Communicating With Your ADHD Child
Even though I’d heard that communication is a skill we learn and practice, no one told me how important that would be in raising my child. Between Lee’s inability to focus, a lot of hyperactivity, and emotions that were hard to regulate, it became my challenge to find a different way to communicate. In this month’s blog, I put together the tips that worked for me over the years. Hope you’ll find one that works for you!
Before my child, Lee was diagnosed with ADHD, I found myself starting far too many sentences with, “Didn’t you remember…” or “How many times have I told you…” Or “What were you thinking…” Then there were the pleas to “Pay Attention!” or “Remember what I told you…” that my child didn’t seem to hear, only serving to make me feel like a terrible mother.
After the diagnosis, I learned why communicating with Lee was so difficult. The child psychologist explained to me that Lee’s inability to regulate focus and tendency to hyperfocus, plus struggles with hyperactivity, made it very challenging for my child to listen to me. Communication would be a skill we would both need to learn and practice.
I can’t say this was easy, and there were times I fell back on those useless questions when my frustration boiled over. But through the years, I found advice to guide me through the worst of days. Here are my favorites:
PATIENCE: The worst time to have a conversation, especially an important one, is when your child is hyperfocused on whatever has their attention at the time. Wait until your child is focused on you.
STAY PRESENT: Ask questions and be an attentive listener. This was always tough for me as my brain tends to jump ahead and make assumptions. But slowing down and staying in the present moment brought me new insight into my child’s thoughts and improved my parenting.
TIMING: If your child is feeling anxiety over something, this is the worst time to press a point. Back off, offer coping mechanisms for the anxiety they’re feeling, and try again when they’re calm.
GO SLOW: Don’t overload your child with a large expectation. One thing at a time always works better. Instead of “Clean Your Room,” start with “Pick up everything that’s yellow,” and so on through the rainbow.
DROP REMEMBER: Asking the question, “Did you remember?” only made my child feel worse. Like Lee, many children with ADHD have memory attention deficit and need tips to remember. One of Lee’s favorite ways to remember our address was to sing it every day. To this day, both of us still remember the tune!
USE FIDGET TOYS: Lee was able to focus better with the use of fidget toys. They served to ease hyperactivity and allowed my child to stay seated and listen more effectively. Whenever I could get a teacher to allow one, Lee’s favorite was squishy balls in jacket pockets. At home, it was every neon shade of slime.
RESPOND: If you feel your temperature rising in an explosive moment with your child, stop, close your eyes, and take a deep breath. Then, respond, don’t react. Repeating what your child has said, reflecting back their own words and naming their emotion, such as, “You must feel angry,” gives you time to collect yourself.
PRAISE: ADHD kids often receive more criticism than their peers. Praise what your child can do, offer help with what she can’t. Celebrate the things she did well that day. A little praise goes a long way in building their self-esteem.
(For more resources on communication, visit my website at the ADDitude Blog page)
As Mother’s Day approaches, I want to thank all the special moms who supported me through the years. Parenting a neurodiverse child is challenging and makes it difficult sometimes to find understanding friends. When I was struggling, long before my child’s ADHD diagnosis, two moms stepped forward and gave me hope and the gift of friendship. This blog is in honor of them.
Over the years in my quest to help my child with ADHD and now complete a memoir about it, I accumulated many books on the subject. Maybe it’s the teacher in me or just my passion for books, but I ended up with a pretty good collection. This month’s blog focuses on some of my favorites.
One of the workshops I loved at last year’s CHADD conference was led by Ryan Wexelblatt, the “ADHD Dude.” A popular speaker, he chose to highlight “Situational Awareness,” and it was an eye-opener. Join me in this month’s blog as I figure out how to keep Lee safe in parking lots, only to find it turned around on me many years later. And a big thanks to Ryan for his words of wisdom that motivated this blog!