How to Explain ADHD to Kids
It is never easy to tell a child she has an illness or that something is “wrong” with her. You have to deliver the news in a way that stresses the seriousness of the situation, but does not make her feel ashamed or think that she is somehow defective. Children with ADHD have generally heard negative things about their behavior from others as it is, so you may be dealing with an already-bruised ego. There are effective ways to tell a child she has ADHD. Use the conversation to put things in a light that is hopeful and affirming.
Read about and become familiar with ADHD. The more knowledge you have and the more comfortable you are with the condition, the better you will be able to convey the seriousness and remedies to your child. Find books about ADHD geared toward your child’s age group that will help you to find the right language to use in discussing it.
Be truthful with your child. Odds are he already knows something is not right or that he is different. If you are not honest, you may give him the message that ADHD is bad or that it is something you and he should be embarrassed about. That is the opposite message you want to convey.
Use the age-appropriate word to tell your child she has ADHD and that it is a disorder or a “problem.” Don’t worry about her being labeled; ADHD is what it is. At least this identifies the issue for what it is, instead of the child being called or believing she is “lazy,” “rude” or “willful.”
Explain to your child what having ADHD means. He may need to try harder to focus than other kids or he may have difficulty sitting still as long as other kids. Put things in perspective to help him gain a better understanding of how having ADHD fits into his life. Let him know that some of the traits of ADHD–for example, energy, creativity and enthusiasm–could be benefits to him later in life.
Describe how any medications she will have to take will help her to focus better, stay calm and still and be less impulsive. Let her know that the medicine is there to make it easier to do the things she needs to do. Use positive language that your child will understand.
Tell your child you love him, no matter what. Tell him you like him just the way he is. It may seem like a given, but it is easy to forget that he needs your love and reassurance that he is okay, and that everything will turn out all right. Talk about your own strengths and weaknesses from when you were a child, and how you worked to overcome them with help from family.
Let your child know she is not the only one who has ADHD. Give her the names of some people whom she likes or respects, famous and not, to show that ADHD doesn’t have to hold her back. Find her some books that talk about having ADHD and that feature kids around her age.