When to tell your kids they have ADHD? - CHADD's ADHD Pare...

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When to tell your kids they have ADHD?


For those who have had their kids diagnosed at an early age, when is the appropriate time to talk to your kid about the fact that he has ADHD and what resources were most helpful when doing it? My son was 5 when diagnosed and now 6. He still has accidents during the day (not where he fully wets himself), but he releases a little pee at a time because he is so immersed in what he is doing. We remind him a lot, but he has noticed that his sister who is 3 has less accidents and does not need reminders. He started crying the other day about this and it broke my heart. I tried to tell him some kids are better at certain things than others and he is good at a lot of things she is not, but he wasn't buying it. Part of me thinks it is time to tell him, but he is still so young so i'm just not sure how someone so young can process something like this. And most importantly, i want to make sure i use the right language so he doesn't internalize more.

19 Replies

Talk to him about it now using a strength based perspective. The more he knows and understands about himself the better so he can learn about all of his awesome strengths and also the areas that may be more challenging for him and why it’s like that. Learn as much as you can about ADHD as you are his biggest support and advocate for him at home and school, etc. The more you know, the better you understand ADHD which in turn will help you better understand your son and explain things to him.

Focus on the positive and strengths but also that some things may be a bit different or harder for him but you’ll work together. ADHD can affect attention and focus, executive functioning, self regulation, working memory, etc.

With the situation you describe when he’s playing he gets really focused, that’s hyper focus a superpower of ADHD. When his brain is interested in something he can hyper focus on it get so focused it can be harder for him to switch gears and stop and take a bathroom break. So you can discuss some ideas about some strategies to help him remind himself to take a bathroom break. Could be set a timer for certain period of time then take a bathroom break, or he wears a watch that vibrates or beeps to stop for break, or bathroom break first before gets engaged in play, etc. Include him in coming up with ideas. Help him to be a scientist/detective about himself to help him slow down and notice what’s happening in his body.

Breaking things down into steps and smaller pieces is helpful, visual/picture and word schedules/reminders. Morning routine, after school routine, evening routine.

See below for a link on some information for talking with kids about ADHD.

See below video clip, Dr Ned Hallowell has a good way of explaining ADHD to kids. Important that kids know what’s happening for them in their brains and bodies so they can better understand themselves and you can work together on supports and strategies that work for each individual child. There’s also a link to a list of books for reading with kids about ADHD. Give information in an age appropriate way, not to overwhelm them with info but begin to open up the conversation and ask him if he has any questions and that he can ask you questions anytime.




Lolmama in reply to Mg2017

Thanks so much for the resources. I like the strength based approach a lot. I just want to be sure I'm prepped as my 6 year old is usually full of questions and has a very inquisitive mind. I appreciate the insight and the links.

My son was diagnosed in 2nd grade, so was a bit older than your son, but I don't recall him ever not knowing about ADHD. I say it all the time and always have. It's never offered as an excuse for behavior (because it isn't) but rather just part of who he is. He has blue eyes. He wears glasses, he has ADHD, he has allergies. It's more or less a part of who he is than his other traits. He takes medication for ADHD and for allergies and he wears glasses for nearsightedness. We love him exactly the way he is, nearsightedness and all! I can think if no reason to withhold information like eye color or ADHD. It's part of who he is. Good luck to you. Be well.

Lolmama in reply to ADHD_DAD

Thanks it's a good way of looking at it for sure. I think it took me a while to come to terms with it and I have needed to reframe the way I think about it and still do but this certainly helps.

I know this might sound weird.. but it's kinda like the birds and the bees talk in our family. We talked about it when he was first diagnosed, he see a therapist about it. At certain stages ( can't tell you the age) he asks more in depth questions. When he gets a little older I will have the genetics discussion. In my opinion you have to match their age maturity. But I would never hide anything from him. Hope this helps.

When you say the genetics question, do you mean just generally how it is caused or the fact that someone in your family has it too. I wondered whether we also tell him we suspect daddy has it too or if that is a conversation for another day.

