“I’m afraid of the stigma that might come from labeling my child.”
First let me start by saying that I would never expect a parent to substitute my judgment for their own when it comes to matters such as these. As a parent myself, I know there is always someone who will be quick to offer their opinion and advice, whether you want to hear it or not, but ultimately, I believe that every family must do what feels right for them. That being said, what I will offer is simply some food for thought based on my own personal and professional experience.
When your child receives any type of diagnosis, it’s often a relief but can also be overwhelming and frightening. What does it mean for their future? Will they be doomed to struggle for the rest of their life? How will they be regarded by others? Will they be judged? Made fun of? Ostracized? Scary stuff for sure.
As a result, many parents avoid discussing or even disclosing their child’s diagnosis with them at all costs. They fear that by telling their child they have ADHD, they will be sending the message that they are somehow “damaged”, “incapable”, “less than”, or “not like other kids”. Parents have also told me that they fear their child using an ADHD diagnosis as an excuse to not try hard in school.
While these are all legitimate concerns, here’s what you should know: Your child already feels that way.
Chances are, your child already feels “different” from their peers. They are likely observing themselves having a tougher time in class and getting in trouble more often. They are probably acutely aware of the fact that other kids don’t seem to want to play with them at recess. They know that they so desperately want to make you and their teachers proud but that for some reason they just can’t seem to do anything right.
The truth is, ADHD is not a label; it’s a neurological condition. It’s also not an excuse; it’s an explanation.
When we don’t provide our children with an explanation for something that feels confusing, frustrating, or frightening, they will come up with their own…
“I don’t get it! I try so hard and I still can’t get it right. I must be really stupid”.
“Why won’t anyone let me sit with them at lunch? They must hate me and think I’m dumb”.
“Oh man, I know mom is going to yell at me when I get home. She told me over and over again to clean my room and I still haven’t done it. I can’t do anything right”.”
“No matter how much I study, I still screw it up. I’m just not smart so why bother?”
I’d like to share a personal experience from when I was a kid. At around the age of 10, I developed severe and debilitating panic attacks. Of course, I didn’t know that’s what they were at the time. When they would hit, I became consumed with fear and panic. I couldn’t breathe; I’d sweat, cry, and start shaking. My stomach would drop and my skin would crawl with the sensation of pins and needles. I didn’t even know why I was scared but my mind and my body told me to run, get out, get away, escape.
I had always been an excellent student and never been in trouble a day in my life. But now, I couldn’t sit through class without bolting out the door. I couldn’t take a test without my mind going completely blank and panic setting in. I couldn’t sleep and missed a lot of school. I had to take medication and I was going to see different doctors at few times a week. I spent a lot of time in detention because my teachers were convinced that I was just doing it for attention and told me that if I’d been in class, maybe I wouldn’t have failed that test. It was all my fault.
I would try so hard to sit through class or do well on a test, but I just couldn’t. Soon kids didn’t want to have anything to do with me. I was alone and scared. I didn’t know how to make it better. I thought I was crazy.
I don’t know how much my mom knew or understood about what was happening to me or if any of my doctors ever took the time to help her understand. But I do know that no one ever explained it to me and I wish they had.
Looking back, I wonder how things might have been different if someone had sat my 10-year-old self down and said, “You’re not crazy; you’re having panic attacks. That’s when your brain makes you think there’s something to be scared of when there’s not and it can make you feel really awful. So awful you might think you’re really sick or dying, but you’re not. It happens to a lot of people and there are things you can do to help yourself feel better. Let’s come up with a plan for what to do if you have a panic attack at school and who you can go to for help”.
Even now, just writing those words brings such a sense of comfort and relief. It would have felt so good to know that it wasn’t my fault; that I wasn’t crazy; that it could get better; and that there were people on my side.
If you do decide to talk to your child about their ADHD diagnosis but aren’t sure how to start the conversation, here are some tips…
1. Educate yourself about ADHD
Even though it is so very common, misperceptions abound about what it means (and doesn’t mean) to have ADHD. Luckily there are many great resources available to help you boost your ADHD IQ. Having a good understanding of ADHD is critical to providing the appropriate support for your child.
2. Know that ADHD need not be a negative label
Kids and teens just want to fit in with their peers and so it can be difficult for them to accept anything that makes them different. However, there are ways to explain ADHD in a simple and positive way. I personally love Dr. Hallowell’s racecar car analogy which compares the ADHD brain to a supercharged racecar but with bicycle brakes.
There are also many examples of celebrities, athletes, and entrepreneurs who say that ADHD has played a large part in their success.
3. Don’t forget to encourage them to discover and celebrate their strengths
Many young people with ADHD struggle academically as well as socially which over time can take a toll on their self-esteem. That’s why it’s so very important to give your child the opportunity to pursue sports, hobbies, and other extracurricular activities where they can enjoy a sense of success and accomplishment.
4. Seek out help
If you’re not sure how to talk to your child about ADHD or are concerned about providing the appropriate support, enlist the help of a professional or your fellow parents. Someone who specializes in ADHD such as a therapist or coach can help educate you and your child on the ins and outs of what it means to have ADHD. Joining a support group for parents is also an excellent opportunity to connect with others and learn from their experiences.