"Hello, Mrs. Smith? This is Mrs. Anderson, Johnny's teacher. Mrs. Smith, we have a problem."
As parents, we love our kids so much that we dread that fateful call - the teacher calling to report that your child is misbehaving, underachieving or that they should be tested for ADHD. Don't panic. Follow these steps:
1. Be aware of your child's environment.
Explore contexts that are explanations for the behavior, like external stressors. Consider any relevant changes in your family in terms of finances, physical and mental health issues, or other significant factors. Also take into account nutritional factors: too much sugar and skipping breakfast are both linked to difficulty concentrating.
2. Seek solutions.
Ask the teacher, "What are we going to do to support her?" Children need to learn how to learn, and every stumbling block in education is not brain dysfunction. Your child may simply need repetition, practice of basic skills, and coaching to excel in school.
3. Consider that your child may not be the problem.
Sometimes our children's learning style and profile of strengths and weaknesses mean that they need accommodations. While changing schools may not be an option, you can still protect your child's passion and motivation by encouraging them to pursue those things that draw their attention.
4. Be a good listener.
When a child has a conflict with a teacher or classmates, our first approach should be to listen to the child's complaints. Consider that some teachers may not be the best match for your child, and likewise for classmates. Bullying does happen, and it has proven long-term consequences. Ask your child how she sees the problem, listen and take it seriously.
5. Define abnormal.
In active boys, it is completely normal for them to display some rambunctious behavior. There are tons of creative ways to channel physical energy, and allowing productive release of such energy can alleviate or even eliminate many so-called problems.
6. Look within.
Your child receives emotional nourishment from her parents, so if you are having trouble, she may be taking in your emotional pain.
7. Be an optimist.
Every strength is a resource for patching up a weakness. Focus on the positive attributes commonly found in children with ADHD: creativity, emotional sensitivity, exuberance, interpersonal intuition and connection to nature. Creating a list of your child's many gifts before returning a teacher's phone call or going into a parent-teacher meeting may help you maintain a positive outlook.
8. Translate "symptoms" into "needs."
Be an advocate for your child's unique needs. For example, hyperactivity is a need for physical activity. When your child's teacher points to a problem, think about ways to translate it into a specific need that can be met with support form you and the school.
9. Remember: The call from the teacher is not a diagnosis.
There are many factors that may contribute to your child's difficulty concentrating or disruptive behavior in class. Contrary to increasingly popular belief, ADHD should be the last possible explanation explored, not the first.
~ Dr. Lara Honos-Webb is a licensed clinical psychologist based in California who specializes in the treatment of ADHD. She is the author of "The Gift of ADHD," "The Gift of ADHD Activity Book," "Listening to Depression" and more than 25 scholarly articles.