It was after 8:30 p.m., 30 minutes past Norah’s bedtime, and she was in the family office having an anxiety attack. She’s nine years old and this was the fourth night in a row that she’d been up well past her bedtime, anxious, because she wasn’t able to work fast enough to keep up with her 5th grade class.
I must admit, when my daughter was diagnosed with ADHD almost a year ago, I knew it would be a struggle. I knew my wife and I were going to have to be on her team. To be supportive. Once we got her on a 504 plan, it felt like a game changer. She could finally keep up. But this year, with her move into 5th grade, it feels like everything has changed, and she is this little ball of anxiety.
Even though she is given more time on assignments, the social pressure of turning in an assignment after everyone else is causing her to feel shame and frustration, and those emotions seem to always come to a head late in the evening, just before bed, causing my wife and I to stay up late, trying to help her calm down.
I did not see this coming, and I will tell you why.
I’ve been a father for 12 years now, and helping my daughter manage the anxiety associated with her ADHD has been one of my biggest challenges.
I wasn’t diagnosed with ADHD until I was in my late 20s. Growing up, I was simply labeled as “not smart” (but with meaner words). I was placed in remedial classes, and frankly, I believed that I really was stupid. I felt it in the core of who I was, and somewhere in all that, I gave up on school ever being a part of my life. I was comfortable with failing grades and missed deadlines, because I felt like it was my fate. This is who I was. None of it caused me anxiety.
But with Norah, she’s bright. I know she is. I know she is curious and communicative and artistic, and unlike my childhood, we have been able to find a path for her to succeed in school. And while all of this is what we as parents ought to be doing for our children, none of it changes the fact that she works slower than most of the students in her class. And frankly, there is nothing wrong with that. There is nothing wrong with working slowly, but finishing strong. It’s just that Norah doesn’t know that yet, and it’s causing her pain.
And although I’ve told her this a million times, Norah watches her classmates finish assignments in half the time she takes. They finish tests and in-class assignments quickly while she methodically works these assignments over. Despite her efforts, she cannot finish her work during the day, and ends up taking some home.
While in 4th grade, none of this bothered her. But in 5th grade, she is growing more aware of her surroundings. She is starting to feel that pressure to be “normal,” as if there is any such thing, and it’s causing her this incredible amount of anxiety.
Each evening my wife and I set the pace for her. We set timers and allow for breaks and rewards. And even with the support of two loving parents who both happen to work in education, she is completely overwhelmed and prone to breakdowns because she feels like she isn’t keeping up with her peers.
It’s taking over our lives. Every evening we are doing damage control, calming our daughter down enough so she can finish the assignments she couldn’t complete during the school day. She stays up late because she is determined to finish, which makes her tired, and ultimately exacerbates her ability to focus in class. All of it leaks into the weekends, and the cycle never ends.
Listen, parenting is frustrating. Each of our three children are different, but I must admit, I’ve been a father for 12 years now, and helping my daughter manage the anxiety associated with her ADHD has been one of my biggest challenges. And while it is one of those things that no one talks about, I feel 100% confident that I cannot be alone.
But as frustrating as it all is, I am so proud of my daughter. At 9, I never had this kind of determination with anything. She wants to do well in school with every part of her, and all we can do is try to support her effort. Because deep down, I’m terrified she is going to give up, like I did as a child.
Naturally, we have spoken with her school about this, and we are meeting with the principal and the teacher soon to reevaluate her 504 plan. I do hope that we will find the right mix to relieve her anxiety and workload. But until that happens, we are in it.
Even with the support of two loving parents, she is completely overwhelmed and prone to breakdowns because she feels like she isn’t keeping up with her peers.
We are knee deep in it, trying to help make sure our daughter survives the 5th grade, and all of it makes me wonder what challenges we will face later in life while supporting our daughter with ADHD. But we’ll never give up on her, and we won’t let her give up on herself either, and I think that will be the real game changer for her.