Paige McEachren worked for 17 years as a Corporate Communications Manager for world-leading technology and Pharmaceutical companies until she decided in 2015 to leave the workplace and stay at home to help her two kids navigate life. One of those kids has severe ADHD, which ensures she doesn’t get bored or miss being in an office – she doesn’t have the time. When not taking care of her kids (3 of them including her husband), she loves to travel, deals with her conflict of loving to bake and wanting to be healthy, challenges herself to try new things (recently to do a Sprint Triathlon), and hopes at the end of every day the kids are alive (asleep in their beds in their messy rooms) and if at all possible was able to carve out a pieces of the pie for herself, no matter how tiny!
Not ‘That’ Talk. Trust me when I had kids I thought the big ‘Talk’ I would have with my kids would focus on a very different subject and not at 6-years old.
As a mom trying to survive disordered life with my two kids who have ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), I have learned a lot over the past years about ADHD, Anxiety, and a whole bunch of other things I never knew I needed to know. One question I get asked from moms going through the same thing is “How do I tell my kid they have ADHD” or “Should I tell my kid they have ADHD”?
My first reaction is don’t be fooled, your kid already knows they are different? My son has severe ADHD. Very early in his life this neurobiological disorder showed us that his brain worked a little differently. With all the signs of hyperactivity, inattention and impulsivity it quickly became clear to everyone (including him) that he was different. We worked with his Doctor and specialists to determine to what severity ADHD was impacting his social, academic and other functioning and with diagnosis in hand, it was time to have ‘The Talk’ to explain what was going on. For my son, hearing this news was a relief. He knew he was different but never understood why. Our talk offered him a reason as to why and we could begin to deal with it and adapt to school, social relationships and life in general.
Here is what I learned.
Educate yourself: How can you explain something to your child unless you understand it? A bigger part of this is coming to terms with the diagnosis as a parent (this was NOT caused by anything you did). Do a lot of reading and ask questions to find information that relates to your child–there is a wide variety of ADHD combinations of symptoms, severity and co-existing conditions (anxiety, mood, learning disabilities, etc.). There are a wide variety of parent resources online including personal blogs like www.pieceofpie.ca which can offer you insights and lessons learned from other parents.
Remember, it’s no big thing: This is a bit harder to deal with. You have to accept the diagnosis. The reality is you cannot change it, so you may as well make the most and be as helpful (and supportive) as you can. All kids watch and idolize their parents. If you show it’s not big thing, then it will be no big thing to them, just a part of life.
Make it personal: If you do have ADHD (every child with ADHD has a 40% chance at least one parent does, and siblings are more likely too), draw upon your own experiences. Share what you know and what you learned. In our case neither of us did (that we know of), so we used what was in our lives: ‘Daddy has trouble losing weight and has to work harder at it, just like your ADHD means you will need to put in more effort and work harder, no big deal.’
It’s nothing to be ashamed of: Any child’s reaction to being told they are different, no matter what the difference it is, is that they did something wrong. Just like you need to tell yourself, you must clearly and loudly tell them it was NOTHING THEY DID!
Show them positive examples that they can succeed in life: I wanted to show my son that because he has ADHD it would not limit him in life. He could still grow up and be anything his heart desired. I searched online and printed photos of successful people with ADHD in a wide variety of careers. My son came home to find his bedroom covered in photos of: Walt Disney, Michael Phelps, Terry Bradshaw, David Blaine, Pete Rose, Richard Branson and singer Adam Levine. We discussed each person (who was just like him) and talked about their careers and how if they can work hard and succeed he could too!
Highlight the positive: This was something I wish I had known about when I first spoke to my son, and since learning we highlight all the time. Having ADHD isn’t all bad. Many people think it denotes a ‘problem’ child or bad parenting and so it has a negative reputation. The reality is there are many positive ADHD traits that make your child special too like creativity, energy, enthusiasm and a natural magnetism that attracts people.
Take it slow: You didn’t understand everything with one conversation and your child doesn’t need to either, especially if they are younger. The important thing is to openly communicate. Some parents might never use the term ‘ADHD’ because they do not want to label their child. Regardless of what we like the reality is if your child has ADHD and attends school they are probably already ‘labelled’ by their classmates. Whether you use the term or not, give them a concrete understanding to help them explain what is happening and strategies to manage the symptoms and challenges ADHD presents.
Be Open: Once you have the talk do not simply forget it and move on. Your child will still be dealing with everything and living with ADHD, it won’t go away because you talked about it. Listen to you child and pay attention to what will help them to understand the role it plays in their lives. Bring it up again in conversation, encourage questions and provide answers that will help them process.
Show love and positivity: Like anyone, too much focus on the negative and problems can cause your child to lose sight of the positive and love. At this point your lives are probably centered on ADHD and whether your child is running around in circles, having a tantrum or having problems focusing, take a deep breath and remember that as frustrated as you are, your child is likely equally frustrated and does not understand what is happening. Above all else, show them LOVE. You are the constant in their ever changing world and you must be their shelter, beacon and support as they navigate their way in their disordered life.