How to Help Your Child Understand Their ADHD Diagnosis

Mother and daughter with doctor in doctor's office

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Explaining ADHD to children after a diagnosis can help remove the mystery surrounding the struggles they've been having. It also can help them feel a greater sense of control. Although parents sometimes worry about their child being labeled, it's much worse for children to assume they're “stupid” or “lazy”—feelings often felt by kids with ADHD who don't understand why they're different from their peers.

Understanding ADHD and talking about it helps remove these types of negative labels. It demystifies what has been going on and provides a clearer understanding for both parents and children. Remember, ADHD has nothing to do with intelligence or laziness; it's a medical condition that requires interventions and treatment just like nearsightedness or hearing loss does.

But how do you go about explaining ADHD to a child?

The important thing is to discuss the topic calmly without making children feel like something's wrong with them.

Remember, a diagnosis helps provide a road map for addressing the challenges your child experiences. Here are some tips to help you start that conversation.

Understand What ADHD Is

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders that kids experience in childhood. In fact, a 2016 parent survey found that 6.1 million children have been diagnosed with ADHD.

Although it's normal for kids to have trouble paying attention or behaving, children with ADHD do not outgrow these behaviors. And, many times they get worse over time. For instance, kids with ADHD might forget things, fidget a lot, have trouble focusing, struggle with impulse control, talk too much, or have difficulty getting along with others.

What's more, one study found that children with ADHD don't have the same connections between the frontal cortex of the brain and the visual processing area. Consequently, their ADHD brain processes information much differently than their friend's non-ADHD brain. As a result, it's important that kids recognize that ADHD affects the way they interpret or process information, but has no connection to their IQ.

Team Up With Your Doctor

Learning about ADHD is a process for parents, as well as for children. There is a lot to learn and absorb. So, be patient. When your child is first diagnosed, sit down with the doctor together to discuss the diagnosis. You and your child can ask questions and the doctor can provide accurate information.

Your doctor also can provide resources and recommendations as well as go through the treatment plan. For instance, some children with ADHD will be prescribed medication along with behavior therapy. Your doctor also can answer questions about parent coaching and working with schools. There are a lot of different factors that go into the successful treatment of ADHD and your doctor or child's counselor can help you get started.

Have Regular Conversations

Never shy away from discussing your child's diagnosis. Help your child understand that having ADHD is not something to be ashamed of and that they are not to blame. Remember, knowledge and understanding are good things and can bring about a sense of peace.

Be positive, matter-of-fact, and comfortable in your conversation with your child and tailor your conversation to your child's age.

A very young child may not need— or want—quite as much detail as a teenager. So, let your child's interest level serve as a guide.

Likewise, if your child asks a question that you don’t know the answers to, try to find the answers together. The key is that you have ongoing conversations about everything from what the diagnosis means to how the the medications make them feel. No subject should be off limits.

Focus on the Positives

Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. No one is good at everything. Focus on helping your child identify areas of strength and interest. It's vital that kids recognize that they are more than their diagnosis. You don't want them to feel defined by ADHD. Having this condition is the same as being nearsighted or having a food allergy. It's just a medical condition that needs to be treated.

It's also important to present the diagnosis in a matter-of-fact way—as just a fact of life. Children should never be made to feel like there is something inherently wrong with them, or to experience pity. Doing so increases the likelihood that your child will use ADHD as an excuse or crutch when things don't go as planned.

Instead, develop strategies for dealing with and minimizing the areas that cause greater difficulty. Teach your child that with hard work, these obstacles can be overcome.

Read Books Together

There are many books available that help children understand more about ADHD. Read books together, or if your child is older and prefers to read them alone, be supportive by giving them the space to do this. You also can discuss the books afterwards and use them to open up conversations.

For instance, it's not uncommon for kids to feel insecure or frustrated with their diagnosis. They may long to be "normal." But reading books about ADHD may help them come to appreciate the positives of their condition. For instance, some people with ADHD have channelled their extra energy into sports while others use their creativity and inventiveness to think outside the box. Select books that not only keep kids informed but also help them come to appreciate their unique characteristics.

Look for Positive Role Models

ADHD is thought to have a strong genetic influence. Consequently, chances are that if your child has ADHD, someone else in your family may as well. Perhaps you or your child’s other parent does.

Talk openly about the diagnosis with a positive attitude and outlook. It's important for kids to recognize that they are not alone.

Discuss successful people who also have ADHD—business entrepreneurs, doctors, writers, artists, actors, and athletes. For instance, Walt Disney, Michael Phelps, Whoopi Goldberg, Justin Timberlake, and Adam Levine all have ADHD. With a parent's help, kids can begin to understand that ADHD is just a small part of the wonderful person that they are and that the diagnosis does not have to hinder their success.

A Word From Verywell

Getting a diagnosis of ADHD may not be the most welcome news, but the good thing is that now you have an explanation for the challenges you and your child have faced. Additionally, being aware of what has been causing the inattention, trouble focusing, and inability to sit still, makes it easier for you both to address these issues more effectively. Before you know it, things will begin improving in your child's academic and social life.

3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control. Data and statistics about ADHD.

  2. Centers for Disease Control. What is ADHD?

  3. Mazaheri A, Coffey-corina S, Mangun GR, Bekker EM, Berry AS, Corbett BA. Functional disconnection of frontal cortex and visual cortex in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Biol Psychiatry. 2010;67(7):617-23. doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2009.11.022

By Keath Low
 Keath Low, MA, is a therapist and clinical scientist with the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities at the University of North Carolina. She specializes in treatment of ADD/ADHD.