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Child Development

What Does ADHD Feel Like to a Child? Exploring Symptoms, Emotions, and Experiences

May 22, 2023
Table of Contents

    Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a well-known but frequently misunderstood neurodevelopmental disorder. While many people know the basics about ADHD, few understand the diverse ways it can manifest and affect a person's life.

    Understanding ADHD in children is vital for those who have or might have a child with ADHD in their life because it'll help you understand a child's behavior and thoughts. In understanding how a child's brain works, you can support them best and maintain patience and empathy.

    In this article, we'll talk about ADHD symptoms in children, common experiences of kids with ADHD, and how to support a child with the condition.

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    Symptoms of ADHD in Children

    Adults know that all brains work differently. Children will not understand that everyone's brains work differently - and that that's okay - until they're taught. A child's behavior may differ from that of other kids if they have ADHD. It may seem inappropriate, disruptive, or as though they aren't listening. However, this is not on purpose.

    Understanding the symptoms of ADHD in children can help parents learn why their child has trouble paying attention or behaves in certain ways. In turn, you'll start to understand how ADHD feels to a child and how to support them best.

    ADHD symptoms are grouped into three categories: Inattentive, hyperactive, and impulsive. The diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM) states that to be diagnosed with ADHD, kids 17 and under must have at least six symptoms in either the inattention or hyperactive/impulsive category, or both, that last for at least six months and aren't better attributed to another cause.


    Some kids with ADHD will experience primarily inattentive symptoms, in which case they may have primarily inattentive ADHD. Others will experience a combination of inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity symptoms, which means that they may meet the criteria for the most common form of ADHD (combined type). Inattentive symptoms can make it tough to stay focused and start or finish tasks. Here are some hallmark inattentive behaviors you may notice in kids:

    • Difficulty paying attention to details
    • Trouble organizing tasks and activities
    • Failure to follow through on instructions or finish tasks (e.g., chores, school work)
    • Losing items necessary for activities, such as books for school, keys, phones, or pencils
    • Avoidance, reluctance toward, or dislike of activities that require sustained mental effort, like homework
    • Failure to give attention to detail or making seemingly careless mistakes during activities
    • Difficulty listening when spoken to directly
    • Easily distracted
    • Forgetfulness


    Children with combined type or primarily hyperactive/impulsive type ADHD will have high energy levels. You may notice the following signs of hyperactivity in a child with ADHD:

    • Constant fidgeting or squirming
    • Difficulty sitting still
    • Acting as if they're "driven by a motor" or "always on the go."
    • Trouble engaging in play or activities quietly
    • Excessive talking


    ADHD impulsivity can manifest in the form of behavior problems and trouble with self-control. Imagine that the short time period when a person would typically consider an action and its consequences is "cut out" or removed, leading a person to act on their impulses, only considering the impact after the event. This may result in:

    • Acting without thinking
    • Interrupting others
    • Blurting things out (e.g., inappropriate comments)
    • Difficulty waiting for their turn

    Emotions of Children with ADHD

    Previously, many people primarily noticed the more external symptoms of ADHD, such as how it can affect a child's behavior and academic performance. Nowadays, it is known that ADHD comes with a spectrum of other possible features and co-occurring concerns, like rejection sensitivity and trouble regulating emotions. Here are some of the emotional and psychological impacts a child might experience.

    Frustration and Anger

    People with ADHD can have a lower frustration tolerance, meaning that they become frustrated more easily. Reasons kids with ADHD may get frustrated more include but aren't limited to:

    • Feeling misunderstood
    • Difficulty controlling emotions
    • Hyperactivity

    Anxiety and Depression

    The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) indicates that 64% of children with ADHD have at least one other disorder. Statistics suggest that about 33% of kids with ADHD have anxiety, and 17% have depression. ADHD can come with other challenges that affect mental health. These include but aren't limited to:

    • Feeling overwhelmed
    • Struggles with social interactions
    • Low self-esteem

    Experiences of Children with ADHD

    Every child is different, but kids with ADHD often share a number of experiences. In many cases, academic and social challenges will occur for school-age kids with ADHD, some of which will be more outwardly apparent than others. For the majority of those diagnosed, ADHD symptoms persist into adulthood. When children develop the coping strategies, awareness, and skills they need early on, it can make a world of difference.

    Academic Challenges

    Kids with ADHD are more likely to have low academic performance and drop out of school as teenagers, among other potential educational difficulties. Understanding what affects a child's ability to succeed in school can help parents, teachers, and other adults promote their academic progress and find what works in terms of helping them tame potential obstacles.

    Difficulty with organization and time management

    Organization is a challenge for many people with ADHD, and those with the condition may experience trouble with the perception of time. Sometimes, this is called "time blindness." Many people don't realize this is not a matter of carelessness. It is due to differences in the brain. In school, these aspects of ADHD can lead to many challenges. For example, being late to class, trouble finishing assignments in a timely manner, or forgetting school supplies. While finding the right strategies can take time and work, people with ADHD can learn to manage time and organize daily life activities more effectively.

