Tips for Communicating With a Child With ADHD

Mother helping son with homework
Mother helping son with homework

“He’s really sweet and very helpful, but it’s hard to get his attention and get him to sit with the other kids,” my son’s teacher says hesitantly.

“Yup, that sounds like my little boy.”

She shouldn’t look so surprised. I know my kid better than anyone, so I’m fully aware that he has ADHD.

He tries to follow through with instructions but gets distracted and forgets what he was supposed to be doing. I’ll watch it happen. He’ll make a beeline for where he should be going. He has every intention of following through, but, suddenly, he veers to the left on a mission only he knows about. He needs me to guide him back to the task at hand.

He always has something to say and stuff to do, and he’s been like that since the day he was born. Even in utero, he had a hard time sitting still.

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Learning how to talk to a kid with ADHD takes plenty of time and a whole lot of self-restraint. I’ve had to give myself permission to make plenty of mistakes, too. As soon as I think I have my son figured out, he grows up a little bit more, and I have to figure him out all over again.

Learning how to talk to my child has been a process, but I have found a few effective ways to communicate with him — ways that work for him.

I Look Him in the Eye

This isn’t always an easy task when you’re talking to a kid with ADHD. When I say, “Look at me,” his eyes usually dart everywhere except my face. Even when he does look me in the eye, I can tell his little mind is out wandering someplace else. When I finally make eye contact with him, though, I stand a better chance of holding his attention. At least I know he’s aware I’m talking to him.

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I Use Language He Understands

Kids with ADHD already have a difficult time concentrating. My child gets bored quickly and, I hate to admit, is quick to give up. If he can’t follow what I’m saying, I’ll lose him completely.

I try to use short words and short, clear sentences, and I answer any questions he has for me, giving him the information he needs and leaving out unnecessary details.

For my kid, it’s definitely one step at a time.

I Tell Him Exactly What I Want From Him

I tell my boy exactly what I want from him — again, one step at a time. If I skip ahead too far, he forgets everything I told him to do.

For instance, when I need him to clean his room, I’ll have him pick up one type of toy — first his cars, then his stuffed animals, and so on. If I just say, “Clean your room,” and walk away, the work will never get done. I learned that the hard way. (Of course, when it comes to raising a kid with ADHD, it seems like I learn everything the hard way.)

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I Reward Him for the Little Things

I reward my kid for the little things, especially when it comes to activities he has to sit down and focus on.

“If you finish this page in your activity book, I’ll give you a cookie.”

“We’ve already walked two blocks. You’re doing so well! Keep it up, kiddo.”

“Thank you for putting your dishes in the sink. Now you can have dessert.”

If nothing else comes from this strategy, I get to watch how proud he gets of himself while Mommy praises him.

I Make Sure He Heard What I Said

Finally, I make sure my son heard whatever I just said.

“Did you hear me?” I ask.

“Yeah,” he says unconvincingly.

“What did I say?”

“You said (insert something I never said).”

“No, I said…” And we go through the conversation again until he can repeat back to me what I said in the first place.
Funny how one conversation can take all afternoon.

* * *

Those are just a few ways you can talk to a kid with ADHD, taking plenty of deep breaths in between. I try to remember that I need to adjust to my child’s ADHD, not the other way around. He can’t help his hyperactivity or his struggles paying attention.

Patience. Where would I be without it?

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