Straight Talk about ADHD in Girls: How to Help Your Daughter Thrive

By Stephen P. Hinshaw, PhD

Professor of Psychology, UC Berkeley

Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, UC San Francisco

Co-Director, UCSF-UC Berkeley Schwab Dyslexia and Cognitive Diversity Center and the UCSF Child, Teen, and Family Center


From Chapter 1 of Straight Talk about ADHD in Girls: How to Help Your Daughter Thrive, here is some basic but crucial information for families:


Is ADHD truly experienced by girls? I’m tempted to make this a much shorter chapter by limiting my answer to a single word: YES!

But as you might expect, there’s a lot more to discuss. You might need some convincing if you’ve heard the myth that ADHD does not occur in girls or women.


Many of you may be beginning to worry, regarding your daughter, about some of the issues and problems listed below:

  • Messiness and disorganization
  • Her seeming to be “out of it” for overly long periods of time
  • Lack of forethought, then facing consequences after the fact, the hard way
  • Excessive forgetfulness
  • The appearance of not listening
  • Getting unmotivated when the material to learn gets really tedious or hard
  • Lack of restraint—“I have to do it now!”
  • Defiance
  • Overemotional nature
  • Excessive fidgeting—why can’t she just sit calmly?
  • Way too many “grudge matches” at home
  • Generally poor self-control
  • Just can’t seem to get or stay organized

If this is the case, you may well be wondering: Is she just not trying? Or is she attempting to wear you down and get her own way for reasons that are hard to understand? Why are you spending so much time talking with her teacher, or your friends and neighbors, wondering what on earth might be wrong? You may feel that, as do many parents in similar situations, at times you can relate to your daughter—yet at other moments you can’t quite quell the suspicion that her schoolwork and friendships, along with your family’s daily interactions, are slowly going down the drain.

Or maybe not so slowly.

Overall, there’s often a great deal of frustration—paired with self-blame (“What did I do during her early years to have caused all this?” or “Why can’t I just say the right thing to her, ever?!”)—for parents who deal with ADHD in their offspring. All this may especially be the case if you’re questioning whether she might have ADHD and dealing with the decision of whether to get her assessed.

I’ll be asking you to work extremely hard on altering your expectations for a daughter with ADHD, involving two things. First, a radical acceptance of her differences from other girls (sometimes subtle, sometimes quite overt); and second, a radical commitment to changing the family climate, altering many of your parenting strategies, and working in conjunction with her teachers, other school personnel, clinicians, and supports in the community.

What do I mean by the term radical here? It’s taken from the language of a treatment called dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), which is a form of psychotherapy for individuals with severe emotion dysregulation and, often, self-injurious behaviors. “Radical” acceptance in DBT means that the person fully accepts her (or his) current reality—of difficult life events, or of longstanding personality traits—while letting go of the bitterness surrounding them. Such acceptance of life difficulties (and working not to let them act as a continued source of stress and agony) can paradoxically help individuals do what they can to problem-solve in productive ways (hence, “radical” commitment to enacting change strategies). Without such shifts, the road ahead will be full of unexpected curves, too often accompanied by high “doses” of anger and self-recrimination. With radical acceptance and commitment, challenges will still clearly await you, but thriving becomes a distinct possibility.


In the book, I present core information on the following:

*Why it took so long for scientists and clinicians to recognize that girls can and do experience ADHD

*Causes (note: biology and genes play a major role)

*Family interactions (that is, despite the biological roots of most cases of ADHD, how parents structure life at home has major implications for outcome)

*Schools (including the great need for home-school coordination)

*The best ways of assessing ADHD (particularly for girls)

*Many of the common problems and conditions that often accompany ADHD (e.g., anxiety, depression, learning disorders, defiant behavior)

*Evidence-based treatments (both behavioral/cognitive-behavioral interventions and medication, as needed, with the combination typically providing the greatest impact).

Most of all, though, I convey the utter importance of finding and providing outlets for your daughter’s strengths. And creating a “community of support” around her. In the final section [of “Straight Talk About ADHD in Girls”] are lists of resources and tips.

The journey for families experiencing a daughter with ADHD is long, but the potential for true success is decidedly real.


About Stephen P. Hinshaw, PhD

Dr. Stephen P. Hinshaw is Distinguished Professor of Psychology at UC Berkeley and Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at UC San Francisco. He co-directs the UCSF-UC Berkeley Schwab Dyslexia and Cognitive Diversity Center and the UCSF Child, Teen, and Family Center. His research focuses on developmental psychopathology, youth/young-adult mental health (particularly ADHD), sex and gender differences, risk for self-harm, and clinical trials to understand mechanisms underlying success in treatment—both pharmacologic and psychosocial. He also investigates mental illness stigmatization and attempts to reduce such stigma, chiefly through humanization.

Dr. Hinshaw has authored over 410 articles, chapters, and commentaries plus 13 books; his memoir, “Another Kind of Madness: A Journey through the Stigma and Hope of Mental Illness,” won the award for Best Book in Memoir/Autobiography from the American BookFest in 2018. His latest book is “Straight Talk about ADHD in Girls” (Guilford, 2022). He has won numerous international research awards, including the James McKeen Cattell Fellow Award from the Association for Psychological Science, the Distinguished Scientific Contributions Award from the American Psychological Association (and from the Society for Research in Child Development) and the Sarnat International Prize in Mental Health from the National Academy of Medicine. He was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2021. He is also an award-winning teacher and mentor. His extensive media coverage includes the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Today Show, and many more.