You want to say things that help and encourage your child. But sometimes, you may make comments that have the opposite effect without even knowing it. Here are six common examples of things not to say to your child with ADHD—and what you can say instead.
1. “Having ADHD isn’t an excuse.”
Why not to say it: It’s one thing if your child does something bad on purpose. But if that’s not the case, you’re sending the message that whatever happened, it’s your child’s fault.
What to say instead: “Can you explain how this happened? What could have you done differently?”
2. “Everyone gets distracted sometimes.”
The reality: While most people lose focus once in a while, kids with ADHD do it regularly. They’re easily distracted—and it often lands them in trouble at school, with friends, or at home.
Why not to say it: You may be trying to make your child feel less alone. But this comment can backfire since unlike other kids, your child gets distracted most of the time.
What to say instead: “Everyone has things they struggle with. You’re not alone.”
3. “ADHD will make you more creative.”
The reality: A few studies suggest that ADHD may lead some people to think outside the box and embrace new ideas. But there isn’t evidence that ADHD makes people more creative.
Why not to say it: Even if this were true, what if your child isn’t especially creative? This comment raises an unrealistic expectation. It’s another way your child can “fall short.”
What to say instead: “It’s great to have strengths and passions. Let’s explore the things you’re interested in and love doing.”
4. “If you can focus on fun things, you can focus on work.”
Why not to say it: Kids with ADHD can’t control their ability to focus. This comment makes it seem like a choice. It could make it seem like you don’t believe your child has trouble focusing.
What to say instead: “You need to do your work even if it’s hard to focus on it. You can take breaks if you need to.”
5. “You’ll outgrow ADHD.”
The reality: ADHD is a lifelong condition. But symptoms often lessen as kids get older, especially hyperactivity. And there are strategies and treatments that can help.
What to say instead: “Lots of times, ADHD becomes less of a problem as kids get older. And there are things we can do right now to make things easier.”
6. “Nobody needs to know you have ADHD.”
The reality: If people don’t know, they can’t help and support your child. Instead, they may be judgmental and critical about behavior they don’t understand.
Why not to say it: This comment doesn’t “protect” kids. Instead, it can isolate them. And it could send the message that ADHD is something to be ashamed of, and that people will respond badly.
What to say instead: “You don’t need to keep your ADHD a secret. Telling people you trust can be a big help.”
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About the author
About the author
The Understood Team is made up of passionate writers and editors. Many of them have kids who learn and think differently.
Amanda Morin is the director of thought leadership at Understood and author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.” She worked as a classroom teacher and early intervention specialist for more than a decade.