5 Tips for Parents of Girls with ADHD
Children assigned female at birth have the same incidence of ADHD as those assigned male. The signs may be less obvious in girls, and research suggests ADHD in girls is often missed or misdiagnosed because their symptoms may not be as external or disruptive as those of boys.. It can be difficult as a parent to help your child get the support she needs, but there’s a lot you can do to set her up for success.
It’s a persistent myth that ADHD is primarily a boy’s condition. Although boys are more likely to receive an ADHD diagnosis, research suggests ADHD is missed in many girls due to several factors. Boys are more likely than girls to exhibit symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity, which are more disruptive and draw more attention in family, school, and social settings. Girls are more likely to experience inattentiveness as their prominent ADHD symptom, leading adults to label them as “dreamy” or “flighty” without further investigation. For these and many reasons, girls with ADHD often fall through the cracks. It can be a relief once your child finally receives a diagnosis of ADHD, but the path ahead may be intimidating and overwhelming. However, you’re not alone. There are many ways to provide the support your child needs to thrive.
ADHD can make it hard for girls to focus, follow directions, and remember tasks, from homework to household chores. Girls with ADHD need clear directions. Keep them short and simple, as people with ADHD can get easily overwhelmed when faced with large or complicated tasks. Breaking tasks down into digestible chunks can make all the difference. Sometimes, girls with ADHD may interpret instructions differently than you intended, so ask your child to repeat your instructions back to you, ensuring she understands. Some girls may respond better to written or visual directions than verbal cues. Others may need the verbalization. Keep the lines of communication open and resist the urge to judge or argue.
Research indicates girls with ADHD experience higher rates of low self-esteem than boys with ADHD or girls without ADHD. Girls with ADHD tend to blame themselves more for mistakes and problems at home and school. They also tend to receive more criticism than boys from friends, parents, and teachers, which further undermines their confidence. Social pressure and low self-esteem may eventually show up in eating disorders and self-harm behaviors like cutting.
The fear of being a “screw up” can push many girls with ADHD in the other direction. They may become obsessed with perfection and try to hide symptoms that may make them look not-so-perfect. Talk with your pediatrician about where the line should be between excelling and overcompensating.
Since girls with ADHD can get more negative feedback than those without, you have some extra work to do to balance the scales. Leave no stone unturned in catching them doing something right. On a given day, your praise should far exceed your criticism. Talk with teachers, coaches, and other adults in their life. Ask them to adjust their approach to align with yours.
Time management is often difficult for children with ADHD, so adding structure and routine to their day is paramount. Set consistent times and spaces for key daily activities like homework, chores, playtime, and bedtime.
Create a calendar together that you can refer to and update as needed. Remind your child to keep in mind that it’s OK to take breaks. If you have an overachiever, you may have to insist. Limit screen time and technology stimulation and make time to explore activities that are low pressure and comfortable. It can also be a good idea to prepare in advance for the next day. Before bed, help your child pack their backpack and make sure they have everything they need. Getting into this routine can break a pattern of stressful, rushed mornings and forgotten homework.
It can be difficult for both boys and girls with ADHD to make friends, but girls have a harder time. A girl’s social territory is often more complex. The expected etiquette is less obvious, and it carries more weight.
Some things girls with ADHD may do that hurt friendships include:
- talking too much
- getting easily frustrated
- appearing sensitive or needy
You can help them by modeling appropriate behavior, like taking turns talking and keeping your cool when you’re irritated. Get family members involved to practice listening without interrupting. Have some fun with social cues. Exaggerate smiles, frowns, and laughter, and talk about what they mean. Remember to praise any progress. Once your child seems more at ease, set up short, structured playdates with just a few friends at first. Your pediatrician or a behavioral specialist can also tailor starter scripts for everyday conversations that you can practice as a family.
You’re not on your own when it comes to helping your child navigate ADHD. A pediatric psychiatrist can evaluate your daughter and prescribe effective medication to mitigate some symptoms. A behavioral therapist or ADHD coach can be your guide as you tackle everyday life with ADHD. A talk therapist can provide a safe place for your child to express herself and feel heard. Ask your child’s doctor for recommendations, or look online for local experts. Your daughter’s teacher or guidance counselor may also be a great resource.
ADHD can affect every aspect of life, but parental support can make a dramatic difference for girls with this condition. Many effective behavioral techniques, as well as medications and talk therapy, are available to help you get to the other side of unmanaged ADHD symptoms so your daughter can thrive.