How do I tell my child about ADD (ADHD)?
Kathleen Nadeau, Ph.D. and Patricia Quinn, M.D.
Many parents are concerned about "labeling" their
child with ADHD. Other parents feel it's important to discuss
ADD (ADHD) with their child, but don't know where to start
or exactly what to say.
Parents face a difficult dilemma due to the negative image
that many people hold about ADD (ADHD). But not telling your
child has negative consequences too. Just talk to an adult
who has gone a lifetime without understanding the cause of
his or her struggles and you'll quickly understand the importance
of knowing about ADD (ADHD) as early in life as possible.
Why is important for your child to know about ADD (ADHD)?
Avoiding the ADD (ADHD) "label" doesn't mean
your child won't be labeled! He or she will be labeled
things like "lazy," "space cadet,"
or "stupid." Think about it - are these really
Knowing that you have ADD (ADHD) is a critical first
step toward meeting the challenges that ADD (ADHD) presents.
By sharing what you know with your child, the hard work
required to meet ADD (ADHD) challenges can become a family
project. It's unlikely that your child is the only family
member with ADD (ADHD). Every child with ADD (ADHD) has
a 40% chance that at least one parent has ADD (ADHD).
And siblings are likely to have ADD (ADHD) as well. By
tackling ADD (ADHD) together, your child can feel accepted
and won't feel alone.
Having ADD (ADHD) isn't all bad. ADD (ADHD)
has a "bad" reputation in the classroom because
classrooms today are not very ADD-friendly. There are
many positive traits associated with ADD (ADHD) - such
as creativity, energy, enthusiasm, and ability to hyper-focus.
Often, the very same traits that make the classroom difficult
may be advantages for your child later in life.
- Knowing about ADD (ADHD) throughout childhood means that
you and your child can problem-solve together and make more
ADD-friendly choices - enhancing his or her opportunity
Tailor what you say about ADD (ADHD) according to
the age of your child. Like any complicated subject,
a younger child needs to have ADD (ADHD) explained on a level
that he or she can understand. It's important not to flood
your child with information or with terminology that can't
Keep in mind that how to talk to your child
about ADD (ADHD) is as important as what you tell your child.
ADD (ADHD) should be introduced in a realistic but constructive
fashion. Tell your child that everyone is good at some things
and not so good at other things. It's often helpful to talk
about your own strengths and weaknesses and the difficulties
you may have had as a child. Let your child know that you'll
help him or her meet the challenges of ADD (ADHD). Help your
child discover and develop his or her gifts. The more comfortable
you are in discussing ADD (ADHD), the more comfortable your
child will be in learning to meet its challenges.
Let your child know he or she is not alone.
If you are a parent with ADD (ADHD), it can be helpful to
talk to your child about your own ADD (ADHD). "Oops,
I burned the toast again. That's because my ADD (ADHD) brain
was thinking about something else when I should have been
thinking about toast." Or, "Darn, I've lost my car
keys again - maybe you can help me figure out how not to lose
my keys so often."
Give your child positive examples of successful
people with ADD (ADHD). There are now stories about
famous athletes, Hollywood celebrities, politicians, comedians
and business entrepreneurs with ADD (ADHD). Talking about
ADD (ADHD) in a balanced context can give your child a more
constructive attitude about ADD (ADHD) - that it creates challenges,
but that you can have a very successful life with ADD (ADHD)
if you put yourself in the right context - a context that
takes advantage of strengths.
Talk about ADD (ADHD) as a challenge, not an excuse.
But be sure to make it a challenge that the whole family will
take on rather than a mountain that your child must climb
Emphasize your child's strengths - don't over focus
on ADD (ADHD) foibles. One of the greatest risks
in growing up with untreated ADD (ADHD) is low self-esteem
- the result of a lifetime of criticism, of embarrassment,
of not being able to keep up with others who may not be as
bright, but not understanding why.
For more information about how to explain ADD (ADHD) to
For a younger child - ages 6-10 - parents should
refer to Learning
to Slow Down and Pay Attention by Kathleen Nadeau, Ph.D.
and Ellen Dixon, Ph.D. This book is cartoon illustrated and
written on a level that a child in the early elementary school
years can easily understand. It not only explains ADD (ADHD),
but also focuses in a positive way about problem-solving and
For a child that is somewhat older - ages 9-13 -
parents should refer to Putting
on the Brakes by Patricia Quinn, M.D. and Judith Stern,
as well as the Brakes
Activity Book and Best
of Brakes. These books have lots of kid appeal, and provide
more sophisticated, in-depth information for an older child.
(For more information or to purchase click