When a child is first diagnosed with ADHD, parents often wonder whether they should tell their child about the diagnosis, and if so, how. Some parents worry that their child will feel different. Others worry that their child will feel like something is wrong with them. And some parents worry that their child will use ADHD as an excuse for bad behavior or getting out of homework. But overall, it’s best to talk to your child about ADHD sooner rather than later.
- Most of the time, kids with ADHD already feel like there might be something that makes them a bit different from other kids. They notice that other kids don’t seem to struggle to focus the way that they do, don’t seem to lose things as often, or don’t have a messy desk like they do. But they don’t know why. Telling your child that they have ADHD tells them why they feel different from other kids. It validates their feelings, and helps them know that it’s not their fault if things don’t come as easily to them as they seem to come to other kids.
- In order to help your child with ADHD, as parents you’re going to need to make some changes to how things go at home. You will likely need to create new routines, or put new tools into place to help your child be successful with ADHD. If your child knows about their diagnosis, you can really explain to them why you’re making these changes, and the ways that these changes are going to help them. If they understand why things are changing, they’re more likely to go along with it.
Here are some quick tips for how to talk to your child:
- Timing is everything. Pick a good time and place for your conversation. Don’t do it when you or your child are tired, hungry, or have just had an argument. Do it someplace quiet where you’re child isn’t distracted, and where siblings or other family members aren’t around.
- Talk about the Doctor. Refer to the appointment your child had with the doctor who provided the diagnosis for your child(as long as it was a good experience). Say something like, “Remember when we met with Dr. …”. It provides context for the conversation, letting them know it’s not about what just happened today at school or at the dinner table.
- Talk in terms of strengths and weaknesses – in a sandwich. Explain to your child that everyone has things that they’re really good at and come pretty easily to them. Point out what one of these things is for your child. Then let them know that everyone also has things that are harder for them, and state one thing that is harder for your child (e.g., remembering to write down their homework assignment, or staying focused all day). Then let them know that lots of kids have a hard time with these things, so your child knows that he’s not the only one. In fact, it’s so common, that we even have a name for it. It’s called ADHD. And then end on a positive (sandwiching the weakness between two strengths) by letting your child know that one of their strengths will help them tackle their ADHD.
- Be relatable. As you talk about strengths and weaknesses, be relatable to your child by talking about your own strengths and weaknesses and what steps you take to overcome your weaknesses.
- Names are good. Let them know that it’s a really good thing that we know what it’s called (ADHD), because now as parents you’ll be able to help your child with the things that are hard for them. You’ll be able to help them get better at these things, one step at a time.
- Check-in with your child. Finish by asking your child how they are feeling, and if they have any questions. Don’t be surprised if they don’t have any questions – yet. All children information process information differently and sometimes even get shy when parents talk to them about themselves. Ask again a few days later, in a casual one-on-one situation and you might be surprised to hear what your child has been thinking.
While you might be concerned or apprehensive about talking with your child about their diagnosis, being open and honest can get you started off on the right foot.