Talking to our kids about complicated and sensitives subject matters is no easy task. Whether we’re talking about forgiveness, puberty, religion, sex, drugs, alcohol, mental illness, or how to wipe after pooping, it’s all difficult.
Regardless of what age our kids are when we discuss it, we’re still telling them as much as they can possibly comprehend at that particular age. It’s overwhelming because it’s always going to be just a bit above what they’re comfortable with. We’re changing their truths about world. We’re skewing how they view the lives around them.
We have to word things carefully, taking into consideration their maturity, and be willing to re-explain things as time progresses.
Explaining to a child that he/she has ADHD is no different. It’s a tough topic. It’s one thing to gently explain to your child that another child in their peer group has a “difference,” but it’s something entirely different to explain to your child that he/she is the one with the “difference.”
This week, I wanted to give you guys some ideas on how you could explain ADHD to your child(ren) in regards to them having it. I know all children are different in how they receive and interpret information, but hopefully this can be a good starting point for some of you!
*** If you have any suggestions to add, please feel free to comment below. ***
1. Can I talk to you about something important?
Give your child the opportunity to start the conversation out on the right foot. Let them know you want to talk, and let them know it’s important. Make sure they’re willing to give and receive in a conversation at that particular moment.
A lot of kids with ADHD also have other diagnoses, so I can’t determine what “paying attention” looks like to your child, but I’m sure you probably can. Some kids pay attention best when their hands are busy. Some kids listen better when they don’t have to make eye contact. Some kids can concentrate harder on what you’re saying if they’re running around in circles outside while you’re talking.
Who knows? I’m guessing you do.
Give your child the right environment, make sure he/she isn’t exhausted, and then ask them to give you their attention (in whatever way they can).
2. Our brains tell our bodies what to do.
Regardless of the child’s age, you’ll probably need to briefly explain how the human brain works. Even a lot of teens don’t understand the signals that are sent from the brain to the body, and don’t understand that brains can be shaped or sized differently in certain areas, which can affect function.
It’s important to very clear with them about what goes on in the mind. This might require you doing some research, but it’s worth your time. The more you know, the more you can help them. And the more they know, the more they can help themselves.
3. Your brain works in a very special way.
Let them know that their brain functions differently than some kids’ do. This is where careful wording is particularly important for kids who are sensitive or don’t want to feel like they’re not the same as their peers. Other kids, however, wouldn’t mind finding out their brain is “different” at all.
Some kids would benefit in this moment from seeing brain scans of a typical brain versus an ADHD brain. They’d do well seeing the physical, concrete differences. There are other kids, though, who wouldn’t understand the brain scans and would be overwhelmed by the harshness of it all.
It’s all about knowing your child and knowing how they interpret information the best. However you present your information, try to keep your tone light and accepting.
Make sure your child can hear matter-of-factness in your voice, rather than emotional stress or anxiousness.
4. We are all unique in our own ways.
I can’t emphasize this one strongly enough! It’s the truest statement I’ve ever written.
Diagnosis or no diagnosis, we’re all different. We all process differently, interpret differently, and cope differently. We could all be raised exactly the same, having the same values instilled in us, and we’d all show different manifestations of those values.
We all have unique interests, talents, and strengths. We all have different weakness. The point is that we ALL have strengths, and we ALL have weaknesses.
The world takes all kinds. It’s important for your child to know that (even if they don’t have ADHD).
5. Let’s work together to make things easier for you.
Living with ADHD (or any other diagnosis) takes some big adjustments. It takes a lot of communication between caregiver and child and doctor/therapist.
The more the child can communicate what he/she is thinking and feeling, the more easily the caregiver can relay help. They can relay information to doctors and therapists, or they can just deal with the issue at home. Open communication breeds easier progress.
Make sure your kiddo knows how important it is to be open and honest with you!
On the same note, make sure you provide them an environment that allows them to be open and honest. If they come to you with something they’re struggling with, or they tell you something they’ve done wrong, make sure you give them freedom to do so. If they don’t feel safe coming to you, they’ll stop doing it.
If your child can understand the concept of accountability, ask them to help keep you accountable, too. Open dialogue is the goal.
6. Do you have any questions?
Always leave room for them to ask questions. This is a lot to take on at once.
They might have silly questions, or they might have really difficult ones. If you need to, tell them you’ll research it or call a doctor and find out. Try to be as honest with your answers as you can (bearing in mind the maturity/sensitivity level of the child).
A few days or weeks after you’ve broached the topic of ADHD, try asking them again if they’ve thought of any new questions. Remind them that it’s okay to want more answers.
We all know how many questions come to our minds after someone has finished asking us, “Do you have any questions?”
Be ready for the questions to continue for a long time. But also understand that the questions might never come, and that’s okay, too.
7. Thank you for listening.
Remind them that you’re thankful for getting their attention! For anyone with ADHD, having big conversations like this can be a bit overwhelming. The conversation can overload their senses, or they can get distracted and forget what anyone is talking about.
If you’ve made it to the end of what you were trying to talk about, good job! That was a huge feat for them, and that should be acknowledged.
If you didn’t make it to the end of what you wanted to say, tell them “good job” anyway because it was probably still really difficult. Remember where you left off and pick things up again another day.
8. I love you so much.
Reaffirm how important your child is to you and to the world. Tell them you love them. You can never say it too many times.
Dote on them.
Let them know they’re special and cared for and appreciated just as they are.
“ADHD changes how your brain works, but it doesn’t change how I feel about you.”