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Parents should not be too quick to diagnose children with ADHD when they could instead be struggling to deal with their emotions, Kate Silverton has said.

The former BBC broadcaster said people should “lose the labels” and seek to understand what is distressing children rather than simply handing them an ADHD diagnosis.

Silverton, who has written books on parenting since re-training as a child counsellor, said people should view children as experiencing “emotional dysregulation” when they display difficult behaviours.

The 53-year-old told the Happy Place podcast: “I know for parents it is terribly distressing when their children are behaving in ways which they just don’t understand.

“Let’s not look at children as having a problem, but there is something that’s distressing them, and once we can get into that, a lot of these big behaviours, they will disappear.

“My message is, really, let’s try to lose the labels if we can.

“I understand that they can help because they give us a sense of ‘ah, OK, so I can put my child in that’ but it can be quite debilitating for children then because people either over-expect or don’t expect so much of them when these kids are brilliant.

“Let’s work with our children with what they’re brilliant at for starters, if children are behaving in a dysregulated way, let’s not look at it that it’s a symptom of ADHD, let’s look at it as a symptom of emotional dysregulation – we can work with that.”

‘It’s a description, an umbrella term’

Silverton said trauma can also cause ‘a real muddle’ and gave an example of a boy who was diagnosed with ADHD after he bullied kids on the playground while his parents were going through an acrimonious divorce and blamed himself.

Silverton questioned whether putting the boy on ADHD medication is going to help and said: “We are doing our children a great disservice if we’re not stopping to look at the reasons why.”

She continued: “Until science becomes more advanced, we cannot definitively say that anyone definitively has something called ADHD, it’s not even a medical… It’s a description, an umbrella term.

“So I really, really want us to think really carefully.

“I get that it can be helpful to have it because it can give us more support and lord knows parents do need more support.

“So I’m not discriminating, I’m saying I just want children out there to be expressing their distress and then just being told it’s because they’ve got ADHD or ASD.

“I want to know these children are being seen and being heard and not just being put on medication.

“Because very often… it doesn’t help in the long term, it might help in the short term but it doesn’t help long term. We have the evidence for that.”

She added: “If it’s about emotional dysregulation we can bring our children to the point where we can really get beneath what is driving the behaviour and very often we’ll find it will dissipate.

“We really need to understand what’s going on for our children, and ask not ‘what’s wrong with you?’, but ‘what’s going on for you?’.”

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