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What When Friends and Family Aren’t Being Supportive

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In an ideal world, your family and friends would always be supportive of your child who learns and thinks differently. They’d be sensitive to your child’s needs—and to yours. They’d ask tactfully about how things are going at school and about the resources your child gets. And they would check in with you and offer ongoing support.

“You don’t have to apologize for wanting to stop rude people in their tracks.”

But family and friends aren’t always as supportive as they could be. Maybe your relatives and friends simply don’t understand the differences your child has. Or maybe they refuse to take a diagnosis seriously. They might see how your child talks or acts and make snap judgments. Or perhaps they loudly (and unfairly) judge your parenting.

Feeling Let Down by Friends and Family

When family or friends say insensitive things or try to interfere with your parenting, it can be a blow. These are people you hoped you could count on. You might think

  • “They’ll never understand who my child truly is.”
  • “They have the wrong idea about this common learning difference.”
  • “I thought other kids might be hard to deal with. But I didn’t expect adults to be so insensitive.”
  • “I’m disappointed our relationship wasn’t as strong as I’d thought.”
  • “I thought I meant more to this person.”

Whether they mean to or not, other people can be rude or judgmental about how you parent. They might assume they know more about ADHD and your child’s challenges than you do. They may even try to step in.

Here are some briefings on how to respond when other parents and adults criticize, offer unwanted advice, or try to discipline your child.

Offering Unwanted Advice

The scene: At school drop-off, another mom says, “I read an article about ADHD today. It is said that parents should change their kids’ diets to stop bad behavior. Did you see that?”

How to respond: “I did, thanks!” or, “No, but that sounds interesting.”

The rationale: You don’t have to chat with near-strangers about your parenting choices. You can choose a polite version of “I’m not comfortable discussing my child.”

Criticizing Your Parenting

The scene: Your daughter forgets her soccer cleats. You go home for them because you know how your child loves soccer after a hard day at school. Another dad says, “She sure has you wrapped around her finger.”

How to respond: “She’s getting better at staying organized, and soccer is great for her.”

The rationale: You can offer a bit of information without going into details. Sharing that your child is working on something hints that there’s more going on than meets the eye.

Disciplining Your Child

The scene: At a birthday party, another parent says, “If he’d stay in one place, we could get a picture of the whole group. Alan, will you stop fidgeting?”

How to respond: When your child isn’t listening, try saying, “Staying still is hard for Alan. We’re working on it, and we’d prefer to keep this a family matter.”

The rationale: It’s understandable to go into protective mode when another adult tells your child what to do. Try to stay calm and stick to the facts.

Ways to Handle Unsupportive Friends and Family

It’s normal to feel sad, angry, or disappointed when friends and family aren’t supportive. But chances are they don’t mean to be insensitive and hurtful. Here are some things you can do to improve the situation.

Inform them. If not understanding your child’s challenges is the problem, try to gently educate your friend or relative. You don’t have to go into great detail about what your child experiences. Just give enough information for them to get a sense of the differences and what your family is doing to support your child.

Find allies. Talk first with the people in your family or friend circles who are supportive of your child. They can then spread the word, with your permission, to people who might be less sensitive.

Talk one-on-one. Speaking with someone personally makes it easier for you to have their full attention. And then they can ask you questions directly.

Give your child a script, too. Work with your child to come up with a short explanation to offer when someone is being insensitive: “I have trouble staying focused, and I’m working on that with my resource teacher. But you should see me on the soccer field!”

Confront them. If insensitive comments continue, it’s OK to be a little firmer. You don’t have to apologize for wanting to stop rude people in their tracks: “Thanks for your interest in Noah’s condition. But he’s our son and we’re going to deal with this ourselves. We’d appreciate it if you didn’t talk about him anymore.”

Avoid them. When all else fails, try not to interact with an offensive friend or relative. Instead, try to spend more time talking with people who recognize and appreciate your child’s strengths.

Key Takeaways

  • People who don’t understand your child’s learning and thinking differences may be insensitive.
  • Educate friends and relatives about the challenges. Do it gently at first, but get firmer if they seem to dismiss it.
  • You don’t have to put up with insensitive people. Spend more time with supportive people.

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