View Full Version : How to talk to kids about parents' diagnoses?

03-22-15, 05:33 PM
How do you talk to an 8-year-old boy about his dad's recent (as in 3 years ago) diagnoses of ADD and bipolar? He needs to understand why his daddy does what he does. I'm starting to see resentment in him.

03-22-15, 08:12 PM
Maybe start the conversation by asking him what he's noticed about his dad's behaviour. Once he's listed a few things, tell him his dad does those because of ADD and bipolar, and explain the particular reasons for the specific things he noticed.

03-23-15, 05:08 AM
It depends on the age of the child and if you feel its your child''s business to know this. Not that it shouldnt be but unless its really uselful to know the specifics of your husbands diagnosis, you could just talk about basic stuggles and what he wants to do to treat them.

04-05-15, 02:56 PM
Just use simple, age-appropriate language. "Dad is a good man. He loves you a lot, and he loves me. But he has a condition that makes him go up and down very quickly ... and dad has trouble concentrating ... He's doing his best, but you may notice that his mood changes a lot. We are going to doctors trying to get a good medicine for him."

Just go very simple ... I would say the most important thing is to make it clear that your child can talk to you when dad's behavior feels bad. You don't want your son to feel it's his responsibility to "take care" of dad." That doesn't work. Children get overwhelmed and damaged when they think they have to quietly put up with the strange behavior of parents, whether the parents are alcoholics or depressed or have some other condition.

Just a perspective: what damages kids isn't just that their parents have flaws and problems. Kids are incredibly forgiving. What damages kids in the long term is that they fall back on a coping strategy of going numb/pretending everything is normal in the face of strange or weird or bad behavior on the part of a parent. That numbness/pretending everything is normal is how people later get into horrible relationships without objecting to bad behavior. Also going numb blocks us from knowing how we are really feeling, and going through life without knowing how you are feeling is disastrous. You can't make good choices because you are numb ... and you pretend choice X is totally the same as choice Y. And at its worst, you're not "pretending" choice X is as good as choice Y--because really your evaluation/feeling mechanism is broken.

That's a round-about-way of saying that acknowledging dad's behavior is not at all destructive to a kid. Kids can understand that dad has problems .. and still love dad. What's most important is that you and his father not pressure him to pretend dad's behavior is "normal" when it doesn't feel "normal" to the kid. Give him room to object to dad's behavior.

Good luck.


04-11-15, 02:38 PM
What does Dad think?

When ever I have parenting moments I am not proud of, after a cooling down realization period, I try to best explain how my actions where not appropriate and why they occurred.

"Keep attachment foremost"

"In the attunement relationship it is the child that leads and the primary caregiver that follows..", paraphrasing Dr. Mate.


09-14-15, 07:04 PM
I try to make my children aware of my odd behaviors. When I get distracted in the middle of a sentence, things like that; when we're out in the car and I need to explore every single little path in the woods. I once told them I'm not capable of being normal, I can't be like majority even if I'd try. My daughter seemed a bit puzzled then. 'Are you trying??' Well not really. Not anymore.

09-14-15, 09:25 PM
... and if you feel its your child''s business to know this.

If the child notices, then it is already the child's business.

09-23-15, 11:50 AM
I found this resource today, and thought it might be helpful. Its focus is on how to communicate your mental illness to your child, and how to do it based on the child's age:

There are other resources on the site as well.

I hope you find this helpful!

As far as if it's the child's business, even if they don't communicate it, they likely pick up on it, so it's best to have the conversation so they don't make incorrect assumptions, and so you can have some control over the message.

09-23-15, 12:01 PM
If the child notices, then it is already the child's business.
I agree.Although knowing and understanding are not the same thing.

09-23-15, 12:06 PM
I agree.Although knowing and understanding are not the same thing.
Also I don't know if it is easier or harder, but the age of the child/person (my son was already 20 when I was diagnosed) is a factor.

09-23-15, 01:14 PM
I actually think avoid the sort of... child appropriate language thing

I think tell him what it is with the correct words and everything, be honest and say when you're having trouble with something, and how you're trying to fix it. Everyone, even kids, respect honesty, and they respect being treated and spoken to like an equal.

If you are brave enough to admit your flaws to your child, and you are honest about your journey to making yourself a better person and father, I think number one it will build empathy in your child and also it will show him how people aren't born perfect but how we can work through problems, talk to each other about things, and try to do better everyday. I think it may also take unneeded pressure off yourself to be a perfect dad all the time for your child, so if you are beating yourself up about that, you may be able to let go of that a little.

These are REALLY important things for kids to see modeled for them.

EDIT: haven't read everything in this thread yet, but, as far as knowing vs understanding: When you tell your child about this, don't have it be just one conversation. Talk about it and see if he has any questions, and then bring it up again later and see if he remembers what you talked about and if he has any more questions, and ask *him* questions and see if he understands what you told him. And ask him what he notices about you too.

Also be prepared for him to maybe talk about this with his friends too say the darndest things....but I think it's often part of processing things that are going on

Good luck!

09-23-15, 04:05 PM
I agree.Although knowing and understanding are not the same thing.

True, they aren't the same. The fact remains that if a child notices something is (different/strange/off/wrong/troubling/confusing/distressing/odd) about his parents, then at that moment it becomes his business to have whatever information he's equipped to understand, but above all to have the information and not be left in the dark.

If he's mature enough to wonder what's different or what's wrong, then that automatically means he's mature enough to be told something about it.

09-23-15, 04:21 PM
Goodness I wish someone (herself, my Dad, or my aunt) would have gotten my mom some help for her depression and anxiety. it wasnt all the time and she was lots of fun and outgoing also, but wow that house was quiet some days when I was little. very tidy, so quiet...i dont thinked it dawned on anyone to think, something isnt right and maybe we can help. so yeah kids pick up on things!