Explaining ADHD Medication to Your Child

You have a child with ADHD. Should you explain to him/her why they need ADHD medication? If so, how do you talk to your child about medication for ADHD?

You have a child with ADHD. Should you explain to him/her why they need ADHD medication? If so, how do you talk to your child about medication for ADHD? ADHD expert, Dr. David Rabiner weighs in on the subject.A common question and concern that parents often have is whether and how to explain the issue of taking medication to their child with ADHD. This is a really important issue that I think warrants careful attention and concern.

I can not tell you how many times I have encountered children who had been taking ADHD medications for years never really understanding why. In my opinion, this is a critical oversight. Now, as far as what to say... First, a caveat. I do not know your child and thus can not really provide specific suggestions about what would be best. Instead, I'll present a set of general guidelines that can be modified to be most appropriate to your child's specific situation. I have found that even young children are generally receptive to a straight-forward explanation about why medication is being tried and what it can do. If you have questions about what is and is not appropriate to say, please discuss this with your child's health care provider.

For grade school child with ADHD, I would say something like the following: (What follows is much more of a monologue than would generally occur and it is always important to give the child plenty of opportunity to ask questions.)

You know, kids your age differ in lots of ways. Some are short and some are tall. Some are really fast and others are not so fast. Some can read really well and some have a harder time learning to read. There are just lots of ways that kids differ.

Kids can also differ in how energetic they are and in how their mind works. Some kids don't seem to have very much energy - they just like to sit around. Other kids have so much energy, though, that it is very hard for them to sit still. Having all this energy can be great for some things, but when you have to sit still and pay attention to something - like you have to do at school - it can make things difficult. Some kids are also able to really concentrate and think about one thing for a long time. For other kids, though, their mind sort-of jumps from one idea to the next. Having all these different ideas can be great, but when you have to focus on just one thing at a time, it can make things hard.

Sometimes kids with so much energy and so many different ideas need some help being able to sit still and focus on one thing at a time. One of the things that can help a lot with this is a kind of medicine. What the medicine can do is make it easier for you to stay in your seat and pay attention when you need to at school. It can also make it easier to slow down a bit so that you can make good choices about the kinds of things you do.

Now, your doctor and I think it makes sense to see whether some medicine can make these things easier for you. That way, you will be able to use all your energy and ideas to get the things done that you need to and to make good choices about your behavior and the things you do. The medicine should make it easier for you to do these things, but we'll also need you to keep trying really hard as well.

Now, there are several different medicines that kids can take to help with this. Not every medicine works for every child and we may have to try a few different ones to try and find one that is best for you. If we stick with it, though, there is a very good chance that we will find a medicine that can help with some of the challenges you have been having at school." (Note: This assumes that the child is aware of the difficulty they have been having and that this has been discussed with them. Presumably, this would be the rationale given for why they were seeing the doctor in the first place.)

A few other things to mention. First, as hopefully comes through above, I try to convey to the child that the ADHD medicine is not a "magic pill" and that the child has to also try to follow rules and make good choices. After all, if medication works, all it does is to help the child have more control over his or her behavior, but how the child chooses to exercise that control is still up to them. A child can make thoughtful decisions about not to comply just as easily as impulsive ones. What you want to convey is a sense that the child is responsible for his or her behavior and that if they do better it is just as much because of their efforts as the medication alone.

About the author: Dr. David Rabiner is a child psychologist and Senior Research Scientist at Duke University. Dr. Rabiner produces a monthly online newsletter, Attention Research Update, that helps parents, professionals, and educators keep informed about new research on ADHD. To sign up for a free subscription, please visit

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APA Reference
Staff, H. (2008, December 11). Explaining ADHD Medication to Your Child, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Last Updated: February 14, 2016

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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