10 Tips for Talking to Your Child About Attention Issues

What did you do at school today?

How did your math test go?

Sometimes, talking to your child about anything can feel like a challenge. Kids, especially teens, are masters of the one-word answers, eye rolls, and shutting us out. It can be hard enough to get a sense of how your kid’s day was, let alone have a meaningful conversation about their struggles or a diagnosis. Those conversations need to happen though. They are one of the best ways for you to show your support and help your child navigate through any hardships they come up against.

Here are some tips for talking to your child about their attention issues.

1. Think about the when and where. Choose a quiet spot and wait until your child is

relaxed and comfortable. Some specialists have recommended using your time together in a car to have important discussions. With fewer distractions and a more balanced power dynamic, the car can be a great place to talk to your child about their attention issues. Wherever you decide to have the conversation, watch for non-verbal cues that your child is comfortable, calm, and open to your discussion. You may have to broach the subject more than once before your child responds and opens up.

2. Keep things brief. You’re up against many obstacles when having these conversations. From the attention issues themselves to your child’s level of comfort discussing their struggles, don’t expect these talks to be long. Keep your expectations in check, your answers brief, and the tone upbeat.

3. Create a shared understanding of their struggles. Whether your child has a professional ADHD diagnosis, or they are working through age-appropriate attention issues in their own time, it’s critical that you talk through the details. Your child may feel very alone in their struggles, so it’s important for you to show them you understand, are on the same page, and are here to help and support them.

4. Be a resource. Make sure you properly understand the diagnosis or issues, use the correct language, and do your research ahead of time so you can answer questions, show support, and demonstrate your commitment toward moving forward together. Be able to explain that there will be support at school and from the right professionals along the way. Come with ideas, resources, and help that you’ll be providing at home, as well.

5. Talk about family and friends.

If your child needs extra attention or accommodations at home or at school, they may be worried about what others will think. Help them understand how important these accommodations are to them and that they are in place only to help them succeed, not to embarrass them. Chances are, they may already be dealing with embarrassment at school around their symptoms or struggles, so working with them to frame their accommodations in an empowering way is important. Many people struggle with attention issues and may already be receiving accommodations your child has never noticed. Show them they aren’t alone.

6. Don’t turn the conversation into a lecture or an interview. Asking questions and sharing knowledge is important, but be sure you’re giving your child the time and opportunities to share their thoughts and feelings and ask their own questions. Demonstrate that you’re actively listening and open to hearing all of their thoughts, fears, and worries. Don’t let your research or opinions overrun your child’s chance to have a real discussion with you.

7. Give your child some power. Talk through when and how their diagnosis will be brought up with teachers, peers, and others. Feeling different is hard, telling others you're different can be even harder. For older children, allow them to control the flow of information as much as possible to give them a sense of autonomy. Help them feel empowered and part of the plan and be sure they understand that ADHD and attention issues have nothing to do with intelligence or their ability to succeed.

8. Talk about the short and long term.

If you have a new diagnosis, or attention struggles are new for your child, it’s important to offer them reassurance on the changes that will be happening in the short term. They’re probably feeling a wide range of emotions, including fear and anger, that are clouding their judgement and assessment of the situation. Show them what will change, what will stay the same, and what will get better this week, this month, and this year. Looking to the future is important for all kids struggling with attention issues. Talk through what it will be like to finish school, get a job, and live as an adult with their attention issues. Discuss opportunities as much as you talk about hurdles and offer resources and guidance along the way.

9. Demonstrate your support. Make it clear to your child that you love and accept them the way they are. Be an advocate, but don’t try to fix everything for them, or make them feel dependent on you. Let them know you’ll be there no matter what, but show them they have the abilities to succeed. Help them set goals, celebrate the wins, and talk through the setbacks. Be an advocate and partner in their success.

10. Check in regularly: A one-time talk about their attention struggles isn’t enough. Make it a point to check in with your child regularly. Don’t keep things from them that relate to their issues, education, or health. Keep your child as an active participant in their success and regularly make the time to check in, set new goals, and support them.

Talking to your child about their attention issues may not be easy, but it’s one of the most important ways you can support them. Empower your child with the resources, tools, and assistance they need to overcome their struggles and succeed.

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