Tips on how to make a young child understand that they have been diagnosed with ADHD.
We have gone to the consultation worried about our son, who does not stop still, gets bad grades and is driving us crazy. After a long testing process, the psychologist informs us that our child has ADHD.
We are relieved knowing that the child does not do it on purpose, and that he does not have an intellectual disability or that we have failed as parents. Finding out that it can be improved with treatment helps.
However, at this point we have a problem: how to tell them. This is a very common situation in parents who have just learned of this diagnosis, and do not know how to explain to a child that they have ADHD. Well, then we will see how to do it.
How to explain to a child that he has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder?
Many families have a child who appears to be misbehaving. In some of these cases, he is restless and impulsive and has learning difficulties, and these problems begin to deteriorate relationships at home, school and other environments in which the child develops. Parents are concerned and decide to go to a psychologist to evaluate what is wrong.
Once you go to the consultation, the professional performs the relevant tests to find out if it is a case of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Once confirming that the child has the disorder, the professional informs the parents. Parents are psychoeducated, understanding what this disorder is, its symptoms, what to expect and the treatment that the professional is going to carry out.
However, even though parents are relieved to learn that their child’s problem is not due to either bad education or intellectual disability, they ask one question: Should they tell their child that they have ADHD? They are not sure if by explaining it the benefits will outweigh the harms, and they fear that the child will see himself as “mentally ill”, that he is insane and comes to believe that he is a danger to himself and others.
Why is it important to tell her that she has this disorder?
It is very important to explain that you have this disorder. The reason it is so important to tell him that he has ADHD is because, no matter how small, you already know that he behaves in a problematic way, very different from other colleagues and friends. You notice that he does not concentrate like the others, he moves too much and cannot help it, that he has a hard time learning and that, sometimes, others do not want to play with him.
Your problem will become more apparent the longer you go without professional help. As he gets older, more impulse control is expected of him at school and the syllabus becomes more complicated. As the child with ADHD has problems with self-control and it is difficult for him to pay attention, it is expected that he will have more behavior problems in class, in addition to that his academic performance will get worse and worse. That is why it is so necessary to identify him as soon as possible, and make him participate in the treatment.
It is also important to explain it to them because, failing to do so, you run the risk that their self-esteem and self-concept will be seriously damaged. As the child sees that, no matter how much effort he puts into it, he cannot be at the same level as his classmates, he will begin to believe that he is “stupid”. Also, as others will see you as the most restless, scandalous and inattentive child in the class, you will begin to believe that you are a lazy and bad person. Avoiding explaining the subject will cause your child more anxiety and frustration.
How to do it?
In order to explain to the child what it is that he has, three fundamental aspects must be taken into account. The first is age, since it is not the same to say it to a child of 8 than to a teenager of 16. The second is their maturity level, which may be different from what is expected for their age. Finally, there is their degree of understanding, since, despite the disorder hiding it, the child may be more intelligent (or less) than children of their age.
No matter how professional the psychologist is, if the patient does not want to cooperate, it is difficult to make a therapy prosper. A child who does not know why he has to go to the psychologist will feel confused and, to top it off, he will think that information is being hidden from him, which is true. This will make you more afraid and not trust the psychologist because he will see you as someone who has colluded with your parents to deceive you.
For this reason, parents, once they know the diagnosis, must explain to their child what he has. It is essential that when the explanation is given, the child has understood that she behaves like this not because she lacks intelligence or is a bad child, but because she has a problem that makes it so. It is necessary to explain that nobody is perfect, that we all have weaknesses and strengths and what we can improve as people. It should also be explained that you are going to receive help from a psychologist and / or take medication.
At the time of giving the explanation, behaviors that have been done in the past related to the following symptoms of ADHD can be mentioned: lack of attention, poor impulse control, difficulties in social relationships, lack of autonomy and lack of reflexivity , among other. It is quite likely that the child will ask us questions such as “Is it because of this that I never sit still?”, “Is this why I don’t pay attention in class?” or “Is this why you tell me to stop so many times?”
Letting him ask is the best way for him to understand what is happening to him. This way you will identify all the difficulties that can be related to ADHD and, in this way, you will be able to understand them better and learn how to cope with them. As the child recognizes ADHD in himself and knows what is happening to him, he will begin to realize that the things that happen to him are due to something that is not his fault, and he will be able to cope with it.
How to help you accept your situation
As we have mentioned, the child will surely feel very frustrated because he does not perform in class, despite all the effort he makes. He may also feel down because on more than one occasion he has been told that he is too scandalous, restless, rude, off-center, that he cares little about what the teacher says, that he misbehaves with the rest of his classmates … Because of all this his self-esteem and self-concept are on the ground.
For this reason, the family should strive to avoid making the child’s actions labels that define it. Our actions do not define us as we are, even doing them many times. Also, to improve your self-esteem, especially once you have started treatment, it is essential to highlight any achievement you have achieved, whether or not it is attributed to the treatment. If he behaves well, if his grades are going up, if he is quiet in class and other behaviors that would be considered “normal” in children his age.
When it is known that the child has ADHD, the family must normalize this fact. That is, we cannot pose the disorder as an insurmountable impediment, that there is no solution to your problem. What he must be made to understand is that there have been a number of circumstances, which, indeed, make it a bit difficult for him to be on the same level as his peers but, with a little help, he can reach them. You have to explain that facing difficulties is something fundamental, and it is something that can be learned.
In case the child has older siblings, it is very important to make them understand that their little brother has this problem, and that they should help their parents to normalize this situation. The elderly, if they are adolescents, will understand the problem in a way that is closer to that of an adult. However, it is very important that they do not get ahead of their parents and talk to their brother with ADHD, since there is a risk that they will not know how to explain it properly and think that she is “mentally ill”.
To facilitate the process, it never hurts to seek support from local ADHD groups, such as associations, centers and foundations, in addition to professional help offered by psychologists and psychiatrists. It is also essential to ask the school if it has a special program to teach these types of children, in addition to making the teacher understand that the child has this problem, which explained their academic problems.
To help children cope with stigma, it is highly recommended to look for informative children’s stories about ADHD, adapted to their age. It is essential to demystify false beliefs, such as that they are “lazy” or “stupid”, and if they have been unlucky enough to hear some unpleasant comment at school remind them how good they are and why the way they behave is not his fault. Putting a list of the good things they have and hanging it on the fridge is a good option.
- Knouse, LE; Safren, SA (2010). Current status of cognitive behavioral therapy for adult attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. The Psychiatric Clinics of North America. 33 (3): pp. 497-509.
- Lange, KW; Reichl, S .; Lange, KM; Tucha, L .; Tucha, O. (2010). The history of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorders. 2 (4): pp. 241-255.
- Verkuijl, N .; Perkins, M .; Fazel, M. (2015). Childhood attention-deficit / hyperactivity disorder. [Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in childhood]. BMJ (BMJ Publishing Group Ltd) 350: h2168.
- Wolraich, ML; Hagan, JF; Allan, C .; Chan, E .; Davison, D .; Earls, M .; Evans, SW; Flinn, SK; Froehlich, T .; Frost, J .; Holbrook, JR; Lehmann, CU; Lessin, HR; Okechukwu, K .; Pierce, KL; Winner, JD; Zurhellen, W .; Subcommittee on children and adolescents with attention-deficit / hyperactive, disorder. (2019). Clinical Practice Guideline for the Diagnosis, Evaluation, and Treatment of Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder in Children and Adolescents. Pediatrics. 144 (4): e20192528.