Parents often ask us how to discuss ADHD with their children. How do you tell your child about their ADHD diagnosis without making them feel labelled, different (in a bad way) or judged? How do you teach them to manage their ADHD without constantly focusing on what they have done wrong?
Your child is more than an ADHD diagnosis. He or she is an individual with unique qualities. Be curious with your child and discover together what those qualities are. Then, help your child to recognise how ADHD affects the way they operate. There is no ‘one size fits all’.
By following these 4 simple steps you can help your children embrace their ADHD diagnosis and become their best self:
1. Separate the child from the diagnosis
Instead of telling your child: ‘You are ADHD’, tell them: ‘You are you, and you have ADHD’. Ensure them that their brain is different in a good way. After all, no great invention came from a brain that was average.
2. Identify their unique qualities
Start by listing your child’s strengths. The VIA Institute has a free survey for adults and children: https://www.viacharacter.org/. Once you have identified your child’s signature strengths, take every opportunity to point out when you see them in action. Always acknowledge with proof, for example: ‘When you asked me all those questions you used your strength of curiosity’.
Note your child’s special interests. What activities do they love? How can they include more of those in their lives? What do they enjoy doing with friends? Help your child be curious about how they learn. Do they like seeing, doing, talking, listening when learning something new?
3. Identify their brand of ADHD
Every child with ADHD is different. Some are hyperactive balls of energy while others are introverted daydreamers. Common challenges include difficulties with working memory – forgetting instructions or steps; time management – underestimating how long things will take; getting ready for school; getting started on homework or any activity they find difficult/boring; stopping an activity they are really enjoying; or controlling their emotions when they are worried, angry or sad. Identify the challenges and help your child devise tools to manage them. Don’t forget to identify their ‘ADHD Superpowers’ like hyper focus, high energy, thinking ‘outside the box’, and teach them about successful people with ADHD.
4. Keep a DIY Manual
As you and your child uncover this wealth of information, record it in a document all about them. This will become their DIY (do it yourself) manual for managing their ADHD and their lives in in the future. Knowing their strengths, challenges, and how to address them will also enable them to advocate for themselves throughout their lives Things to include in their DIY Manual:
- About me: my strengths, my interests, my learning styles (how I understand information, how I remember what I learn at school, how I learn at karate, swimming, soccer or ballet);
- Focusing tips: how I get focused, how I stay focused;
- Homework routines: routines that work for me, and how to reward myself;
- Assignment tips: tips to get me started, and to help me finish on time;
- Social tips: what to remember when I’m with friends, activities that I do well with friends;
- Ideas pages: things I can do when I’m bored, activities I can choose instead of computer games;
- Stress: how I can recognise when I feel stressed, and how I can manage this (e.g. using mindfulness).
Enjoy this journey of discovery with your child. Keep adding to their DIY Manual and encourage them to do the same.