Talking with your child

5 Things Not to Say to Your Child About ADHD

By Peg Rosen

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Ever wonder if you’re getting through to your child with ADHD? We asked David Flink, cofounder of Eye to Eye and author of Thinking Differently, to share tips on how to talk to kids with ADHD. Here’s what he suggests you avoid saying—and what to say instead.

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“I know how you feel. I get distracted sometimes, too.”

You want to help your child feel less alone. But unless you have ADHD, too, a comment like this may trivialize her challenges with ADHD. She may wonder, “If Mom can get along OK, what’s wrong with me that I can’t?”

Instead, try, “I can’t know how you feel, but I will help any way I can.” One of the best ways: Connect her with kids and adults who have ADHD and really do understand her experience. Eye to Eye is a great place to start. The organization matches students with mentors and offers first-person stories on its website.

2 of 5

“This medicine will fix what’s wrong with you.”

This tells your child there’s a problem with her. And it says that she can’t keep up unless she takes something to “fix” her. That can make her feel that taking pills is cheating. It can also do a number on her self-esteem.

It’s better to describe her meds as tools, just like her cell phone or calculator. Tools help all of us manage challenging tasks so we can make the most of our strengths. You might say, “There are times when your supercharged brain needs to slow down. That’s what these meds do for you.”

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“You don’t have to tell anyone you have ADHD.”

By suggesting that ADHD is something to keep private, you send the message that it may be something to be ashamed of. But ADHD is a part of your child, just like her curly brown hair and killer curve ball.

Let your child know that it’s up to her if she wants to tell her friends about herself and answer their questions. If someone asks why she sometimes leaves class, she can say, “I go for a quick walk to burn off some of my ADHD energy, so I can come back and focus better.” If she treats it like it’s no big deal, everyone else probably will, too.

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“If you just try to calm down and focus, you’ll get through your homework!”

This is like telling someone if she just tries hard and breathes underwater, she’ll be able to stay submerged for hours. No amount of effort is going to solve the problem.

For kids with ADHD, the solution is more about finding alternative routes to the same goal. So try, “Let’s figure out a better way for you to do this.” That may mean letting your child walk and play with a yoyo while you help her memorize state capitals. Or it could involve moving her to a quieter environment so she isn’t so easily distracted.

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“Why must I keep repeating myself?”

If you’ve told your child over and over to stop playing ball in the house, saying it one more time isn’t going to change things.

Instead of talking, try acting. It’s a language kids with ADHD often understand better than words. Take the ball and explain that she can ask for it when she wants to play outside. Or, if you know your child needs to channel her energy inside, replace that ball with something soft that won’t break the lamps. She’ll feel more understood. And you’ll feel less frustrated.

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Even the best-intended comments can make a child with dyslexia feel discouraged or inadequate. We talked to dyslexia advocate Ben Foss, author of The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan. He shared tips about what words can hurt—and what to say instead.

5 Things Not to Say to Your Child About Dysgraphia

Of course you want your child with dysgraphia to do his best. But sometimes even well-meant comments from parents can have a negative effect. Dr. Charles Sophy, medical director of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, lists some common remarks that can hurt—and what you might say instead. (You may want to adjust these based on your child’s age.)

About the Author

Portrait of Peg Rosen

Peg Rosen writes for digital and print, including ParentCenter, WebMD, Parents, Good Housekeeping and Martha Stewart.

Reviewed by

Portrait of Bob Cunningham

Bob Cunningham, Ed.M., serves as advisor-in-residence on learning and attention issues for Understood.

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