How Can I Help My Teen with ADHD Overcome Their Negative Self Talk?

ADHD can be a difficult condition to navigate, both for the teens dealing directly with it and their parents who want to help in any way that they can. 

One of the most common struggles teens with ADHD face is negative self-talk, an issue that often goes unseen or doesn’t get addressed until much later on. 

Why Teens With ADHD Feel So Deeply

Adolescence is a time full of physical, mental, and emotional changes as young people try to find their place in the world. For adults living with ADHD, this transition into adulthood can be even harder. These individuals may struggle with keeping up in school, because they don’t have the same tools available to them like other students—which could mean having difficulty understanding material or remembering instructions. As a result, these teens might form certain beliefs about themselves and their abilities, which leads to increased feelings of inadequacy.

The psychology behind big feelings serves as the foundation for why teens with ADHD experience such intense emotion. Dopamine plays a huge role in whether these emotions are seen as positive or negative.

In those living with ADHD, there is an imbalance in the amount of dopamine present in the brain. Too little becomes associated with feelings of sadness or lack of motivation while too much brings forth excessive excitement and hyperactivity. The real problem comes from an inability to regulate these levels of dopamine correctly. It’s these experiences within environments that leave kids feeling overwhelmed and without appropriate outlets for releasing their stressors.

Unfortunately, when someone constantly deals with overwhelming situations, it’s easy to start believing that failure is inevitable. Left unchecked, this thinking begins to snowball and develop into damaging patterns of negative self-talk.

Common Examples of Negative Self Talk

Negative self-talk tends to take the form of generalizations, overgeneralizations, labelling, and devaluing words. Here are some examples of what this might sound like coming from your teen:

  • “I always mess up when it comes to remembering where things are.”
  • “I’ll never be able to follow a map or directions properly.”
  • “My friends must think I’m dumb because I can’t keep up with them.”
  • “I can’t hold onto information long enough to use it.”
  • “I always forget what I’m supposed to do next in a task.”
  • “Why do I keep losing track of what I was just thinking?”
  • “I feel like I’m never able to complete tasks without constant reminders.”
  • “It’s so hard to keep multiple pieces of information in my mind at once.”
  • “I can’t concentrate on what I’m doing because my thoughts keep slipping away.”
  • “I struggle to follow conversations because I can’t remember what was just said.”
  • “My working memory is so bad; I’ll never be able to succeed in school or work.”
  • “I wish I could remember instructions better without always needing help.”
  • “I’m never able to make connections between different ideas or concepts because they just won’t stick in my mind.”

These statements all stem from one basic thought: worthlessness. Feeling like nothing you do matters chips away at confidence levels and can lead to further problems if ignored. Luckily, there is a source of hope despite all of these dark feelings: Visuospatial Working Memory (VSWM).

The Relationship Between Visuospatial Working Memory and Negative Self Talk

Those whose VSWM is lagging might hear similar phrases as listed above when expressing the frustrations caused by their ADHD. Therefore, noting some of what your child says might indicate that they have a weak VSWM. The good news is that this type of working memory can be improved through practice and direct interventions.

So, what is visuospatial working memory? Basically, if someone has poor VSWM, then they will be unable to accurately store information related to location and direction. Those struggling with VSWM might find it difficult to remember where specific objects were located earlier, recall route directions to familiar places, or look at pictures to decipher what objects are pictured. To add, those with weak VSWM may easily become distracted and overwhelmed compared to others.

One sign that might suggest lagging VSWM is disorganization. People who have trouble keeping track of their belongings tend to be scattered and unorganized when preparing for assignments or activities. They also make careless mistakes due to distraction from internal and external factors. Furthermore, those with weakened VSWM find it difficult to absorb new information within talks or lectures. In fact, their brains require additional time processing the details before moving onto the next thing. It’s clear that many signs point towards troubling VSWM – which can only increase the frequency of negative self-talk.

How To Help Your Teen

Now that we know how powerful negative self-talk can be for those living with ADHD, let’s move onto talking about solutions.

Helping Children Recognize and Challenge These Negative Self-Talk Patterns

Since symptoms of ADHD usually appear throughout childhood, instilling habits that counteract negative self-talk is essential early on. Teaching kids to recognize their own inner monologue can give them control over when and how they battle against their own doubts. Language used should avoid defeatist terms such as ‘should’ or ‘can’t’, and instead focus on positives like ‘will’ and ‘am’. Give frequent reminders to focus on what is happening now rather than dwelling on past failures. Hearing criticism isn’t healthy either; learning to separate valid constructive feedback from nasty comments is key to preventing low self-esteem and feelings of despair.

