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December 14, 2020

A parent’s guide to understanding ADHD

Children's Health ADHD

Content sponsored by IBC - Native (195x33)

Children playing in autumn leaves Michael Morse/

Trouble paying attention in school. Won’t sit still. Inability to focus on one task. Behaving impulsively.

These descriptors sound like almost any child at one time or another. Let’s face it, most kids have a lot of energy they need to learn how to direct. But for some children, the struggle to sit still or pay attention is constant—and much harder. If you think your child is having more trouble than others in these areas, it’s possible they may be experiencing Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

ADHD is incredibly common and, as a parent, the most important thing you can do is learn to understand and empathize. Read on to discover what a child experiences with ADHD, and how you can help.

The basics

Even before you confirm that your child has ADHD with a doctor’s diagnosis, you might be frustrated or stressed by their behavior. You might even be embarrassed about your child’s behavior. Before you dive into learning more about ADHD, take a deep breath—and be patient.

ADHD comes from differences in brain activity and development, and may even be inherited. Don’t worry—poor parenting, a bad diet, or too much screen time aren’t causes of ADHD. If your child has ADHD, it’s not a reflection on you.

Getting diagnosed

One of the tough things about ADHD is that its symptoms are hard to distinguish from “normal” behavior. What child doesn’t have trouble concentrating? To determine whether your child has ADHD, a physician will assess your child’s behavior. It’s important to see a doctor for a developmental screening and not try to “self-diagnose” your child’s ADHD.

If your child has ADHD, they will have at least six of the following symptoms related to difficulty paying attention:

• Trouble following instructions
• Difficulty keeping attention during work or play activities
• Losing things
• Appearing not to listen
• Lack of attention to detail
• Seeming disorganized
• Trouble planning ahead
• Forgetfulness
• Easily distracted

In addition, they will experience at least six symptoms related to their hyperactivity or impulsiveness:

• Fidgeting
• Running or climbing when they shouldn’t
• Trouble playing quietly
• Interrupting others
• Difficulty staying in their seat
• Talking too much
• Difficulty waiting their turn
• Difficulty staying still

Talk to your child's pediatrician to determine the best time to evaluate for ADHD.


Once you know your child has ADHD, there’s a lot you can do to help them—as kids get older and learn to better manage their ADHD, it often improves. Medicine and therapy may also be suggested as treatment for children with ADHD.

ADHD medicines help brain chemicals work better and may be prescribed to help kids stay focused and control hyperactivity. The medicines prescribed to kids with ADHD—often stimulants—aren’t meant to work in isolation, but they can give your child a boost while they learn to better manage ADHD.

A behavioral therapist may be needed to help ensure your child doesn’t fall behind. These professionals work with children to develop social, emotional, and planning skills that might take them longer to master.

Parenting with ADHD

Supportive parenting is an important part of helping a child with ADHD. Make sure you are involved—this includes learning more about ADHD and taking an active role in your child's schooling. You can work with teachers to ensure your child has the right support at home and a learning plan that works for them.

Being warm and supportive is vital, but parents of children with ADHD must also take great care to set clear expectations and provide structure. Schedules, discussions before entering new environments, rewarding good behavior, and enforcing simple rules will help a child with ADHD.

Most importantly: Be open. Discussing your child’s ADHD with them, sharing with teachers, and celebrating effort can create an environment where you and your child can work on their behavior.

Information on this site is provided for informational purposes and is not meant to substitute for the advice provided by your own physician or other medical professional. You should not use the information contained herein for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication. If you have, or suspect that you have, a medical problem, promptly contact your health care provider.

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