Talking with Your Child About ADHD

Your child has received an ADHD diagnosis and is responding well to treatment. But now they are asking the difficult question: Why me?

Parents often need support navigating their child’s ADHD diagnosis and, just as importantly, how to explain that diagnosis to their child. It’s normal to feel concern or hesitation when it comes to answering your child’s questions. By addressing them early, you and your family can quickly get on the path of success and understanding. 

What to expect

While you can’t predict everything your child will ask, there are a couple of questions you can prepare for. If you can, find a time when you and your child can talk uninterrupted and without distractions. The most important part of talking with your child is to stick with the science, stay positive and be honest – even if your answer is “I don’t know.” Some typical questions you can expect include: 

  • Why do I have ADHD?
    • There are a lot of different ideas that scientists are looking into but, the truth is, there aren’t a lot of answers. Most scientists believe that genetics, or the things that make you who you are, are the main reason why.
  • Why do I get treated differently in school?
    • Your brain works a little differently than your classmates. It’s a bit faster and sometimes it’s tough to slow it down. This just means that your teacher has special tricks to help you focus. This is totally normal for people with ADHD, and we’ll keep helping you find ways to continue being a great student. 
  • Do other kids think like me?
    • Absolutely! Lots of brilliant and creative people have ADHD, not just kids. A lot of kids get diagnosed at different ages and so do grown-ups. You are not alone. If your child has a favorite athlete, celebrity, or even a community leader, do some research into their backgrounds and if they have previously struggled with ADHD. Do not tell your child about other kids in their class with ADHD unless you’ve had a conversation with the parents/guardian. 
  • Why do I get frustrated/can’t sit still/struggle in school? 
    • It’s totally normal to feel this way. Part of having ADHD is having a lot of new or exciting ideas, sometimes all at once. This can maybe feel like you’re full of energy but not sure what to do with it sometimes. But this is also why we’re working together to help make things better at home and at school. 
  • Will I be like this forever?
    • I don’t know. Sometimes ADHD can last into adulthood, but we won’t know for sure. What I do know is that I love you and will keep working with you to understand what’s happening and how we can help. 

“Talking about why anything happens can be difficult, but especially when it’s your child asking why they are different,” says Zachariah Booker, CEO and co-founder of ADHD Online. “As someone with ADHD, I’ve learned to embrace that what makes me different is what makes me able to think in ways others don’t and achieve unique successes. In that sense, I tell people that ADHD is my superpower.” 

Other tips

Just like when you spoke with your child’s teacher, these questions and conversations can feel scary at first. But remember, your child is just trying to understand themselves and their diagnosis. Here are a few more tips to remember when talking with your child: 

  • Use people-first language, meaning don’t say “You are an ADHD kid.” Rather, let them know that ADHD is something they have but it is not their defining characteristic. They are many other things: kind, curious, outgoing, artistic, creative, etc. 
  • Avoid using the words “disorder” or “issue” or saying that their brain isn’t “normal.” This can sound scary for a child. Instead, let them know that their brain works a bit differently, just like how some people’s eyes work differently. 
  • If your child takes medication, avoid telling them that they need the medicine to learn or behave. This sends the wrong message about medication and its role. Rather, explain how the medication is just one tool in the treatment plan that helps filter out distractions. Remind your child of other tools they use to manage their symptoms. 
  • Stay up to date on current ADHD information and adjust your responses to your child’s age, their current experience, and their learning style. 

Keep the conversation going

Parents should maintain open communication with their child; one conversation about their ADHD diagnosis is just the beginning. Continue to talk through how your child’s ADHD affects school, teachers, friends, other family members, and themselves. As your child learns to live alongside their ADHD symptoms, they will discover their own superpowers. 

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