Leading Your Teen Towards More Positive and Constructive Thoughts

For adolescents dealing with repeated bouts of depression or anxiety, providing psychological support is highly beneficial. If necessary, specialized therapy meant to tackle such feelings can be implemented. Targeting automatic thoughts is another great strategy for helping teens cope with current issues while still striving for future goals. These strategies range from simple breathing exercises to creative mindfulness techniques like journaling.

Supporting the Development of their Working Memory

Last but certainly not least, actively developing VSWM is critical for teens looking to reach their potential and fight off any discouraging voices in their head. Simple yet effective methods include playing games to hone attentional focus and visualization skills. Exercises such as forming detailed mental images of locations or practicing memorizing sequences also serve as valuable practices. Research suggests that using audio-visual cues increases performance on tests requiring spatial working memory. Likewise, letting teens break down complex tasks into smaller chunks helps reduce overwhelm and frustration.

Having a strong network of supportive adults around can offer just the boost needed to stay motivated. Everyone needs encouragement every once in awhile to keep going!

Combating negative self-talk can seem impossible, especially for teens already struggling with social and academic obstacles that come along with ADHD. By learning to recognize the signs of lagging VSWM, creating systems of positive reinforcement at home, and encouraging your teen to strengthen their working memory, they can learn to push back against negative self talk and focus on being their best selves. Taking care of a growing adolescent takes patience and perseverance, but with teamwork anything is possible!

Reach out to our clinic today to book a FREE call to discover how we can help you get to the root cause of your teen’s ADHD diagnosis. We’re here to help.

References:

CBT:

Safren, S. A., Sprich, S., Mimiaga, M. J., Surman, C., Knouse, L., Groves, M., & Otto, M. W. (2010). Cognitive behavioral therapy vs relaxation with educational support for medication-treated adults with ADHD and persistent symptoms: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of the American Medical Association, 304(8), 875-880.

Link: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/186547

Neurocognitive Training:

Cortese, S., Ferrin, M., Brandeis, D., Buitelaar, J., Daley, D., Dittmann, R. W., … & European ADHD Guidelines Group. (2015). Cognitive training for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: Meta-analysis of clinical and neuropsychological outcomes from randomized controlled trials. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 54(3), 164-174.

Link: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0890856714009366

Neurofeedback:

Arns, M., de Ridder, S., Strehl, U., Breteler, M., & Coenen, A. (2009). Efficacy of neurofeedback treatment in ADHD: The effects on inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity: A meta-analysis. Clinical EEG and Neuroscience, 40(3), 180-189.

Link: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/155005940904000311

Martinussen, R., Hayden, J., Hogg-Johnson, S., & Tannock, R. (2005). A meta-analysis of working memory impairments in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 44(4), 377-384.

Link: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0890856709618764

Rapport, M. D., Orban, S. A., Kofler, M. J., & Friedman, L. M. (2013). Do programs designed to train working memory, other executive functions, and attention benefit children with ADHD? A meta-analytic review of cognitive, academic, and behavioral outcomes. Clinical Psychology Review, 33(8), 1237-1252.

Link: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0272735813001386

Lofthouse, N., Arnold, L. E., Hersch, S., Hurt, E., & DeBeus, R. (2012). A review of neurofeedback treatment for pediatric ADHD. Journal of Attention Disorders, 16(5), 351-372.

Link: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1087054711427530

Kasper, L. J., Alderson, R. M., & Hudec, K. L. (2012). Moderators of working memory deficits in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): A meta-analytic review. Clinical Psychology Review, 32(7), 605-617.

Link: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0272735812000995

Steiner, N. J., Frenette, E. C., Rene, K. M., Brennan, R. T., & Perrin, E. C. (2014). Neurofeedback and cognitive attention training for children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder in schools. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, 35(1), 18-27.

Link:

https://journals.lww.com/jrnldbp/Abstract2014/01000Neurofeedback_and_Cognitive_Attention_Training_for.4.aspx

Ready to get some support for you teen? Book a FREE call with our team of experts today.

Rey Cortez

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