Simple Strategies for Helping your Child Listen and Follow Through

When your child has ADHD getting them to follow through on seemingly simple requests can be frustrating and challenging. You’ve probably wondered more than a few times how your child is able to tune you out so effectively, to the point where they seem to literally not hear you when you ask them to do something. Or you struggle to understand what exactly happens when you ask them to go put on their shoes and socks only to have them come back 20 minutes later with a sock on one foot and no shoes in sight. Moments like these are par for the course when you have a child with ADHD, but there are things you can do to make these moments less frequent. The way that you give your child instructions can have a huge impact on their ability to follow through. And, when you pair these effective instructions with praise for a job well done, you’ll see big improvements and less frustration all around.

5 Strategies for Giving Effective Instructions:

  1. Always get your child’s attention first. Kids with ADHD often have trouble shifting their attention from one thing to the next. So, don’t assume that your child is paying attention when you speak. Make sure you are in the same room as your child, then say your child’s name, ask them to look at you, or put your hand on their shoulder. All of these steps will help ensure that they are ready to take in what you have to say.
  2. Give only one or two instructions at a time. Most children with ADHD can only absorb one or two instructions at a time, maybe three if they are a bit older. If you chain too many instructions together you will exceed what their mind can process and will compromise their ability to follow through on anything that you’ve asked them to do.
  3. Tell your child what to do instead of what not to do. Make it easier for your child to follow through by telling them exactly what it is that you want them to do, and don’t leave it up to their interpretation. For example, if your child is running down the stairs and you tell them to “stop running” they can choose to slide down the bannister and still comply with your instruction. Instead, be clear and direct and tell them to, “Please walk down the stairs.”
  4. Avoid “asking” your child do to something. It feels very natural for us to ask someone do something in the form of a question, “Would you get me a cup of coffee?” We communicate with other adults like this all the time and in many instances it would be rude not to – “Get me a cup of coffee now!” But, when you’re giving instructions to your child, especially your child with ADHD, the same rules don’t necessarily apply. When you phrase an instruction as a question your child can take you quite literally and simply say no. “Would you clean up your toys?” can result in this response, “Um, not now, I’m busy.” Well, you asked and they answered! If you instead say, “Please stop playing and clean up your toys now,” you’re not asking your child for a favor. You’re telling them what you need them to do, and they’ll be more likely to follow though.
  5. Give your child time to react. It takes many kids with ADHD a little bit longer to process information than you might think, and in general kids process information more slowly than adults. So, give your child at least 5 -10 seconds to follow through before you repeat the instruction or start to feel ignored.

When you follow these 5 simple steps consistently you’ll be surprised by how much better your child follows through when you when you ask them to do something. In fact, they may even show up with socks and shoes on both feet the next time you ask!

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