Children diagnosed with ADHD often don’t have the tools yet to explain it to others. But it’s important to be open about this diagnosis. It’s especially key as your child ages, as peers, educators, and even family may be less tolerant of their behaviors. Explaining your child’s ADHD diagnosis -- or giving your child tips they need to explain it to others themselves -- may make it easier for people to understand the situation, and to have empathy.
How to Explain Your Child’s ADHD to Your Friends and Family
It can be very difficult to tell family members and friends that your child has ADHD. Some people may not take it seriously. They may say that your child is just lazy, or it’s a result of your bad parenting. Or they may be confused. They may even accept the diagnosis, but question why your child is on medication.
Here are some ways to get family and friends on your side:
Write out a script. It helps to have your talking points planned ahead of time. Then, you can practice them before having the conversation. This may help you feel more confident and comfortable.
Go at it alone. Telling Nana, for example, that her grandchild has ADHD is probably best when you’re alone with her. That way, she may feel more comfortable asking you questions.
Start with the positive. Lead in with how important that person is in your child’s life. Let them know how grateful you are for the role that they play.
Explain the diagnosis. It helps to be as specific as possible about certain behaviors your child has, and how it compares to a neurotypical child (someone who is not diagnosed with a developmental disorder, like ADHD). Outline the treatment, whether it is behavioral, medication, or a combination of both. Let them know what your goals are, and how they might be able to help you reach them. Invite questions. This will help you learn what your loved one does or does not understand, including their treatment concerns.
Focus on the positive. Offer some suggestions as to what friends and family can do. Don’t tell them what they can’t do. (At least not right away.) This may help grandparents and other loved ones who have different parenting styles get on board. It can be as simple as praising your child when they do something well, rather than only seeing the negative.
Share what you’ve learned. Let them know what you have learned from your child’s doctor and therapist. Tell them about some of the skills that you practice now with your kid. If they question them, you can always invite them to talk to your medical providers with you to learn more.
How to Talk About Your Child’s ADHD With Their Peers
Your child may have a hard time with kids their own age. They may find it difficult to make and keep friends. It’s important that they continue to participate in social activities, though, so they can improve their social skills. Sometimes, it may help if your child tells peers that they have ADHD themselves. There are a few ways they can do this:
Keep it simple. Your child can say that they have ADHD, which makes it harder for their mind and body to stay still and focus. If their behavior causes a problem -- for example, they have trouble following rules during a game -- they can apologize and explain that their ADHD sometimes makes things harder for them. They can let friends know that they are working on ways to make it better.
Let them use their own language. It can be as simple as them explaining to a friend that they have to sit in the front row at school to make it easier for them to pay attention. Script out several different scenarios for them and let them choose the one they feel most comfortable with.
Talk to siblings, too. It can be hard for a brother or sister to understand why their sibling acts a certain way. You can explain that ADHD is just part of who your child is. It’s not contagious, and there are treatments to help them focus and behave better. You can also ask for their input on routines to help things go more smoothly at home.
How to Talk About Your Child’s ADHD to Their Teachers
Chances are your kid already has an individualized education plan (IEP) or 504. These are legal documents that ensure the school provides appropriate accommodations for kids with disabilities. Don’t just assume their teachers have copies and have looked it over. Make a specific appointment with them to talk about your child. You want to make it clear to them that you expect your kid to meet their education goals, which they can do if they have the right support in place.
Some teachers still see behavior due to ADHD as willful. It’s important that you make sure that they understand your child’s diagnosis thoroughly and focus on ways to teach your child new skills to adapt to the classroom, rather than just “stamp out” bad behavior.
Things to explain include:
How your child’s ADHD affects them. Chances are, your kid’s educators are familiar with ADHD. They’ve probably taught others with the condition as well. But ADHD affects children and teens in different ways. Not all kids are hyperactive, for example. They may find it hard to pay attention and daydream a lot. Let educators know what they’re most likely to see in class: They may talk out of turn, or be very disorganized, or find it hard to control their anger. This is important information for teachers to have.
Share strategies. It’s important for educators to not only understand your child’s ADHD, but to understand what helps manage it (and what doesn’t work). Maybe your kid thrives with a daily schedule, or with certain cues to get them back on track, but a behavior contract -- where a teacher writes down clear goals for a student -- isn’t that helpful.
Ask how you can help. This shows teachers that you want to partner with them and support them. As a result, they may be more likely to reach out to you before a problem becomes too large or overwhelming. Remember, open lines of communication help everyone help your child.
What Not to Do When Talking About Your Child’s ADHD
Don’t refer to ADHD as a superpower or a gift. It’s true that some ADHD traits can be helpful. But others can make life much harder for kids. It takes a lot of effort to manage it. It’s important that others see and realize that.
Don’t keep unsupportive people in your life. Try as hard as you might, there are certain folks who may never get on board with your child and their diagnosis of ADHD. If they say things that are harmful to your child, or criticize their behavior or treatment, it may be time to cut ties – or at least limit contact. Remember, your child can grow and thrive like any other kid. You want them to be surrounded by people who believe that.
Photo Credit: Jose Luis Pelaez Inc / Getty Images
Intermountain Health Care: “Let’s Talk About ADHD.”
Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities: “Kids to Kids: Explaining ADHD.”
Child Mind Institute: “Getting Family on Board with Treatment.”
Mayo Clinic Health System: Helping a Child with ADHD Get Social Skills.”
Understood.org: “7 Tips for Talking to your Child’s Teacher About ADHD.”
Chadd.org: “Tips for Talking to Teachers About ADHD.”