How Exactly Do I Explain ADHD to My Child?
After the evaluation with the doctor and the formal ADHD diagnosis, your job will be to interpret and explain the doctor’s words in ways your child can understand and process. Gear your language to the age of your child. As a teen, for example, your child will be able to take in and understand more information about ADHD than a younger child. Be positive in your approach. Frame the information in a way that is solution focused. Help your child to understand ADHD behaviors, so he or she can then move forward and learn and develop strategies to better manage them.
A Mock Script
Start your initial conversation by discussing the issues your child has expressed most concern about. Make sure your child is alert and attentive; ensure that there aren’t any distractions as you speak. You’ll have to gauge how much of the information he can take in at one sitting.
You might say something like this:
“I know it has been a really tough year. You have been feeling like school is not a very fun place to be. One of the things that has worried you is feeling embarrassed in class when the teacher calls on you and you can’t remember what she was talking about, or when she tells the class to start an assignment and you are uncertain about what to do. You have also talked about just feeling like a wiggle worm all the time."
Give your child time to add his or her comments and thoughts to the conversation whenever he or she would like.
"I know I have gotten after you a lot about not sitting still at the kitchen table when we are having meals, or when you grab things from your brother. I also haven’t understood why it is so hard for you to remember to get your homework assignments and other papers home from school.
"I feel so happy because now we know what has been causing the problems. You have something called attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. That is a lot of words, so people often just refer to it as ADHD or ADD.
"You know how you have talked about feeling like you just can’t stop yourself sometimes? Well, people with ADHD often feel like that. They can feel like there is a motor running inside of them and they just can’t stop. It is like they are a super-powered race car, zooming around, but their brakes just don’t work when it is time to stop. The car is awesome, but the brakes need some work.
"People with ADHD can also have a hard time staying focused on things, especially if the things they have to do are boring and dull. Some people talk about it feeling like watching a television with constantly changing channels. It is like looking at a little bit of Scooby-Doo, then switching quickly to the Hannah Montana show, then switching to a grown-up television show, then switching to another channel again and again. It is hard to focus on any of them because the channels keep changing, or it might even feel like all these shows are playing at once! It becomes overwhelming. That might be how you feel when lots of different thoughts pop into your head when you are supposed to be focusing on something else.
"Now that we know about ADHD, we will be able to figure out ways to help you at school and at home. Things are going to start feeling a lot better for you.”
Gauge the Conversation
You know your child best, and so you are better able to judge how much information is too much. If you notice your child is getting information overload, break up this discussion into smaller parts. It is important for your child to feel empowered and strengthened with this new knowledge, not overwhelmed or burdened. If you notice he is blaming himself, feeling “less than,” or misinterpreting information, address this right away. Listen to and reflect on his feelings. Be there for him by pointing out his wonderful strengths and all the things you love about him.
Lots of parents like to use the example of a person who wears eyeglasses to improve reading. This person’s nearsightedness or farsightedness does not make him “less than,” it just means that vision is impaired and eyeglasses can be worn to see better. Just like vision issues, ADHD does not define who that person is. In fact, it is just a small part of them and can be easily managed with the proper “glasses” (treatment).
If you also have ADHD, talk openly about your experiences with your child. Share the ways you have been able to overcome the frustrations you felt before understanding ADHD. Model optimism and a positive, solution-focused attitude. Remind your child that we all have specific areas of strength, just as we all have areas of weaknesses. Identify both your child's strengths, as well as your own, and share the ways you have met the challenges of ADHD. Convey your unconditional love and pride in your child.