Explaining ADHD to a child

Edward Hallowell, MD, ADHD Specialist & Author, shares advice for parents on the best method for explaining ADHD to your child
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Explaining ADHD to a child

It’s very important when you explain ADHD to a child that you use a strength-based model, a model that does not include anything dangerous, negative, upsetting. The model that I like to use that is in fact very accurate is the following – I’ll tell a child – “Guess what? I have great news for you! You have an amazing brain. You’ve got a Ferrari engine for a brain!” And I’ll say, “You know what a Ferrari is?” And they’ll say, “Yeah, yeah.” “Well, your brain is like a race car! Your brain is way powerful and that’s great! You’re a champion in the making,” I said. “But there is one problem. You’ve got bicycle brakes. You can’t slow down when you need to stop, when you need to.” And that’s really what ADHD is all about. And the kid’s get it. “Yeah, you’re right, you’re right.” And I say, “And I’m a brake specialist. So work with me, and we’ll strengthen your brakes. We can’t do it overnight, but over the course of years you’ll build those brakes so you’ll be able to stop when you need to, slow down when you need to. And win races instead of spinning out at the curve.” That’s truly what ADHD is all about. It’s a state of relative disinhibition. You can’t inhibit incoming stimuli, hence you’re distractible, you can’t inhibit outgoing impulses, hence you’re impulsive and hyperactive. That’s race car brain with bicycle brakes. I’m a break specialist. Strengthen your brakes. Kids buy into that enthusiastically, instead of saying, “I have some deficit disorder that needs to get treated,” say, “I’ve got a race car and I need to strengthen my breaks, so I can be a champion.” And that’s the truth.

Edward Hallowell, MD, ADHD Specialist & Author, shares advice for parents on the best method for explaining ADHD to your child


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Edward Hallowell, MD, EdD

Psychiatrist, ADHD Specialist, & Author

Edward (Ned) Hallowell, MD, EdD is a Harvard-trained Child and Adult Psychiatrist in practice in Sudbury, MA (outside Boston) and New York City. The author of 18 books, Dr. Hallowell specializes in learning differences such as ADHD and dyslexia, both of which he has himself.  He has also written extensively on general issues of parenting and living in our modern age. He lives in the Boston area with his wife of 23 years, Sue, and their three children, Lucy, Jack, and Tucker.

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