10/02/2014 01:21 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

ADHD: Bad Kid Good Kid

By Meika Rouda/ The Next Family


I often hear my friends describe a child as "a nice kid" and I know they do not say that about my son. My son is wild and unpredictable, always the first to hatch a plan with friends, sometimes a good plan and sometimes a mischievous one. But one of the main reasons he isn't considered a nice kid for parents is because he doesn't like to talk to adults.

When a friend of ours greets him, usually my son just ignores them; it is too much for him to even wave or give a high five. We have tried baby steps, like a pinky wave but still he shuts down. Something about the expectation of an adult stirs a shyness that takes over him and it is completely contrary to the rest of his personality. It frustrates adults to not have a kid say hello back or maybe it even hurts their feelings. I was hoping he would grow out of it but he is six now and we have had little if any progress. And I realize that while my son is an instigator or adventurer, it is really his inability to interact with adults that labels him more than anything else. I think it must be associated with manners and that his lack of a greeting means he has bad manners and is by default perhaps a bad kid. Or maybe they see it as a defiance to adults and that too marks him a "bad kid."

And sometimes he is a bad kid. The kind of kid I wouldn't want my own son associating with. He has been getting in trouble lately at camp because he has been hitting kids. While it is often because he is upset at something, not just a random act, it is still unacceptable to hit. Today when I picked him up at camp, a neighborhood friend came by and my son hit him with his hat and made a mark on his arm. He wasn't doing it in anger, he was laughing and having fun thinking the other kid would be having fun too but he wasn't. This kid loves my son but I saw him look at him differently now. While my son was being hyper and escalated, I could tell that this boy would not want to play with him anymore. His mother just looked at me, surprised and shocked to see him acting out. I felt embarrassed. When kids are younger, they are easier to forgive but now that they are going into first grade, kids have stronger opinions about who they do and do not want to play with. And while my son felt badly, he wasn't able to say he was sorry. It was too much for him, like saying hello to adults is too much.

The thing is that he really isn't a bad kid, he has empathy, he doesn't want to hit, he is just ADHD and has terrible impulse control. That is the definition of ADHD apparently, lack of impulse control. The developmental pediatrician who evaluated him said " your son's regular state is like that of an adult on ten cups of coffe." So no wonder he has no impulse control. Now I worry if my sociable son, who somehow always had a slew of friends despite his physicality, may now be risking what he loves most, his friends. If he loses friends I know he will sink, it is hard to survive childhood emotionally unscarred but if you don't have friends you are in a different league, one that is unnatural to him. And what makes me most sad is that he would have created it himself by having no self control.

We have been in therapy with him for over a year, both occupational and behavioral, but I wonder if we should medicate him. When he is in a regulated state, which we call the "green zone" he is an amazing person, helpful and enthusiastic, happy, loving and able to control himself when he has "big feelings." When he is in the "red zone," like today, he is obnoxious and hyper and a bully. He just can't process what he is feeling inside. Plus I worry about his self esteem and him thinking he is a "bad kid." That if he is singled out by his camp counselors and his teachers and his parents or other parents for his behavior, he will take on that persona. That is most destructive of all.

I really don't want to medicate him; I am hoping and praying that the therapy will help him control himself but I also want him to succeed and if he feels like he can't control himself that must be awful for him. To not trust how you are going to act or to not honor normal social cues like having a friend say "stop -- i don't like that" is going to keep him labeled as a bad kid, not just to adults but to his peers and eventually to himself. And once you are labeled a bad kid, it is very hard to be known as a good kid again.

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