Talking to Your Children About ADHD

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • When a child is first diagnosed with ADHD, it is natural for the parent to have questions. They may have questions on what to do next and how ADHD is going to impact their child's life. Does having ADHD mean their child isn't as smart as other kids? Does it mean career choices are going to be limited? Where did it come from? If parents question these things, it stands to reason that children have many questions as well.


    Parents may not know how or when to answer these questions. Some may choose to simply put off answering, thinking the child is too young to understand. But no matter what the age, children need to have some information.

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    For young children, parents need to keep explanations simple. You may start by explaining children are all different and each has things they are good at and things they are not so good at. For example, some children are good at reading and some may be good at math. Parents may want to include example that do not have anything to do with school, such as, some kids can run fast and other's may be good at drawing. You can then include hyperactivity or inattention, explaining some children are more active than others.


    Younger children think in more concrete terms. They will understand better when given short facts rather than long explanations.


    When discussing medication, let your child know what you think the medication may do, what behaviors you are seeing that you would like corrected, and how to measure whether or not the medication is working.


    Young children view the world in terms of them. They may blame themselves for the ADHD, thinking they have done something wrong. Make sure you let your child know ADHD is not their fault. If you, your spouse, or another family member has also been diagnosed, let your child know.


    Talking to Older Children


    As children get older, the explanations for ADHD need to be more complex, during the pre-teen years, children may want technical information, trying to understand how ADHD works. As teens, they may want more abstract information, such as how it will impact relationships, college, and careers.


    The first step would be to ask your child how he or she feels and what he or she notices about ADHD. You may need to use specific examples of behaviors you have seen and ask your child how he or she felt when that behavior was present. You can discuss how your child feels when he or she forgets to hand in homework, spends hours completing homework or when he or she can't sit still. This information can help you to explain ADHD from your child's perspective.


    Help your child understand what the doctor has said. By this age, your child probably listens to the doctor as he or she is talking. Your child may not understand all the terminology or not understand what is being said. It is up to you to interpret this information and put it into words your child can understand.


    Talking about the diagnosis with your older child may be easier in some ways. The diagnosis could have brought about relief or understanding. Your child may feel better knowing there is an explanation to his or her behaviors.


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    If you choose to use medication to treat ADHD, it is just as important to talk about what you expect medication to do. Adolescents need to understand medication does not cure ADHD and it is still important to use behavioral strategies. Talk about how you can measure the affects of medication so that together you can decide if it is working. You may want to review: How Do I Know if a Treatment is Working? together.


    For teens who may have a more difficult time talking about ADHD or are resentful or angry, you may want to consider counseling for a short period of time to help him or her adjust to the diagnosis and accept treatment.


    Talking with your child is not a one-time discussion. This should be ongoing. Parents can help children to understand ADHD is a medical diagnosis. Children should not believe they are lazy or stupid, but instead understand why ADHD may sometimes make them feel that way. As your child grows up, his or her questions will continue to change, keeping up the discussion will help you continue to develop understanding according to their age level.


    That also means you should continually strive to learn about ADHD. Read books or the articles here on Keep up with new information so you can continue to help your child learn and understand. Keep in mind, if your child has ADHD, there is a good chance either you or your spouse has ADHD too. If you believe one of you have ADHD, talk with your child about this, letting him or her know ADHD is nothing to be ashamed of. Your positive actions and attitude toward ADHD will help your child feel positive toward it as well.

Published On: July 10, 2009