How Do You Talk to Your Child About ADHD? Advice from Fellow Parents
Talking to your child about ADHD in positive, relatable, realistic ways is crucial. These conversations will help them better understand their ADHD brain and harness its unique strengths. In a recent survey, parents told us how they explain and discuss ADHD with their children.
Labels are lazy and unhelpful and even crippling, especially when slapped on our children. Many parents reject using the ‘ADHD’ label, but they also know that denial cannot guide their child toward a brighter future. They know lingering ADHD stigma may subject their child to the judgements and misperceptions of family, teachers, and peers, but they know trust is built on honesty. They value transparency, but also don’t want their child to feel like something is “wrong” with them. Above all, they want their children to understand the biology of the ADHD brain so they can develop coping mechanisms, pride, and self-confidence.
Explaining ADHD in relatable, positive, and accurate terms, therefore, is terrifically important.
Recently, parents in the ADDitude community answered the question “How did you explain ADHD to your child?” Here are some of our favorite answers; please share your advice and experiences in the Comments section below.
How to Talk to Your Child About ADHD
“I used a car analogy. I explained to my son that, when we drive down our residential street, it is easy to notice things on and near the road. When we’re on the freeway, it is harder to notice things that whiz by. I told him that his mind is like our car on the freeway — we can get places fast, but sometimes we miss things. It’s also hard to stop and turn around. Sometimes freeways are great, but sometimes you need to take a slower road.” — Kathy, Wisconsin
“I called her medication her ‘thinking tablets.’ I explained that ADHD allows her brain to take in everything at once, but that the medication helps her focus on what she needs to observe and learn and take in that is important.” — Lucy, Australia
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“Our eldest child explained how he experiences ADHD like this: ‘My brain just thinks all over the place!’ We used his understanding of ADHD to talk about how his extra energy can make it more challenging to focus attention on a task or think before he acts. Our youngest said she gets distracted and forgets what she’s supposed to do because her brain moves faster than she can, and we used her description to inform our talks about why she is so easily distracted. No fancy terms, just words they can relate to and use themselves.” — Rebecca, North Carolina
“Your brain is different and unique, which gives you strengths and challenges others don’t have. And that’s what makes you beautiful, and what makes you YOU!” — Jenn C., Texas
“My daughter had an autistic classmate and she thought his difference was cool. I decided to mention that she, too, has a different learning process called ‘attention deficit disorder,’ but that it isn’t actually a disorder. We agreed we didn’t like the name, and talked about how it describes a different way the brain engages with the world. We also talked about how her Dad has ADHD, which was particularly comforting to her.” — Heather, Maine
“It’s your superpower! Your brain can do so many things that mine, and other people’s, cannot do. Your ADHD brain is the reason you are so creative and can solve problems in different, innovative ways.” — Shelley, Massachusetts
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“Since I have ADHD as well, I always started with that commonality. My son is now 11 and I’ve explained to him that ADHD doesn’t mean you can’t do something — it just means that sometimes you have to work harder than others. I have told him we don’t use it as an excuse, but we make ourselves aware of what’s missing and how we can replace it.” — Cassie, California
“My daughter has a psychologist and a psychiatrist who are helping her navigate ADHD. She’s also taking medication. One of her doctors asked her, ‘You have a very sparkly brain, don’t you?’ She loves knowing that her brain sparkles.” — Mickey, California
“We call out her ADHD superpowers all the time: she’s curious, creative, brilliant, persistent, spontaneous, energetic, an out-of-the-box thinker, and very persistent!” — Comment posted on Facebook
“I use the whiteboard analogy: Our brains are like whiteboards where all the information that comes into our brains gets written. Neurotypical people sort and organize the information, place it into priority sequence, and discard information that is not important or relevant. For those of us with ADHD, everything goes on the board at once, and while you’re trying to organize that full board, more information comes in and bumps something off the very full board.” — Comment posted on Facebook
“The way I explained it to my son (when he was 7), was that there are essentially traffic police directing thoughts in his head. For people with ADHD, the cops are very sleepy and aren’t doing a very good job. Unimportant thoughts get through, but important ones get stuck in traffic. Medicine helps wake up the traffic cops, so that the brain traffic flows like it should.” — Comment posted on Facebook
“I like to explain that it’s like having hardware issues with your motherboard: You can have power glitches with too much or not enough power. Different parts of your brain developed stronger or weaker and, as a result, receive more or less blood flow. Because of that, your brain produces and processes neurotransmitters in atypical patterns, which affect your cognitive function in different ways.” — Comment posted on Facebook
“You get the parts for the best car in the world – without a user’s manual. You have seen some cars before, but never from the inside, so you do not know how to assemble it. You start to look around between the strange machine parts and the first thing you find is the car radio, so you build a big music machine with a loud engine sound instead of the best car in the world.” — Comment posted on Facebook
How To Talk To Your Child About ADHD: Next Steps
- Personal Story: It’s Not an Excuse. Or a Label. It’s Just Who You Are.
- Learn: Ideas for Explaining ADHD to Your Child
- Read: It Takes A Village: Help Other People Understand ADHD
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