How to Talk to Kids about Impulsivity & ADHD

This podcast will focus on talking to kids about ADHD, their unique challenges and strengths, and how to help them succeed not in spite of their brain wiring—but because of it.

Special Guest: Dr. Dehra Harris

Children who are differently wired, and in particular, children with ADHD, can often feel like something is “wrong” with their brain. “Why can’t I pay attention?” “Why am I getting yelled at right now?” While there are some clear challenges that children with ADHD face in school and in some everyday activities, there are also many strengths that come with having ADHD. During this podcast, Dr. Dehra Harris talks about how we can better understand the challenges and strengths of having ADHD and how we can talk to children about their brain. Dr. Dehra also talks to us about some tips to best parent children with ADHD so that they thrive and we all have more success.

Dr. Dehra Harris is a physician and teacher – which, as she said to me in her trademark humor that I adore, means this bio could easily turn into a boring list of places she graduated or articles she’s written.  But what you really need to know about her is her passion for helping people understand how their brain interacts with the world around them and how they can live happier lives as a result.  People who work with her appreciate that she can really listen and understand who they are and still be willing to ask insightful, even tough questions, when that’s what they need to be able to move forward. 

 She brings a translator mindset to the podcast, helping to cut through all the noise to what’s real and helpful about the experiences we all have as parents… Also she greatly enjoys kitchen dancing with her children to hip hop – because that’s important too.

She is a regular contributor on St. Louis Children’s Hospital MomDocs Youtube Channel.  You can find more of her parenting advice on this site:

The podcast provides:

  • Tips: How to help kids who have ADHD understand what’s going on and how we can help them thrive.
  • How to help kids understand their strengths.
  • Scripts: How to talk about ADHD with children
  • A different way of understanding the gifts, challenges and complexities of the ADHD brain.
  • A discussion about medication and the questions that come with weighing out that decision for a child who has ADHD.
  • A new way of understanding why children with ADHD seem like they are “ignoring you.”
  • How to use a multi-sensory system to get a child’s attention (vs. what I refer to as “upstairs parenting” or “across-the-hall parenting.”

Important Messages:

  • ADHD is like having 5 radio stations playing at once. ADHD is not the inability to pay attention, it’s the difficulty changing channels. Sometimes, kids with ADHD even feel like someone else is holding the remote and changing the channels without their consent!
  • No child wants to disappoint others by having trouble paying attention. They want their brain to focus when it needs to in school or out of school.
  • With ADHD, the problem is nothing to do with having a bad or damaged brain. It’s just a different way of going through the world.
  • Many successful people have ADHD and have used it in places where being able to pay attention to multiple things at once is a huge advantage.
  • Making the decision about medicating a child with ADHD is a decision that needs to be carefully weighed out by parents. It’s a personal decision. The literature shows that ADHD can be treated safely by good doctors.
  • The literature does not show that the ADHD medication is addictive in kids who need them on a daily basis but they can be abused.
  • The literature shows that treating ADHD can actually prevent some poor risk-taking and substance abuse.
  • If a child’s family has a history of heart disease, this should be looked into before medication is prescribed.
  • Conversations are a listening act first.
  • What are the 5 amazing things about your child’s brain- what strengths do they have?
  • How to use three different sensory systems to help reduce yelling and increase attention on your “radio station.” The end of “emergency brake parenting.”
  • Many parents who have kids with ADHD discover that they had undiagnosed ADHD—and when their kid is treated for ADHD, they see the positive way it could have been for them, as kids.
  • When people think that ADHD is the fault of the child or the parent, try subbing in the word “diabetes” or “asthma.” These are just different parts of the body.
  • Assume you don’t know the rest of the story.

Notable Quotables:

  • “Being a Child Psychiatrist, for me, is about teaching people to parent the kid they actually have, not the one they thought they would have or the one that’s on everyone’s Facebook page. It’s how you stop in this moment with all of this complexity, really see your kid and make the adaptations that everyone needs to be happy and figure things out.”
  • “There are some really exciting things happening in that we are starting to value what is called neuro-diversity. The idea that there is just one kind of brain to use to go through the world is just utter garbage. There are lots of beautiful ways to put together brains and they have different strengths and different ways they navigate the world.”
  • “The way I like to ADHD is through this analogy: If you have a kid without ADHD, they likely have just one loud radio station playing at a time. So when they are in a school-setting, it works really well. They tune it in to the teacher station, listen to the teacher and follow the instructions. But if you take a brain with ADHD, it’s more like having 5 radio stations playing at once. Now the cool thing is, you can come up with some new jazz, hip-hop fusion because you have a lot of information coming in at once but it can also be very frustrating.”
  • “If you take a brain with ADHD, it’s more like having 5 radio stations playing at once. Whatever the child is interested in, becomes the loudest channel. It’s not the inability to pay attention, it’s the difficulty changing channels.”
  • “I have to say this over and over again; I’ve never met a kid who wants to disappoint other people by having trouble paying attention.”
  • “The first thing I say when a child walks into my clinic with ADHD is; I think you have a beautiful brain and one that I very much like. I think this is the most important message.”
  • “Kids with ADHD have an amazing information-seeking brain. I call it the explorer brain.”
  • “With ADHD, the problem is nothing to do with having a bad or damaged brain. It’s just a different way of going through the world.”
  • “There are so many successful people who have ADHD that we don’t have to pretend that it’s a secret. There are incredible entrepreneurs, people who work in kitchens and art and sales in places where lots of things are going on and they are tracking multiple things- these can be a beautiful fit for an explorer brain.”
  • “I always tell the parents who come to my clinic, that they are in the driver’s seat. Making a medication decision is a complicated one that needs to be carefully weighed out.”
  • “If your kid walks away from a conversation with just your opening line which is; ‘I love you and you are just the right kid for me.’ It’s a success. You can always go back to content later.”
  • “Remember to take a kindness moment for yourself as a parent. This is hard. Be kind to yourself. You’re figuring this out as you go.”


  • St. Louis Children’s Hospital MomDocs Youtube Channel.  You can find more of Dr. Dehra Harris’ parenting advice on this site.
  • Dr. Dehra talking about signs, symptoms and treatment of ADHD in children here.