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What to Say to Your Child or Teen about Diagnosis for ADHD

A member of our ADHD Parenting Community on Facebook (this is a private group open to the public) posted this question: "What is the best way to “teach” a preteen or teen about their ADHD when they don’t really want to talk about it, or even hear the word(s) ADHD? What do I say to them about their diagnosis?"

Should You Tell Your Kid?

When I first saw this question, I was reminded of a time when Dr. Jerome M. Schultz, author of “Nowhere to Hide,” offered a response to that question in a webinar he did for us about kids' anxiety and school. It was so clear and direct – such a perfect reflection of the message we teach parents – that I've transcribed his response for you here:

“Somebody has to teach the kid. There are a lot of kids sitting in public and private schools across the United States, where kids have no idea what's wrong with them. And some people don't like it when I talk about what's wrong with them because they don't like to look at a disability model. But if you ask a kid who has a learning disability that's never been explained to her what's going on, she'll think something's wrong with her – most often she'll think that she's dumb.”

What I got from his answer was that unless we sit down with kids and pay them the respect of teaching them about how their own brains are functioning, and what's challenging them, and why, we're missing an incredibly important opportunity to get kids working on their own behalf. We can do that in developmentally appropriate ways.

People sometimes say, “I don't want to tell my child that she has a learning disability or ADHD because it has a negative connotation.” I would just ask you to think about what language these kids are using to describe themselves in the absence of something that's perhaps a little more objective and a little more scientific. We don't want the diagnosis to pull kids down and make them depressed. We want the diagnosis to inform them so that they can take a greater self-advocacy role.

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Treatment for your Child's ADHD

Download a free tip sheet "Recommended Treatment for ADHD: Medication & Behavior Management" for what's really recommended for your child or teen.

You're Not Alone

While answering the Facebook post, I realized that this question – how to explain ADHD to kids, as well as other diagnoses – comes up a lot in our tribe. So I decided it would be really helpful to create a tip for everyone in our tribe to point you to the tips, videos and articles we have on the topic.

There are truly amazing resources here on ImpactParents.com, so if you are ready to bring your child to the next step of self-understanding, the links below are a great place to start.

  1. Read articles/tips:
  2. Watch these short Tea & Tips videos with Elaine & Diane:
  3. Watch and read Syd TK’s manifesto and 5 min video:
  4. Use the Executive Function exercise:
    • Available in module 2 of Sanity School® and/or watch the Executive Function webinar in the Webinar Library (members access only).
  5. Two key articles about treatment:

Talking with Your Kid About Their Diagnosis

Talking to your kid about how their brain is wired is essential to help them understand themselves, and ultimately learn to manage themselves over time. It starts with understanding the condition, and what it means for them. As you explain ADHD (or anxiety, LD, depression, etc.) to your kids, there are things you’ll want to include, and things you might not want to say. So take a look or listen to these tips, and get a sense of what to say when you start some new conversations with your kids about ADHD (or whatever else is making it difficult for them in life and school).

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