smiling mother and daughter swimming under water in a pool
smiling mother and daughter swimming under water in a pool

Part 2: Building the self-esteem of a child with ADHD – what to

Self-esteem is liking who you are and believing in your ability to succeed in what you do.

Need to know

Self-esteem is liking who you are and believing in your ability to succeed in what you do. Research tells us that children who experience many positive interactions with caregivers are more likely to have high levels of self-esteem and academic achievement. 

In the first article of this two part series, we focused on what we can say to our children and how we talk about our children to build their self-confidence. Hopefully, you are now much more aware of all the small corrections and reprimands that happen even before you step out of the house in the morning.

Building your child’s self-esteem however, requires more than words, it requires that you reassess your expectations. 

Why it’s important

What happens when a child feels like they are constantly failing to meet the expectations of those around them? A child feels shame. There is no space for healthy self-esteem when there is shame.

Our words always matter, but our actions either strengthen the positive things we say or they invalidate them. If you are committed to building up your child, it is time to dismantle your expectations and recalibrate them against your child’s skills.

Turn the magnifying glass inwards and think about the times where you find yourself getting angry/frustrated/upset/annoyed. These are the moments when you are most likely to respond negatively to your child. 

Don’t skip this process of self-reflection, because in it you will identify the specific situations where your child cannot meet your expectations. 

  • Waking up in the morning
  • Getting dressed
  • Packing their school bag
  • Eating meals
  • Personal hygiene
  • Getting to school
  • Making snacks/meals
  • Doing homework
  • Keeping areas tidy and organised
  • Going to sleep
  • Doing chores
  • Socialising and playing with others
  • And many more…

Tips & strategies

Use a combination of the strategies below to create an environment that your child will thrive in. Acceptance of their ADHD neurology will naturally guide how you implement boundaries and consequences. 

Be the expert on your child – understanding how ADHD affects your child is your biggest asset in providing the right support for them. Executive functioning is one of the key areas impaired by ADHD and it affects everyone differently. Your child’s executive functioning struggles can present as:

1. Having a messy room – skills needed: self-motivation & organisation ️

2. Doing homework – skills needed: planning & initiation ️

4. Getting distracted while getting ready for school – skills needed: prioritisation ️& working memory

5. Deciding to build lego 5 minutes before getting out the door – skills needed: time management️ & prioritisation

6. Giving up in the middle of a chore – skills needed: sustained attention️ & self-motivation

This knowledge will activate your empathy. Rather than thinking that your child isn’t doing what they are told, you’ll start to believe that there is an underlying reason that they can’t always do what you ask.

Adjust your expectations – observe your child’s struggles and find out which skills they are missing to be able to meet your expectations. 

  • Executive functioning skills – ability to plan, organise, start and finish tasks using working memory, self-motivation, by sustaining attention and regulating emotions
  • Fine motor skills – ability to manipulate smaller objects with the hands and fingers
  • Gross motor skills – ability to move our large muscle groups in a deliberate and coordinated manner
  • Communication skills – ability understand what others say to us and to articulate our needs, wants and feelings
  • Social skills – ability to pick up non-verbal or subtle literal cues from others

Getting ready for school an issue? Dig deeper into where your child is getting stuck. Sometimes all that is needed is getting your child started with getting dressed, other times you will need to help them put on their shoes. Praise their effort and explain that you will help them until they acquire the skills to do it themselves. “Great work on getting dressed by yourself! I can see that you are having trouble getting your shoes on. Let me help you and we can practise tying your shoelaces on the weekend.”

Once you know what skills your child lacks, create opportunities in a calm environment for them to build those skills. Trying to do it in stressful situations will only be cause for more arguments and tears. Also, don’t be reluctant to do away with expectations; some kids will never learn to do their shoelaces, and luckily there are plenty of elastic laces that don’t require this skill.

Set your child up for success – build scaffolding around your child to help them keep on track. There are many way to support your child at home:

  • Visible routines with images
  • Timers and alarms for starting and finishing tasks
  • Music playlists to help then get through routines
  • Photos of what “done” looks like
  • Additional tools for planning, writing, organising school work
  • Diaries and schedules

Collaborate with your child – change how you see your child, from being someone that needs to do what they are told, to being a partner in what needs to be done. This partnership has so many benefits that you could almost wonder why you haven’t done it before. Not only will you find a solution to a problem quickly, your child will be more invested in making it work, you will identify what skills they are missing and teach them how to problem solve. 

For example, if you know that homework is an area that triggers defiance and outbursts, work with your child to identify what is hard for them. You might uncover that a learning disability is at the root of their struggles or that by giving them a template for mapping out ideas is enough support for their working memory to do writing tasks.

Double down on your child’s strengths – a simple and effective way to improve your child’s self-esteem is to build on the skills that they are already really good at. By focusing on what they can do, you are giving them opportunities to succeed and feel good about their abilities. Do they love drawing? Sign them up for art classes. Are they a talented swimmer? Sign them up for squads. Doing things your child enjoys is much more valuable than pushing them to get better at something they struggle with.

It’s never too late to start implementing these strategies, pick one and give it a go!


  1. ADHD and the Epidemic of Shame
  2. The importance of positive self-esteem for kids
  3. Build Self-Esteem in your Child with ADHD
  4. 5 Tips to Help Increase Self-Esteem in Kids with ADHD
  5. Experiences of criticism in adults with ADHD: A qualitative study
  6. Fitting Square Pegs into Round Holes: The Challenge of Coping with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
  7. Cognitive Functions, Self-Esteem and Self-Concept of Children with Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder

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