photo of girl with adhd

As a parent, you probably strive to understand your child’s feelings and the unique way they experience the world. While that might not always be easy when your son or daughter has ADHD, it’s pretty important. A look at the world through their eyes can help you find more empathy for the challenges they face so you can better support your child day-to-day.

You know what your child’s ADHD looks like from the outside. This guide will show you what it feels like from the inside.

A Typical School Day

Imagine you’re a kid living with ADHD and waking up for school in the morning. There’s a lot to do. You have to brush your teeth, eat breakfast, put on your school clothes, and remember to put your homework in your backpack.

As you brush your teeth, you forget how long you’ve been at it. Your parents tell you to sing the ABCs while you brush. But, by the letter C, your mind wanders to a magical daydream.

Now, you’re in the kitchen, and it’s time to eat. Your mom or dad tells you to sit. But it's hard to sit in a chair. You prefer to move around while you eat. You have an urge to step back and forth with each bite. While you dance around to the rhythm of your chewing, your mom or dad asks if you put your homework in your bag. You’ll do it after you eat.

Later at school, the teacher raises their voice when they realize you forgot your homework -- again. Most days, it feels like you’re constantly in trouble with the teacher. It also feels like none of your friends forget their homework. How does everyone else always remember everything they need?

These scenarios of forgetting, getting distracted, and being reprimanded may play out multiple times throughout the day. ADHD can affect your child’s day in other ways, too. It depends on whether they are inattentive, hyperactive, or both.

Hyperactivity From the Inside Out

That urge to stand and move while you eat breakfast -- that’s hyperactivity. It may come out in the form of constant squirming and repositioning in your seat. Others’ expectations that you sit still can take a toll on self-esteem. When teachers or parents repeatedly tell you to be still even though it feels impossible, you might start to feel bad about yourself as a result. You may wonder why you’re the only kid in class who can’t stay still.

But hyperactivity isn’t only about movement. It can also feel like:

  • Adults -- such as parents, teachers, and caregivers -- are always telling you that you talk too much
  • You can’t resist the urge to interrupt when someone else is talking, especially if you know the answer in class
  • It’s impossible to wait in line or wait your turn

Inattentiveness From the Inside Out

When you start to hum the ABCs while brushing your teeth, then get lost in a daydream, that’s  inattentiveness. If you remember that you need to put your homework in your bag, but then forget to follow through, that’s inattentiveness, too. Consistently forgetting homework or failing to complete assignments can lead to low self-esteem and have a long-term emotional impact.

Inattentiveness might also feel like:

  • It’s hard or even impossible to focus on things you’re expected to do at school and at home
  • Adults -- such as parents, teachers, and caregivers -- say you’re not listening to them
  • You often forget or lose things, like your jacket or your lunchbox
  • You easily lose interest in tasks, chores, and even playtime
  • You often get distracted at school and at home
  • It’s hard to following homework instructions or complete multistep tasks

ADHD and Emotions

It’s not bad intentions or bad manners that make a child with ADHD behave the way they do. Hyperactivity and inattentiveness make it difficult to control your actions, behaviors, and impulses. While you might get frustrated with your child’s behavior, they don’t feel great about it either.

As a parent or caretaker, you’ve probably helped your child through sadness, anger, or frustration many times. But in kids with ADHD, these feelings can seem bigger or heavier. Emotional dysregulation often comes along with ADHD. In children who have this symptom, their negative reactions to situations that trigger them may seem like overreactions to others – either in how upset they become  or how long they stay upset.

Your child may have a hard time handling these big feelings or find it hard to think before they react. This can cause them to say something they don’t necessarily mean or later regret. They might continue to focus on an upsetting event for what seems to others like far too long.

This apparent hypersensitivity might make a little more sense when you consider the part of the brain that ADHD affects. ADHD can interfere with the part of the brain that controls executive function. That includes working memory, motivation, and how you plan for the future. Executive function not only helps you follow step-by-step directions to finish an assignment, but it also helps you move past an emotional, anger-inducing, or annoying situation.

Don’t Make One Child the Focus of the Family

When your child seems more sensitive or emotionally fragile than others, it’s normal to want to protect them at all costs. When you can anticipate exactly the kinds of mistakes your child might make, it’s easy to want to prevent them. But sometimes parents offer too much help or excuse unacceptable behavior.

When you put so much focus on your child with ADHD, it can be easy to forget to take care of yourself -- your own mental health, physical health, professional responsibilities, and other family relationships. You’ll feel burned out and, from that child’s point of view, your protection may not be so helpful anyway. It can feel as if you limit their freedom to grow. Now that you understand their point of view a little more, give them the space to make mistakes, learn from them, and do better next time.

Show Sources

Photo Credit: Pornpak Khunatorn / Getty Images


CDC: “Symptoms and Diagnosis of ADHD.”

Mayo Clinic: “Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children.”

Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD): “Dear Teacher, What I’d Like You to Know About My Child…,” “Executive Function Skills.”

Understood: “ADHD and emotions.”

National Library of Medicine: “Emotional dysregulation in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.”