3 Things to Teach Your Kids Now
What should you say to your kids about their ADHD? When should you start talking about it? The answer is simple to parenting ADHD kids: teach what they can understand, and do it now.
Education and awareness are important tools. Knowledge is power, and it can help your kids be successful. There are three critical conversations that you can have at any age (with some minor adjustments for young ADHDers).
1. Understand your Brain
It's important, even at young ages, that all children understand what their brains need to do their job well. Since ADD brains work differently in some ways, it's all the more important information for our kids to understand that:
- Brains need food & water. We should eat healthy food and drink water on a regular basis. If your child does better on a special diet, like gluten free, increased omegas, or decreased refined sugar, make sure they know what works for them, and why.
- Brains need down-time. Getting enough sleep is important. ADD kids often have trouble sleeping, for a variety of reasons. Helping them understand the importance of sleep can encourage them to make it a priority. Downtime during the day is also helpful. Meditation, prayer and quiet have been shown to increase calm and focus. Finding time every day to sit quietly, even if it's only for a minute, is a great habit that will support them for a lifetime.
- Brains need motivation & focus. The ADHD brain is different. Teach your children that their brain needs to be really interested in a task in order to get it done. Some people have a “just get it done” button in their brain, but ADD brains typically don't. Help your kids find a motivator (like a reward after a task) for each activity that requires them to focus.
Even though the brain is a critical part of our day-to-day functioning, these basic needs often go unspoken. When you raise awareness and understanding, you'll likely get kids who are more interested in doing what they need to stay healthy and on-task (even if they don't start doing it right away!).
2. Take Responsibility
Since our kids are often behind their peers developmentally, it's important to support them in taking on what they can, when they are ready. When my son was first diagnosed, every day on the way to school we talked about what his job was. Was his job to stay focused and pay attention? Nope! He has an ADD brain and that was not a reasonable expectation at that time. His job: when he noticed, or was told he was off task, he needed to take action – do something to try and get back on task. Every time.
Taking responsibility also means owning up, which is particularly hard for impulsive, emotional kids. This is not so much about not saying unkind things, although that is a clear goal. This is more about noticing and apologizing when we do something that hurts someone else. Yesterday my daughter was having a snappy, short-tempered, emotional moment. She was saying some hurtful things to me. I respectfully called her on it, said I didn't want to be spoken to in that way, and left the room. It felt so good when, five minutes later, she quietly came downstairs and apologized.
3. It's ultimately about increasing (your) independence
Helping your child understand the “why” of what we ask them to do can be an important motivator. There are a lot of things we do with our ADHD kids that seem like a pain to them (and to us). (You've heard it: “Why do I have to write everything down on a planner or set a timer when I'm doing a task? Katherine doesn't have to!”)
Most kids, when they think about growing up, want to be able to drive a car, live on their own, and participate in society as an adult. All these things we do now are about helping them to become more and more independent. Sharing longer term causes and effects with your children can be helpful.
For example, my son resists writing things down in his planner at school. When he watches his dad and me keep task-lists for work and home, it helps him understand how this skill will help him in the future. As he grows older, he'll understand why, rather than just being something that he “has” to because he is ADHD.
Talking to your kids about their ADHD can be similar to explaining your religious beliefs. You might be tempted to hold off until your child is old enough to understand the details. But the truth is that these are conversations that will happen in different ways over time. You would never consider waiting to celebrate Christmas, or Passover until they were old enough to fully understand. You just “do” what is important, talk about what you are doing, and feed them the information in a way that they can understand.