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Attention Problems and Children IX  

It is hard to believe this is the ninth month in a row I have addressed issues for parents with attention challenged children. The time it has taken to get it all down is an indicator of how complicated, and extensive, the issue is. That makes this section, on parents taking care of themselves, particularly important. Parenting is a tough job and children with attention problems just add to that toughness. It is thus important that parents learn to take care of themselves so they are up to the job, and so the job doesn’t destroy their own quality of life.

One of the things that is very helpful for parents is to feel effective. A feeling of effectiveness, or efficacy, helps bring energy to the task and bolster mood and general well being as well. Part of the problem with attention challenged children is that parenting, even good parenting, isn’t as effective with them. That is part of what makes it so difficult. Good parenting doesn’t achieve the outcomes parents desire as often with attention challenged children as it does for children without such challenges. Thus, if parents only judge themselves by outcome, it is easy to not feel effective. Certainly, parents should do all they can to learn what is most effective in general and with their children and to follow through with the things they know are likely to work. But if it doesn’t work all the time, they should also be gentle with themselves and judge themselves by whether they did what they wanted rather than whether they got the outcome they desired.

This is an area where judgment by outcome can be problematic. Think about it this way. If, back in the day, you were the basketball player who was assigned to guard Michael Jordan whenever your team played the Bulls, you would look pretty bad most of the time by most simple, objective measures. You could do everything you were supposed to do in guarding him but he would still most likely end up leading scorers for the Bulls, and likely for the whole game. If you did everything you were supposed to do, you likely would have had an impact, but it would have been more like holding him to 80 % of his scoring average, and without understanding the context of who you were guarding, would look like a bad outcome. There is the same kind of issue when parenting a child with attention problems. Perfect parenting (which probably doesn’t exist anyway) is still not going to give perfect outcomes. One of the best things parents can do to help maintain a sense of their own efficacy is to learn to evaluate themselves based on how well they behaved the way they want to, rather than by the outcome they achieved with their child.

I will finish writing about self-care for parents next month.

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