Should you talk to your children about their ADHD? The how, the when, the why.
So, there you have it--it’s official, your child has ADHD. You’ve suspected it for a long time. You knew somehow your child stood out from the others--and not always in the good ways. He was always a little bit “extra.” Bigger feelings, bigger movements, lots of movement, easily excitable and overly eager. So many things you noticed. Even his teachers were concerned. He would get in trouble for not keeping his hands to himself, for frequently cutting in line, and being disruptive during circle time. And, not just like the “regular disruptive” either. Disruptive to the point where he would be asked to leave the circle and put in “time-out.” But, now it’s real--he has a diagnosis--he has letters that "define" him. So--now you ask yourself: should you tell your child he has ADHD or not? Well, my frank, clinical, mental health professional, and mama of a fellow ADHD’er is this--absolutely, yes.
Your child has the absolute right and necessity to know how her body works. It is no different than training after an injury, or treating an illness. Can you imagine not telling your child she has diabetes or teaching her how to manage it? Massive, and even deadly consequences would result. Treat mental health the same way. You need to know what you are dealing with so you can understand why things happen a certain way and what strategies you need to use to help you manage in a world where ADHD is not always embraced. Now--hear me for a second--yes, I did compare understanding ADHD to understanding an illness, but I want you to be abundantly clear here: ADHD is NOT an illness. It is just a very different way of interacting with the world, and how your body interprets and understands information surrounding it. And the more education and tools a child has at his disposal, the more equipped he will be for success.
So, how do you talk with your child? Well first and foremost you absolutely must explain things to your child in a way and language that she can understand. Start with telling your child exactly what she has. Here is some language to help you. (Now remember, have this in conversation--you don’t need to blurt out this whole paragraph at once. Follow your child’s lead and answer questions as they come up.)
“Hey buddy, remember when we went to see Dr. Todd those few times? Remember you went to an office and played games, and he asked you questions, and mommy and daddy met with him and he asked us questions? Well, we were trying to figure out ways to help you control your body. You know how lots of times you have a hard time staying still, and you sometimes get in trouble for interrupting grown ups? Well, this was to help us help you do better with that. So, the doctor told us you have what’s called ADHD. Those are four letters that mean attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. You don’t actually have to worry about those words, but we just wanted you to know what this is called. Basically it means that your brain causes you to do certain things--like wiggle a lot, and interrupt grownups.
So, what we learned is that ADHD means that your brain works a little bit differently than other people. There’s a place in the front of your brain that is called the prefrontal cortex, and this part of the brain is what helps us get organized and manage how we show our feelings. There’s even a fancy name for what it controls--it’s called executive functioning. And for kiddos like you who have ADHD this part of your brain sort of does things at it’s own pace. It’s like the difference between riding in a car and riding a bike. Riding in a car will get you someplace faster than riding a bike--but the bike will still get there. See what I mean? So, now that the grownups know what is happening in your brain, we can all work together to help you where you have trouble.”
Now remember--this is an example with easy to understand language that informs children what is going on with their bodies. Please be mindful of your child’s needs. Go slower if they need you to, and answer her questions along the way. Please be sure to remind your child that there is absolutely nothing wrong with him, and that he is not broken. Encourage him that he can learn skills to manage the areas that he has a hard time.
Knowledge is power. The more you know, the more your child knows, the better equipped she will be to manage the extra challenges she will face day to day in a world that unfortunately is not inherently designed for ADHD. You’re fitting a square peg into a round hole for sure. But, your child is on purpose. Your child’s brain may function differently but that just means he has bigger and more exciting plan in store. Put it this way--there is a lot of evidence to suggest that Albert Einstein had ADHD. Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps has ADHD. Simone Biles--the most decorated American gymnast ever has ADHD. Emma Watson--you know, Hermione, has ADHD. Johnny Depp--that handsome pirate we all love--has ADHD. So, know this; ADHD is not an ending. It’s a change in perspective, a change in approach, and possibly even a change in everything you ever thought you knew about parenting--but, don’t stress. Take it all one step at a time.
In the meantime, grab my free guide to executive functioning and in there you will find lots of good information about executive functioning and simple tools you can start implementing with your child today to help them begin the process of strengthening that muscle we call the prefrontal cortex. Check it out here!