Regardless of your child’s age, it can be hard to tell them that they have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Fortunately, today, people are more familiar with ADHD.
“The good news at this point in time is that ADHD is pretty well known and many kids (or at least teens) know someone or have a friend who they know has ADHD,” according to Ari Tuckman, PsyD, a clinical psychologist who specializes in ADHD and author of More Attention, Less Deficit: Successful Strategies for Adults with ADHD.
Below are some ideas to help you talk to your child.
1. Come to terms with the diagnosis yourself.
If you haven’t accepted the diagnosis, it’ll be much harder to talk to your child. According to psychologist Carol Brady, Ph.D, on ADDitude magazine, the best time to talk to your child is once you have accepted the diagnosis and feel ready to discuss it.
This is especially important so you don’t catastrophize the diagnosis during your conversation, Tuckman said.
2. Educate yourself about ADHD.
Learn as much as you can about ADHD, so you can provide your child with accurate information and answer their questions. But, as Tuckman said, “it’s also totally acceptable to say that they don’t know something but that they can look it up together or the parent will find out.”
3. Keep it simple and “put it in terms that the child can relate to,” Tuckman said.
For instance, according to Tuckman, you might say, “Everybody has things that they’re good at and things that they’re not as good at. People who have ADHD tend to be less good at paying attention to uninteresting things, tend to be forgetful and disorganized, etc.”
He suggested drawing specific examples from your child’s life, such as “Like how you forgot your math homework twice last week.”
4. “Explain what ADHD isn’t,” he said.
For instance, ADHD isn’t “laziness [or] being stupid.” Make sure they understand it isn’t something they did or didn’t do, or a personal failing of theirs. A lot of times children will get it into their mind that they did something to cause the problem. Reassure them they’re not to blame.
5. Draw on your experiences, if you have ADHD.
“It can be helpful to talk about that experience and the strategies that the parent uses to stay on top of obligations,” Tuckman said.
6. “Remind the child of his or her other good qualities,” Tuckman said.
Similarly, as Brady suggested to a parent of an 11-year-old daughter on ADDitude: “Reassure her that, while having ADD/ADHD may require extra time and effort for some tasks, many people diagnosed with the disorder have achieved success despite it and, sometimes, because of it.”
7. Don’t reveal the actual diagnosis, “if the child is so overly sensitive or feeling so down on himself that this will feel like yet another blow to his self-esteem,” Tuckman said.
If that’s the case, he said, “without saying ADHD, treat it and work on strategies to help the child be more successful. As he feels better about himself, at that time explain to him that his trouble focusing, remembering, etc., comes from the ADHD. Make it nonchalant but matter of fact and be prepared to answer lots of questions!”
8. Seek out resources.
To help with your conversation, Brady suggested reviewing books based on your child’s age level. She gave these two books as examples: A Bird’s-Eye View of Life with ADD and ADHD by Chris Dendy and The Girls’ Guide to AD/HD by Beth Walker.
Tuckman concluded that:
“Living with ADHD is a process and you will be in it together. Just as everyone needs to figure out ways to be successful in life given their particular strengths and weaknesses, so too will you and your child work to find ways to help your child create a happy life.”