Your child is in school and either you are frustrated, your child’s teacher is frustrated, or both. You have most likely seen behavioral problems and your child’s teacher has called to tell you that your child is disrupting the classroom and is not listening. You are at your “wits end” and finally decide, after much deliberating, to take your child to a health care professional —who tells you that your child has ADHD.

Now what?

Your child most likely is as frustrated as you are with constantly getting in trouble at school for not sitting still and not paying attention. He or she also may have been labeled at school as a troublemaker or daydreamer.

Children don’t want to stick out from their classmates and they especially do not want to be made fun of. If a school-aged child knows what ADHD is and has learning and behavioral strategies to help with the symptoms, they are better able to deal with it. This is a critical first step towards coping with ADHD. Many children with ADHD have low self-esteem because their inability to focus for any length of time keeps them from achieving as much as their peers. This does not have to be the case.

Talking to your child about ADHD should be done in a very reassuring and constructive manner. Tell the truth, but do not sugarcoat things. The reality is that your child will have to work at this just as much as you and his or her teachers will. As parents, you have most likely taken you child to a pediatrician or health care professional for evaluation. Your child probably is wondering what is going on and if there is a problem.

Start the conversation in a very positive way. Emphasize that their brain works “very fast” and even faster than most people around them. When you tell your child that they have ADHD, let them know that they are not alone. Every person is different in many different ways and we should celebrate these differences. If you keep your child’s diagnosis from him or her, it implies that ADHD is shameful and something to be embarrassed about.

As with everything else in life, there are positive and negative aspects to ADHD. Reinforce that ADHD can be controlled with help but that its control is a team effort. Above all, be realistic in what you tell your child. Make sure they understand what you are saying.

Do Say

  • Now that we know that you have ADHD, we can work together to help make things better at home and school.
  • Lots of people have ADHD. You are not alone.
  • ADHD children constantly have new ideas and are full of energy. Explain to your child that this can be used to his or her benefit.
  • ADHD does not just go away, but the more troublesome parts can be worked on as a team.
  • ADHD can be a strength, but it is not an excuse for bad behavior.
  • Remember, you have a part in your success at home, school and life in general.

Don’t Say

  • “You need need to learn more about ADHD.” That is a job for parents, teachers and any other adults who work with your child.
  • “ADHD is who you are.” Instead, say “ADHD is only part of who you are. It does not define who you are as a person or who you will become as an adult.”
  • “You have a disorder.”
  • If your child needs to take medication, don’t make it a big deal. Some kids are embarrassed by having to take medications and often will be even more embarrassed if friends find out.
  • “ADHD is not a problem, it is a challenge.”
  • Don’t get technical. Use language your child can understand.

You are your child’s best ally. Even when you lose patience, remember that your child is struggling right along with you. ADHD affects the sufferer more than anyone else. Diagnosis provides parents with the opportunity to help your child develop his or her talents and individual strengths.

Kara T. Tamanini is a licensed therapist who works with children and adolescents on a variety of childhood mental disorders. Visit her website at