How Grief Mimics ADHD in Children

ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is characterized by inattention, distractibility, impulsiveness, and sometimes hyperactivity. From three to ten percent of children may have this disorder. Many of these children manage well at home, but have a difficult time in group settings, such as classrooms. Others ping from the walls no matter where they are. Some just struggle to pay attention. ADHD affects the child, the home, and the classroom. This is a real disorder and there is real treatment. I am not an expert on ADHD, but I do have twenty-three years of experience counseling and coordinating support groups for children who are grieving from divorce or the death of a parent.


Children grieve when there is a change in the family structure. They may also grieve the loss of a parent they never met. In Growing Seasons small groups we attempt to help children in single-parent families by gently encouraging them to talk about their feelings. We teach them that God is their Father. Even though Growing Seasons groups are fun, they stir up uncomfortable emotions. Different children deal with their feelings in different ways. Some clam up and others talk openly. Some will do anything they can to keep from feeling. They literally would climb the walls if possible. This can cause havoc for the facilitators and the other children in the group. It also serves to keep the over-active child in denial.

Discussing the loss brings up painful emotions. It helps children take the next step in the grief process, from denial to anger and helps them deal with the anger. They need to come out of denial, but they fear the feelings. So they do the natural thing, avoid talking about it by keeping active. An inexperienced and frustrated facilitator assumes the child has ADHD. The child’s parent may also be wondering if his or her child is suffering from ADHD. So how do you tell the difference?

I have heard an ADHD professional say she could predict whether a child has ADHD by looking at the child’s cubby in preschool. Somehow the child would make create chaos out of a coat and a lunch bag. That may be an over-statement, but there may be some truth to it. If a child has ADHD, the symptoms would likely show up early. If there is a loss or major change in the child’s family, it is normal for a child to go through a time of hyperactivity. Adults often do the same. Cleaning out a closet can help a person avoid problems. Some children are born into chaotic families. That makes it more difficult to tell if the hyperactivity comes from genetics or lifestyle. A school teacher can usually tell if a child needs to be tested. In many places the school will test the child for free or for a small fee.

Parents have asked me if I think their child should take the prescribed medications. I always leave the decision to the parents and the doctor, but I do say,”If your child has ADHD, there will probably be some difficulties socially and academically. These difficulties can affect children’s core beliefs about themselves and the world. I remind them that failing to learn the basics in the early grades will put their child at a disadvantage in the upper grades. Some parents still fear the medicine. The may want to try cognitive behavior therapy to help their child find ways to cope. I believe every child is a gift from God and ADHD can be harnessed and used in positive ways.

If you suspect your child has ADHD, you need to have your child evaluated by a professional and then look at the options for treatment for your particular child.

What have been your experiences with your children concerning grief and loss or ADHD?

My next blog will list some things that can be done in classroom to help ADHD children.

Picture from Dreamtime Free Downloads by Deni Barbay entitled That’s Not Funny

If you would like more information about Growing Seasons: Helping Children Heal from Divorce and Other Losses, click this link and flip through the curriculum.

4 thoughts on “How Grief Mimics ADHD in Children

  1. Hello, jeanbrunson ,

    the book you sent to me did not reach here in Uganda , if you still have copies , please send to us we are an orphans care organization that we will benefit from your good books you write … please we shall be waiting to hear from you

    Regards Paul


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