can get from you. What we want to teach him is that he can get attention in more positive and constructive ways.

9. ADHD Means Having No Attention for Some Things and Hyperfocusing on Others
I often hear from dads, "I don't understand why he can't read this one chapter for school, but he can spend build LEGOs, or do coding, or play basketball outside in the cold for hours on end." The reason why is this: the ADHD brain hyperfocuses on things that are personally interesting, but it has difficulty sustaining attention on things that are not inherently interesting. I know this is frustrating for a lot of fathers, but understand that this is what ADHD is at its foundation.

10. Boys with ADHD Respond Best to Praise and Recognition
The best thing you can do to help your son is give him recognition for things he has done that require resiliency, that require effort, or even just simply daily chores like bringing a dirty dish to the sink. When you give him recognition for these things, as small as they may be, that makes him feel good and it helps him understand that he can get attention from you by doing small things like helping out around the house. Don't take it for granted how important this is. We tend to focus on kids' negative behaviors and not give them recognition for small wins, but that's what is going to build up his self-confidence and improve your relationship with him.

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