Aloysia in reply to Lolmama

I think you should tell him that his Dad likely has it. It's important for kids to not feel alone - whether it's ADHD or a learning disability. Tell him that he's lucky since he was diagnosed early and will have you to help and advocate for him. Also give him a list of famous people who have it (Michael Phelps, etc). Just Google it for a list of names. And a huge percentage of CEO's have it.

Lolmama in reply to Aloysia

Yes I think we should too so he feels that he will be ok just like daddy. Thanks!

I mean that children should be informed that this is a genetic issues and that if they choice to make their own family, their children may be born with the same condition. Young children will not understand that but older children will. We are unsure where out child got his, either myself or my husband have ADHD.

Good luck with this discussion.

Ironically, I tried to have this discussion with my 6yo yesterday during a moment of relative clarity and she got distracted during the conversation so many times that we didn’t make it past the “You’ve got a very special and creative mind” piece 😆

I could totally see my son doing that. And us feeling like I guess we built this up way too much. Hopefully you can tell her in pieces and she'll come back with questions as she has them.

My son is almost 7. He's gone through two years of OT and a year of CBT. We have never come right out and said ADHD, he does know he is hyper sometimes. I have ADHD too so I will often say.....and Mommy struggles with that too. Mine already has food allergies and asthma so we're not wanting to add yet another label that makes him different. We just talk about his strengths and weaknesses without labeling it. ADHD is different for everyone anyways and I'd rather he say I struggle with... than just a blanket ADHD statement. The ADHD doesn't matter, it's the specific skills they lack that do, I think that's the important part.

Klmamma in reply to Klmamma

He self describes himself as having The Flash in his body or brain sometimes. He's very self aware and that's enough for me at this point. I also hate labels with a passion so that might be part of it. They are simply for insurance billing purposes in my mind.

Lolmama in reply to Klmamma

Yeah interesting I considered whether I talk to him without the label. He does say that he gets distracted easily so clearly already feels certain things are harder for him. Thanks for the tips. Much appreciated!

Klmamma in reply to Lolmama

I don't think there is a right answer. I think it all depends on the kid and the parents.

My son was formally diagnosed at 7. I realized that I was avoiding saying ADHD out loud in front of him and asked our therapists about it (his and mine). They both suggested that not saying it can send the message that it needs to be secret, that it’s something to be ashamed of.

So we had a talk... but like Strugglebus13’s daughter his capacity to listen and digest it was very limited. So it was more like planting the seed, and destigmatizing those letters. I used Dr Hallowell’s awesome analogy, “you’ve got a racecar brain with bicycle brakes.” At 7 he didn’t seem to get it. But recently - at 8.5 years - it came up again and he totally understood.

I also got him some kids fiction books featuring ADHD characters. I can’t say they are his favorites but I think they are helpful.

For a while he was often saying (yelling) “It’s not my fault, I have ADHD, OK?!?!?” Which was annoying... but now it seems he’s moved on from that. I tried to respond consistently with “yes we know. That’s why we are working together to help you manage this challenge. But our rule is xyz.”

Yeah I think I've personally been avoiding it as well partially because I'm not sure how he will react. This diagnosis has definitely taken me a while to come to terms with but now that I feel like we are making some progress on his behaviors, I do think it would be worth giving him an idea as to why certain things are much more difficult, but I did like the race car brain with bicycle breaks analogy.

Out of curiosity, when he was saying it's not my fault I have ADHD, was that mostly at home or also with school?

Our son was diagnosed at 5 while he was in kindergarten and he was included and present for every doctors appointment, assessment, and conversation. We wanted him to understand why he was different and might struggle more than his peers. He also was allowed a say in how he wanted to be treated, it is his body and his life after all. He was only 5 so we obviously helped him and guided him in the right direction, but we found that he has a better time communicating about it since he's always known what's going on. On the down side, sometimes now at 7 he tries to get away with things by blaming bad behavior on the ADHD so that's a struggle sometimes. But I think that would be normal for any 7 year old.

My daughter was diagnosed at the age of 5 and we’ve been very open about it as a family. I have the same diagnosis and I really wish my parents would have identified my ADHD when I was little... as an adult looking back, it all makes sense now.

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