How do I talk to my child about ADHD?

By Dr. Mary Rooney, Ph.D.

When you learn that your child has been diagnosed with ADHD, it’s not easy to know whether you should share the diagnosis with your child. Some parents worry that their child will feel different, or there is something wrong with them if they have ADHD. Others wonder if their child will use ADHD as an excuse for bad behavior or getting out of homework.

In most cases, it’s best to talk to your child about ADHD sooner rather than later. Here’s why: Most kids with ADHD already feel like they are somehow different from other kids. They notice that their friends and classmates don’t seem to struggle to focus the way that they do, or don’t forget or lose things as often, or have such a messy desk. But they don’t know why. Telling your child that he or she has ADHD lets him or her know why he or she feels different from other kids. It validates your child’s feelings, and helps him or her understand that it’s not his or her fault if things don’t come easily to him or her. In addition, you’re going to need to make some changes to how you’ve been doing things at home in order to help your child manage their ADHD. If your child knows about their diagnosis, you can clearly explain the reasons for these changes and how they are going to help make things better. If your child understands why things are changing, then they’ll be more likely to go with the flow.

So how do you talk to your child about ADHD?

  • Pick a good time and place for the conversation. Don’t do it when you or your child are tired, hungry, or have just had an argument. Choose someplace quiet for the conversation, someplace private where your child won’t be distracted.
  • Talk about the doctor. Refer to the appointment your child had with the doctor who provided the diagnosis for your child (as long as it was a good experience). Say something like, “Remember when we met with Dr. …” It provides context for the conversation, and helps kids understand where this is coming from.
  • Talk in terms of strengths and weaknesses. Explain to your child that everyone has things that they’re really good at and come pretty easily to them. Point out what one of these things is for your child. Then let him or her know that everyone also has things that are harder for them, and share one thing that is harder for your child (e.g., remembering to write down homework assignment, staying focused at school). Then let your child know that he or she is not the only one who has a hard time with this. In fact, it’s so common, that we even have a name for it! It’s called ADHD. Then end on a positive by pointing out one of your child’s strengths that will help him or her tackle their ADHD.
  • Be relatable.As you talk about strengths and weaknesses, be relatable to your child by talking about your own strengths and weaknesses and the way that your strengths have helped you deal with some of your weaknesses.
  • Share that it’s good to know about ADHD.Let your child know that it’s a really good thing that we know about ADHD, because now you’ll be able to help your child with the things that are hard for him or her.  You’ll be able to help him or her improve, one step at a time.
  • Check-in with your child. Finish by asking your child how he or she is feeling, and if he or she has any questions.  Don’t be surprised if your child doesn’t have any questions – yet.  All children process information differently and sometimes even get shy when conversations focus on tough topics. Check-in again a few days later in a casual one-on-one situation, and you might be surprised to hear what your child has been thinking.

While you might be concerned or apprehensive about talking with your child about their diagnosis, being open and honest can get you started off on the right foot.



Mary Rooney, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco. Dr Rooney is a researcher and clinician specializing in the evaluation and treatment of ADHD and co-occurring behavioral, anxiety, and mood disorders. A strong advocate for those with attention and behavior problems, Dr. Rooney is committed to developing and providing comprehensive, cutting edge treatments tailored to meet the unique needs of each child and adolescent. Dr. Rooney's clinical interventions and research avenues emphasize working closely with parents and teachers to create supportive, structured home and school environments that enable children and adolescents to reach their full potential. In addition, Dr. Rooney serves as a consultant and ADHD expert to Huntington Learning Centers.


Huntington Learning Center is the tutoring and test prep leader. Its certified tutors provide individualized instruction in reading, phonics, writing, study skills, elementary and middle school math, Algebra through Calculus, Chemistry, and other sciences. It preps for the SAT and ACT, as well as state and standardized exams. Huntington programs develop the skills, confidence, and motivation to help students of all levels succeed and meet the needs of Common Core State Standards. Founded in 1977, Huntington's mission is to give every student the best education possible. Call us today at 1.800.CAN LEARN to discuss how Huntington can help your child. For franchise opportunities please visit

This website does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The material on this site is provided for educational purposes only.

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