Some of us are afraid of labeling our kids (or ourselves) about having ADHD, but unless you talk about ADHD with your child, they may begin to label themselves with words such as “dumb,” “incapable,” or “broken.” Many don’t like talking about their ADHD, feel defensive and experience shame. At the same time, when you understand how ADHD affects your life, you are more equipped to manage, advocate, and embrace the challenges you face so you can maximize your strengths.
Although parents often feel overwhelmed and worried when they find out their kids have ADHD, when we give our kids with ADHD a name for what they are struggling with, their kids tend to feel a sense of relief. They come to understand that there’s a community of children (and adults) who struggle and thrive with ADHD. This restores their self-esteem and confidence that they can succeed.
How Can We Talk to Our Kids about ADHD?
But how do we talk to our kids about their ADHD? That depends on age, what they can absorb, and what behaviors are showing up.
Younger Children (Ages 5-7)
Younger children are concrete in their thinking. It’s helpful to identify specific observable behaviors they can understand. Be sure to combine these with observable strengths as well, such as creativity and humor.
Examples of short, concrete ADHD-type behaviors to help young children recognize are:
• Trouble waiting their turn in line
• Difficulty raising hand in class
• Challenges completing work within the required time
Elementary School Children
This age group understands cause and effect and can begin to understand how behaviors show up across different settings, for example, at home, and at school. More abstract behaviors, such as “focus,” “distraction,” or “Hyperfocus,” can be introduced as they occur.
• Help your child identify what helps him stay focused, such as a playful game or a special interest.
• Assist your child in understanding “hyperfocus,” and when it happens (ie. zoning in on a particular activity of interest without regard for the passage of time).
• Work with your child to Identify what tends to distract her.
Middle School Children
At this age, friends begin to be most important, and kids with ADHD start to feel less than capable in their peer group. Even the slightest comment from a peer, such as “you’re late,” can be devastating and taken as personal criticism. This is the time to help your child develop coping strategies related to the impact of ADHD in addition to recognizing her gifts and talents.
Our kids with ADHD are generally more emotionally intense than the average person. Their highs are higher and their lows are lower which means they can experience happiness and criticism more powerfully than others.
• Practice socially appropriate responses to criticism.
• Go over how to react to bullying.
• Assist your child to get involved in activities that tap into her interests, which will help her develop confidence and connect with like-minded peers.
High School Kids
High school students with ADHD with impulsive and risky behavior can make rules difficult to follow. By high school kids with ADHD may experience consistent negative feedback, regardless of parent efforts. Getting to school on time may be challenging, not only because time management is an issue, but also because school can lower their self-esteem or be experienced as "boring" and not motivating. Longing to fit in and have friends, high school students with ADHD can resist being “different” and can be uncomfortable with advocating for needed school accommodations.
• Be consistent and enforce consequences. Let your kiddo face natural consequences, such as walking to school or having to make up a class if he sleeps in.
• Give positive feedback to help him see his strengths.
• Engage in conversations with a professional if you have challenges with open dialogue.
• Encourage your high school student to advocate for himself by helping him understand the educational accommodations available to him.
It's important to talk to your loved one about ADHD. It restores confidence and self-esteem that there's a community of individuals who flourish with ADHD.