ADHD and Locus of Control: Help your Child Feel Responsible

ADHD and “Locus of Control”

ADHD and “Locus of Control”

A guest post by Angela Wright, one of our homework coaches. Angela is completing her Master’s degree in School Counseling at Capella University.

Many times children diagnosed with ADHD will tell their parents “It’s not my fault I failed the test.  It was just too hard” or “I didn’t do well on that assignment because my teacher doesn’t like me”. Believe it or not, this seeming tendency to refuse to accept responsibility is actually a function of ADHD. Behavior-altering conditions such as ADHD often cause children to feel that they have no control over life circumstances and they therefore tend to blame everything and everyone but themselves for both their failures and their successes. This orientation towards blaming outside circumstances is called an external locus of control. A study in the Journal of Clinical Psychology found that children diagnosed with ADHD had significantly higher external locus of control than non-ADHD diagnosed children. However, there are ways to help your ADHD diagnosed child to feel more in control of his or her abilities and to change their locus of control.

What is Locus of Control?

Locus of control is a psychology term that defines the extent to which individuals feel they can control events and circumstances that affect them. A person can have either an internal or external locus of control. Someone with an internal locus of control is likely to believe that both successes and failures are due to their own efforts. They might say “I failed that test because I didn’t study hard enough” or may respond to a good grade with “I studied very hard and this is the grade I earned”. This is different from a person with an external locus of control, who believes that everything that occurs is outside of their control. Such a person would say “The teacher didn’t tell us what the test would be on” or respond to a good grade by saying “I got lucky this time.”

4 ways to help your child to gain a more internalized locus of control

Internal locus of control correlates to higher academic achievement, so is to be encouraged in your child. Many ADHD diagnosed children have grown up being told by their school (and sometimes their parents) that they are incapable of certain things because of their ADHD. Viewing their ADHD diagnosis as a barrier allows children to also view it as an excuse. It’s important for ADHD students to learn that there are strategies for overcoming those barriers. Helping to change the way ADHD-diagnosed children view their ability to control their academic success is essential to ensuring that they take more personal responsibility for failures and more pride in their successes.

1)  Taking responsibility for success: If your child studied really hard for a test and receives a good grade, don’t let him attribute that good grade to “luck”. Remind him that he worked hard to receive that grade and his hard work paid off!

2) Learning that’s it okay not to be perfect: If your child studied really hard for a test and didn’t get the grade he wanted, remind him that he tried his best. Look over the test and make a point of praising the things he did right. For instance, if he was having difficulty with learning a chemical compound and he remembered it on the test you could say “Wow, you remembered that compound? That’s because you worked so hard when you were studying!” When dealing with the items he missed, discuss ways to ensure he remembers those items in the future. Too often, ADHD students will give up when they don’t get the grade they think they should have so try to focus on what they did right and suggest strategies for improvement rather than only focusing on what was done wrong.

3) Taking responsibility for failure: This may be the hardest item for ADHD diagnosed children, but it is possible. When a child receives a bad grade because he or she did not study, it is helpful to sit down with the child and ask him to explain why he thinks he did not succeed this time. If the child says “the test was just too hard” ask what made it hard and what he could have done to be prepared for how hard it was. It can also help to ask if studying harder might have made a difference. Make a plan for how to deal with hard tests in the future and follow through with the plan.

4) Use past successes to encourage persistence: When an ADHD diagnosed child is learning something new, it is not uncommon to hear him or her complain that it is too hard to learn and they will never understand it. When this happens, it can be helpful to remind the child of a past difficulty they overcame. For instance, “You thought that learning fractions was really hard too, but then you got a ‘B’ on the fractions test. I bet if we just keep trying, you can learn this also!” Positive encouragement can go a long way towards instilling confidence and personal pride. It can also help to reinforce the connection between personal effort and success.

The key thing to remember in trying to strengthen children’s internal locus of control is that once they begin to see the connection between their personal effort and success, they are more likely to keep trying. By praising their successes and helping them to consider how they can improve when they fail, they can learn that they are responsible for how well they do in school. Students who believe they are in control of their successes and failures are more likely to be persistent and continue to work towards academic success.


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