How and When to Talk to Your Kids About Their Diagnosis

Many parents ask me if they should tell their kids about the ADHD diagnosis or any number of other diagnoses. For the most part, I think parents have a lot of fear around telling their kids that there is “something wrong with them.” Frankly, I think this is more of a hangup for the parents. It is my strong belief that you should tell you kids as much as you can as soon as you can. You may need to adjust the level for their age. But it has been my experience almost 100% of the time that kids understand more that most adults give them credit for. Let’s examine why parents don’t (want to) tell their kids the whole truth and why I think they are wrong.

  1. They don’t think their child will understand. It is your job as a parent to make them understand. And, like I said, they will understand more than you think. I give basically the same ADHD education talk to 12 year-olds as to do to adults. I just have to explain the vocabulary and some of the concepts a little differently. Analogies are very helpful. Plus,

  2. …they really need to understand if you are going to be giving them medication. You need to be able to have a frank and honest ongoing conversation about how the medication is working and how it is making them feel. If they don’t know why they are taking it, they can’t just its efficacy and will only associate it with any negative effects. Eventually, when they are old enough, they will stop taking it and things will get worse. And,

  3. …even under the best of circumstances, your child is going to grow and develop. That means their meds will need to be adjusted or maybe even changed as some point. It is a lot easier to do that when you have the ongoing dialogue with them all along.

  4. They fear stigmatizing their child.  Part of me understand this. We don’t want our child to get a label that may not serve them. But the more I’ve thought about this over the years, the more I think this is bullshit. I think that taking this approach just proves that you, as a parent, have internalized the stigma and are actively passing it on to your kids. You would lie to you kids if they had asthma or diabetes or were a hemophiliac. No. You’d get them the treatment they need and it would just be part of life. I implore you to do the same with a mental/behavioral health diagnosis. You don’t have to wave a banner and tell everyone one. But you damn well should tell the person who it most directly effects. Besides, I’ve always maintained that kids know when they are different. Being the kid who raises his hand, has friends, is under control, and does well in school, but has to take pills is far less stigmatizing than the alternative. If it’s no big deal to you, it won’t be a big deal to him/her.

Standard Disclaimer:  In an effort to foil my own perfectionist tendencies, I do not edit my posts much… if at all. Please excuse and typos, mistakes, grammatical errors, or awkward phrasing. I focus on getting my content down. In my humble opinion, an imperfect post posted is infinitely better than a perfect post that goes unfinished.

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