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8 Things Never to Say to a Parent of a Kid With ADHD

Parenting ANY child is challenging. Parenting a child with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or another sensory processing disorder (SPD) often brings an even larger set of challenges. One of these challenges is dealing with judgmental comments from strangers, friends, and even family. Below, parents of children with ADHD tell us some of the things they wish people would stop saying.

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Don’t say: “ADHD isn’t real”

Abby Annable recounted when she was diagnosed with the condition in high school, and began telling her teachers. In response, her math teacher said “ADHD isn’t real. You’re just bored and not willing to pay attention in class.” After starting on medication to help with the symptoms of ADHD, Abby made honors. In fact, all the major medical groups—including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and National Institutes of Health—recognize ADHD as a condition that should be treated.

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Don’t say: “He’s just a boy—he’ll grow out of it”

Parents of children with ADHD and other SPDs have been to pediatricians and specialists to come to a diagnosis. These comments undermine the reality of the condition and second-guess expert opinions. (Related: Learn these signs that your energetic toddler might have ADHD.)

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Don’t say: “She’s like this because you’re not strict enough”

Brittany Berry-Hill, parent to a child with ADHD, often receives comments like, “He only needs meds because you don’t whoop him.” Hitting a child is never the answer. This is especially true because ADHD also often presents with emotional hypersensitivity, meaning the physical act of spanking can lead to more intense emotional hurt. William Dodson, MD, a Colorado-based psychiatrist who works with children with ADHD agrees that spanking a child with ADHD is never a good idea because, “She can’t make use of that experience and conform her behavior next time.”

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Don’t say: “But all kids have those issues some of the time”

While it’s true that no child is 100 percent focused and attentive all the time, it’s at a different level when a child has ADHD or another sensory processing disorder. Robin Baker, whose child has an SPD, explains, “I understand the sentiment behind it, but it’s not particularly comforting when I’m emotionally exhausted from trying to be her support.”

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Don’t say: “You have created a monster”

Blaming the parents for a child’s medical condition is unfair and hurtful. Sarahlynn Wilson says she is often blamed for her son’s tantrums. “People act like I deserve it for some karmatic reason, I don’t raise him right, I don’t discipline, or I made him this way. He’s been like this literally from day one. And I’ve tried everything,“ she says. “It’s important to remember that ADHD is not your fault or the effect of bad parenting,” says Edward Hallowell, MD, one of the leading experts on ADHD. “ADHD is a neuropsychiatric condition.” (Related: Here are myths about ADHD you probably get wrong.)

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Don’t say: “How could you medicate your child?”

Kalina Gersbeck made the decision to medicate her child after her son’s ADHD diagnosis. A friend she confided in questioned her decision. “You put your kid on medication because you can’t control him? Way to parent,” she criticized. The decision to medicate is a difficult one, and often all these alternatives have already been tried or at least considered. Commenting is not necessary.

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Don’t say: “Try meds”

Christina Thompson, who has a son with a high level of ADHD, tried everything before deciding to medicate her son. While she is thrilled with how her son is responding to the ADHD medication, she is unhappy with the comments she has received on both ends of the medication decision. “As parents we will do what’s best for our children. That looks different for each child and family. We need to support one another as a community not break one another down. What I really need is encouraging words, support, friendship and resources.” Ashlee Krump agrees. “A lot of people don’t understand that there’s a spectrum either. So people often think it’s just a blanket diagnosis with one treatment. But it isn’t. And every family has to make the best treatment decisions for them.”

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Don’t say: “I don’t know how you do it”

While the sentiment behind this comment may be in the right place, it can come off as belittling the child—making the child seem like a burden rather than a blessing. How do you respond to this comment? Amber Klarfeld says her pat response is, “Easily! He’s actually pretty great!”

Originally Published in Reader's Digest

Alison Wilkinson
Ali Wilkinson lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband, three small children, and two large cats. She is a lawyer, writer, knitter, runner and over-consumer of Nutella. Her writing has appeared on Red Book, Scary Mommy, Elephant Journal and Babble, among others. She writes about parenting and other things that make her laugh (and cry) at her blog Run, Knit, Love.