Q: “Will Explaining ADHD to My Child Make Her Feel ‘Broken?’”
“Knowledge is power, so tell your child everything about her ADHD diagnosis. Giving your daughter the specific language to explain how her brain operates will allow her to feel safe and empowered.”
Q: “My 9-year-old was recently diagnosed with ADHD. I’m struggling with how to tell her about her diagnosis. I don’t want her to feel shame or believe something’s ‘wrong’ with her. I also don’t want her to use her diagnosis as an excuse. Any advice on how to approach this with her?” — JMom
This question truly resonated with me as my son was diagnosed with ADHD around the same age, and my husband and I struggled with how to explain it to him. I commend you for recognizing the importance of openness and transparency with your daughter. Some parents don’t feel the need to tell their children directly about their ADHD diagnosis or only discuss it when something related to their child’s ADHD behavior arises.
ADHD will be with your daughter throughout her life. The earlier she becomes aware of it, the easier it will be for her to understand it as she grows and matures.
Explaining ADHD to Your Child: Next Steps
My first piece of advice is to make sure you are prepared to answer your daughter’s questions. Do you fully understand your daughter’s diagnosis, including her ADHD sub-type and manifestations? Can you explain it calmly and neutrally? Please keep in mind that your voice when first discussing ADHD with her will surely become her own voice.
Knowledge is power, so tell her everything. Giving your daughter the specific language to explain how her brain operates will allow her to feel safe and empowered. Since your daughter is so young, find ways to explain ADHD in easy-to-understand terms. Visual imagery is my favorite. Dr. Ned Hallowell explains ADHD using the analogy of the brain working like a turbo-charged car but with the brakes of a bicycle. Explaining ADHD using visual imagery will allow your daughter to attach any verbal explanation she is given to a picture she creates.
You should also put a positive light on her ADHD behaviors. For example, if your daughter absorbs information quickly while moving through her day at 100 MPH, you can explain that her ADHD may help her learn faster. But she may need to work on slowing down because others can’t keep up or because it’s easy to overlook things when you’re moving so fast.
If you think your daughter is old enough for social media, find and vet YouTube videos, TikToks, or Instagram accounts to follow.
ADHD Diagnosis Book Recommendations for Kids
Age-appropriate books are a wonderful way to explain the concept of ADHD! Books engage and offer storylines and characters with whom your daughter may identify. Here are a few of my favorites.
Ellie, The ADHD SuperGirl: ADHD Book for Children (#CommissionsEarned)
By Yael Manor
This book helps teach children about ADHD. It specifically helps them understand that they’re the same as everyone else, even though they interact and learn differently. Plus, this book is beautifully illustrated.
My Brain Needs Glasses: ADHD Explained to Kids (#CommissionsEarned)
By Annick Vincent
This book is told from the perspective of Tom, an 8-year-old boy with ADHD who shares daily life in his imaginary journal. His entries help children and parents better understand and cope with ADHD. Plus, it’s packed with effective practical tips.
Thriving with ADHD Workbook for Kids: 60 Fun Activities to Help Children Self-Regulate, Focus, and Succeed (#CommissionsEarned)
By Kelli Miller, LCSW, MSW
This workbook positions ADHD as a “special asset.” It takes a strength-based approach to help children better understand themselves and their ADHD. Easy exercises focus on many facets of ADHD, from self-control to organization. It also includes an overview of ADHD, common symptoms, and different ADHD types.
ADHD Diagnosis Conversation Tips
Remember, no matter how you tell your daughter about her ADHD diagnosis, it’s critical to remind her again and again that:
- She is loved and accepted.
- She is not flawed in any way.
- She is not alone because there are many other children just like her.
- She has many strengths. (You can list them if you like.)
Keep your explanations simple and age-appropriate. Be sensitive about giving your daughter more information than she can process. Don’t go faster or further than she wants to go. But make sure your daughter knows she can always ask questions, and the lines of communication are open.
This is from personal experience, but remember the first discussion about ADHD is just the start of many conversations you’ll have with your daughter for years to come.
ADHD Diagnosis? Next Steps
- Read: Explaining ADHD to Your Child
- Download: Help Your Child’s Peers ‘Get ADHD’
- Self-Test: Common Symptoms in Girls
ADHD Family Coach Leslie Josel, of Order Out of Chaos, will answer questions from ADDitude readers about everything from paper clutter to disaster-zone bedrooms and from mastering to-do lists to arriving on time every time.
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