Clinically reviewed by Dr. Chris Mosunic, PhD, RD, CDCES, MBA

How to talk to your family about your ADHD diagnosis

by Kells McPhillips

“Do you need to start taking medicine? Don’t you just need more motivation? Won’t you outgrow this?” All of these questions may come up after your ADHD diagnosis. While most people mean well with their inquiries, feeling like you need to educate your loved ones on ADHD may feel overwhelming and exhausting.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) may manifest as hyperactivity, trouble focusing, impulsive behavior, or some combination of these symptoms. Even though about four percent of adults have ADHD, many people—including the people you love—may misunderstand it or not understand it at all. They may even harbor false ideas about those with ADHD. “The most common misconceptions about individuals with ADHD are that they are lazy and that they lack motivation. These two things are false,” says Jordan Bierbrauer, LCSW, a counselor specializing in ADHD, trauma, anxiety, and depression.

When you tell your family and friends about your ADHD diagnosis, you may think you have to help them unlearn everything they previously believed about the disorder. To help you walk your loved ones through your diagnosis, Bierbrauer has developed a four-step guide to serve as a conversation starter.

Along the way, be sure to check in with your own mental health and well-being and table the conversation (for now) if you feel like you need a break. “There may be nothing to worry about while having this conversation, but I believe it is always better to be prepared,” says Bierbrauer.

How to explain ADHD to your family in 4 easy steps

Step 1: Set a goal for the conversation

“Think about what you want to get out of telling your family about your ADHD. And once you have a goal decided, aim to achieve that goal,” says Bierbrauer. Perhaps you simply want to tell your friends about your diagnosis, or perhaps you want to enlist their support in some way. Whatever the case, ensure you can see the goalpost before heading into the conversation.

Step 2: Make a game plan

Of course, you need a plan to make sure your goal comes to fruition. “Do you want to provide education about ADHD? Do you want to share your own experiences? Be sure to be clear of these things,” says Bierbrauer. Maybe you’d like to ask your support network to do some research of their own before you meet again, or you want to lead them step by step through your lived experience.

If you’re more comfortable passing on ADHD resources than being a resource yourself, consider directing them to the ADHD Resource Center or the National Institutes of Mental Health’s ADHD brochures and research page.

Step 3: Practice coping ahead of time

“Coping ahead is a part of the skills within the dialectical behavioral therapy model (DBT), says Bierbrauer. “It means taking time to play everything out in your head, as studies show that doing this may help you experience the feelings you would experience when you are in the moment and may make you better prepared to cope with them.”

Doing this practice ahead of time will help you pre-process any negative emotions so they don’t feel as challenging at the moment. So sit down, close your eyes, and give yourself an opportunity to prepare for what’s coming next.

Step 4: Practice self-care immediately after the discussion

Even if you reach your goal, you may still feel emotionally drained after your heart-to-heart is over. That’s why scheduling something fun or relaxing shortly after you meet up with your family is important. “You deserve to do something nice for yourself, as it is also an achievement to even be brave enough to have this conversation,” says Bierbrauer. “Go out with friends, read a book, watch a movie, take a bath, whatever it may be—as long as you are prioritizing yourself.”

Calm Health is not intended to diagnose or treat depression, anxiety, or any other mental or physical health condition. The use of Calm Health is not a substitute for care by a physician or other health care provider. Any questions that you may have regarding the diagnosis, care, or treatment of a health condition should be directed to your physician or health care provider. Calm Health is a mental wellness product.

Ready to get started?

We’ve made it easy to take the first step. Just download the Calm Health app, create your account, and answer a few simple questions to help us understand how you’re feeling. You’ll get instant recommendations for the Calm Health programs that will be the most helpful for you.

Our programs are created by licensed psychologists, and you can explore them at your own pace, in any order you like.

Try Calm Health
up arrow