Don't Underestimate Your Child with a Mental Illness

February 25, 2014 Heiddi Zalamar, LMHC, MA

Sometimes, the parents I've worked with underestimate their children with with mental illnesses. They can find it hard to see the little victories and tend to only see the negative things. As a parent, I have been there. When Bob was struggling in school thanks to attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and I received complaints from the teacher or spent hours nagging him to finish his homework (until his tears of frustration came), it was SO very hard to see the positive things. But, there are days like today, when Bob surprises me.

This Morning

I had been tossing and turning all night long finding it hard to sleep. I was awake before 6 AM, but stayed in bed hoping that I'd catch a catnap before getting up to wake Bob. After 45 minutes, it was no use. I was wide awake. So I figured I'd get a few more quiet minutes to myself before starting the mommy schedule of getting Bob out the door for school.

The Surprise

I opened my bedroom door (which faces into the living room) and found Bob awake and dressed for school. I was surprised because it wasn't even 7 AM yet! It was the kind of surprise that led to relief. I didn't have to wake him up. He did it on his own. It was beautiful. Sometimes, I underestimate Bob's abilities because of his ADHD. I've done so much for him in the last almost 13 years that it is hard for me to let Bob do his own thing. He amazes me.

Sometimes parents underestimate their children with mental illnesses but my story about underestimating Bob can remind parents to see the best in their children.

Don't Underestimate Your Child with a Mental Illness

It is a moment like this that can teach a parent to have more confidence in his or her child with a mental illness. So many times we think our kids are incapable of certain things like meeting a particular goal or even waking up early for school. Kids tend to surprise me. Their resilience, determination and constant need to please surprise me. I often find that the special needs kids I work with simply need support to get things done. And because some parents focus on the negative things, they forget how to support their children with mental illnesses. That being said, not every parent has the experience of support in childhood.

In fact, Bob's childhood reflects some of the lacks that I had in my own. The things that he experiences now with me are brand new for the parents in my family. I came from a more punitive, "I'm the parent - you're the child" style of parenting. I didn't want that for Bob. But, even with everything I've learned so far in the past 13 years, I still underestimate Bob's abilities. I still get surprised when he does things so well on his own. Don't underestimate your child because you'll never know what surprises lay in store for you.

photo credit: Lucia Whittaker via photopin cc

APA Reference
Zalamar, H. (2014, February 25). Don't Underestimate Your Child with a Mental Illness, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 22 from

Author: Heiddi Zalamar, LMHC, MA

Gabrielle Siegel
March, 1 2014 at 2:19 am

I know my parents always seemed to underestimate my abilities. Although I had recovered quite well from a head injury, no one was certain what I was capable of. It has taken me almost four years, but I will finally be graduating with an MASTER'S degree in psychology this year.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

March, 4 2014 at 12:08 am

Hi Gabrielle,
Thanks for stopping by and sharing your success story. Congratulations! Unfortunately, some people don't get the experience of having parents that believe in them. I didn't. Every parent is different person and that comes out in their parenting. While I do believe that Bob can accomplish anything he puts his mind to, I also know where some of his limitations are. That being said, there are days when he simply surprises me or surprises himself. Thanks for the visit and please come again soon.

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