    Trouble following instructions

    People with ADHD have deficits in a specific type of memory called working memory. This means that they can't retain small pieces of information for a short period of time the way others can. A prime example of this is often seen in multi-step instructions or tasks. If you say, "Please take the garbage out and come to the kitchen when you get in," the person may very well forget the second step by the time they're indoors. One tip that can help an ADHD child stick to a task is to give instructions one at a time or break large tasks (e.g., a multi-step math problem) into smaller pieces.

    Social Challenges

    Some children with ADHD are social butterflies. For others, ADHD makes it hard to interact with other kids and adults alike. Social challenges a child with ADHD may face include but aren't necessarily limited to the following.

    Difficulty making and keeping friends

    Research shows that kids with ADHD struggle to build and maintain friendships more than other children. Role-playing, teaching kids social scripts, and practicing friendship skills like taking turns with family members are all great ways parents can start helping kids improve their social skills.

    Misunderstandings with peers and authority figures

    Misunderstandings can be prevalent for kids with ADHD. With neurotypical peers and authority figures, these misunderstandings can be extremely challenging. Excessive talking, interrupting, forgetfulness, and other symptoms can affect social interactions. However, friendships are very important for kids with ADHD, and those who face challenges in this area can overcome them. Similarly, some kids will get in trouble frequently. This can be very stressful for parents, but again, getting to a better place with the right support is possible.

    How to Support a Child with ADHD

    Getting an accurate diagnosis is the first step for many parents, but what do you do after that? With it in mind that every child is unique, parents can create a supportive home, get kids access to professional care and resources, and use other tools, like Joon, to help their child thrive.

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    To get started, Parents download the Joon Parent App and make a customized task list for their children. You can add as many tasks as you want, such as homework, household chores, elements of a child's morning or nighttime routine, like brushing their teeth or eating meals, and so much more. Kids use a separate app called Joon Pet Game. Upon finishing assigned tasks, children get rewards in Joon Pet Game that allow them to care for a virtual pet called a Doter. Joon acts as a reward system while promoting self-esteem, independence, and habits kids can benefit from for life.

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    Create a supportive home environment

    It's essential that parents show understanding and work with their children as a team. Use the following tips to create a supportive home environment for your child with ADHD.

    • Teach kids coping skills for emotions. Remember that even very young kids can have big feelings, and ADHD makes emotion regulation more challenging. Discuss ways to express emotions and cope healthily.
    • Give positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement for good behaviors can work wonders for a child with ADHD. Verbal praise for putting effort into homework or a task, for example, can help improve behavior in kids and make them feel more motivated to continue.
    • Prioritize clear communication. When you want your child to do something like a household chore, give clear expectations. Use specific language to describe when and how you want something done.
    • Have routines. Routines and schedules are crucial for kids with ADHD and can help them get things done. A supportive morning, bedtime, chore, and homework routine can all be advantageous.
    • Model the behavior you want to see. Kids often learn behaviors from their parents, so if there's something you want them to do (e.g., put phones away at meals, interact with others politely), do the same in front of the child.
    • Use patience. Give children gentle reminders and have patience as they learn.

    Seek professional help and resources

    After a professional diagnosis of ADHD, you will work with your child's doctor to create a plan and care team that meets their needs. While there are alternative treatments and additional forms of support, these are often some of the first steps:

    • Therapy. If your child is under age 12, it's suggested that you work with a therapist for parent training in behavior management, where parents learn therapy skills and tools to use with kids at home. Other kids and teens will work with a mental health professional themselves.
    • Medication. The most recommended and effective treatment used for ADHD at this time is a combination of medication and therapy. A child's doctor, or another provider, such as a psychiatrist, can prescribe and manage their medication. Most kids start with stimulant medication, which is associated with a number of advantages, including better school performance, better mental health, and a lower likelihood of substance abuse for those with ADHD.
    • School support. Most kids with ADHD benefit from accommodations at school. Working with teachers, taking steps to get a 504 plan for your child, or finding a tutor can all be helpful depending on a child's needs.


    Understanding what ADHD feels like to a child can help you be the best parent you can be to a child with the condition. The symptoms of ADHD can vary substantially from person to person and affect people's lives in different ways. Additionally, ADHD often comes with a range of potential comorbidities, challenges, and emotions, which parents can look out for and help to address. Parents can support kids with ADHD by creating a supportive home, using tools like Joon, and seeking professional help.


    Dr. Carrie Jackson, PhD

    Carrie Jackson, Ph.D. is a licensed child psychologist, speaker, and author working in San Diego, California. She has published over 20 articles and book chapters related to parenting, ADHD, and defiance. Dr. Carrie Jackson received her Ph.D. in Psychology, with a specialization in Clinical Child Psychology, from West Virginia University in 2020. She completed her predoctoral internship at Rady Children’s Hospital through the University of California, San Diego. She then completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Nationwide Children’s Hospital before returning to San Diego, California to open her private practice.


    Dr. Carrie Jackson, PhD

    Carrie Jackson, Ph.D. is a licensed child psychologist, speaker, and author working in San Diego, California. She has published over 20 articles and book chapters related to parenting, ADHD, and defiance. Dr. Carrie Jackson received her Ph.D. in Psychology, with a specialization in Clinical Child Psychology, from West Virginia University in 2020. She completed her predoctoral internship at Rady Children’s Hospital through the University of California, San Diego. She then completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Nationwide Children’s Hospital before returning to San Diego, California to open her private practice.