How to help tweens and teens talk with friends about challenges

Talking to friends about your learning and thinking differences isn’t easy. Especially if you’re a tween or teen. As a parent or caregiver, you can help your child. Here’s how.

By Karen Wilson, PhD

Updated January 31, 2024

Teens and tweens often care a lot about their social lives and friendships. If they have ADHD or a learning difference, they might be open with their friends about their challenges. But others may not want to stand out. Or they may not know how to explain it.

If your teen or tween is ready to talk with their friends about their differences, they may need your help. Here are some common situations and ways to help your child talk about them with friends.

1. Pull-out services

Your child gets pulled out of class for support services, and their friends wonder or ask about where they go.

Teach your child to see support as a tool to help with challenges, rather than a limitation.

What kids can say: “Dyslexia makes it tough for me to pick up on letter patterns for reading and spelling. That’s why I get extra help in a different class to make things a bit easier.”

2. Noticing accommodations

Friends notice your child using accommodations in class, and they ask about it.

Encourage your child to share their strengths and challenges. If your child embraces their accommodations — and isn’t scared to talk about them — they can help others be understanding. 

What kids can say: “I have really good answers in my head. But it’s hard to write them all down. That’s why I go into another room and use a speech-to-text tool on tests. It’s similar to using glasses to see more clearly.”

3. Seeking a friend’s help 

Your child often forgets supplies, and they need a friend’s assistance. 

Remind your child that it’s OK to get support from peers. Encourage them to ask for help from close friends when they need it.

What kids can say: “My brain loves checking out everything. But sometimes that means I miss something the teacher said. Can you help me remember the homework assignment? It means a lot to me.”

4. Explaining challenges 

Friends ask why a specific task or subject is challenging for your child.

Talk with your child about how everyone has their own set of strengths and challenges. Guide your child to talk about theirs.

What kids can say: “My brain works best when I love the topic. It can be hard to stay focused on boring or even easy things. It’s not that I’m a bad student. I just process things differently.”

5. Responding to doubt

A friend doubts your child, claiming that their ADHD isn’t real.

Encourage your child to speak up about their perspective, and that their ADHD is real.

What kids can say: “Having ADHD is like having a super-active explorer brain. When I have to sit still in one place to learn, it’s like trying to keep an energetic puppy in a tiny room. It’s a real thing that affects how I learn.”

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