Children with ADHD often are very emotionally sensitive and impulsive. They get their feelings hurt easily and wear their heart on their sleeves. They are upset by things that are said, the way they are treated, the tone or volume of the voice we use and specific remarks that teachers or friends often innocently make. Because of their lack of attention to social situations they are especially vulnerable to the unkindness of others.
Who of us has not spent sad times drying their tears, listening to their sad stories and reassuring them against the thoughtlessness of friends and family? These experiences develop in them a deep empathy for other children and even adults who are going through tough times. They often have exceptional insight into the problems of others who are drawn to them for their consolation and advice.
Traveling through the trials of life on an emotional roller coaster is difficult. They are pulled off the straight and narrow King’s Highway of The Pilgrim’s Progress not only by every sound they hear or thought they consider but every harsh word or unfair action that they experience. Clearly they will need to build some emotional toughness. My son hates it when I tell him to get a thicker skin.
Along with this sensitivity they also have perhaps the worst possible combination character trait – they are stubborn. Here is where many parents automatically begin to nod their heads in rueful agreement and recognition. Psychiatrists call this unholy union “Oppositional Defiant Disorder” but I prefer the more descriptive terms of sensitive and stubborn personality. These children have very strong feelings about what they want and do not want to do and they are happy to strongly express their opinions in no uncertain terms to anyone who questions them.
This combination of characteristics (which are completely separate from the additional diagnoses of ADHD or learning differences) are challenging to everyone around the child, but once we get past our frustration we begin to see their extraordinary qualities. They not only have highly original ideas but the drive to start (but not always finish) their plans. We appreciate their creativity and sense of purpose. Stubborn people should be more positively defined as determined and persistent. They strive to complete the work they are interested in and can often find a way regardless of what anyone says. The idea that no one believes they can accomplish the impossible motivates them like nothing else.
Because stubbornness is essential to faith, we find many examples in the Bible. Jacob wrestled an angel and Abraham had every intention of following through on Jehovah’s command to sacrifice Isaac on the altar. The determination of Job to not blindly accept the false critical comfort of his “friends” was rewarded by the voice from the whirlwind. The hard-heartedness of Jonah in refusing to go to Nineveh or the Israelites questioning everything God asked of them changed their lives. Hard lessons may be necessary but ultimately rewarding.
Sensitive but stubborn children achieve may not their best in grades, relationships with family and friends, or self-esteem. Invariably when school and relationships sour, frustration leads to determination to not do their work or cooperate with the rules. An attitude of disagreement or an atmosphere of resistance becomes more and more firmly ingrained and difficult to alter at home and at school. It is not our wish to change their personality but rather recognize and redirected it in appropriate directions. Relentless single-mindedness can be our friend if it is properly harnessed. It sounds difficult and it is but it is not impossible.