I’m an adult with Attention Hyperactive Deficit Disorder (ADHD). My brain seems to work like a television that changes channels constantly. There’s even a “news crawl” streaming messages to my brain at all times. My body can be at work and my mind in two hundred other places collecting information or data.
Sometimes, what my brain wants to focus on takes precedence over what other people (like my boss or my husband) want me to focus on. I may look like I’m listening because I’m looking right at you, but I don’t hear a word you’re saying. Does this ever happen when you’re talking to your child with ADHD?
Does it feel like your child isn’t listening or is trying to push your buttons? It’s possible that they just need more time to process what you said, so try waiting an extra minute or so. Are there other distractions in the environment that are keeping your child from paying attention to what you’re saying? TV too loud? Video game in progress?
As a child, it was very hard for me to train my brain to tune in to what others wanted me to pay attention to. My attention was always on dolls and dogs. The attention to cleaning up my room, picking up around the house, and sitting down was missing. I needed extra help back then to focus on these things.
So how can you help your child change their focus? It helps to keep your communication precise, specific and short. Use concrete terms. For example, instead of saying, “get your chores done today,” say, “get your chores finished by 3 p.m.” Use chore charts that list specifically what needs to be done and by when it needs to be finished. This will be especially helpful for your child with the lack of a schedule in the summer.
Phrase things in positive terms of what you want your child to do, not what you don’t want them to do. Model the behavior you expect to see. Compliment your child on positive behavior—be specific and concrete. “You did an awesome job of mowing the back yard!” “I really like the way you organized your closet – everything is easy to find.”
If you want your child to focus on something, make sure they have the skill level, accommodation or modification in place to understand and focus on what you want. If your child doesn’t have these things, it’s harder for them to change focus and you’ll have to help them find ways to do that.
Does your child have the skills to do what you’re asking? If there’s any doubt, re-teach the skill. A checklist of the things that need to be done might be helpful. Use pictures on your checklist instead of words if your child doesn’t read yet. Are you sure they know what to do first, second and third? Sometimes, writing down what needs to be done works better than saying it out loud.
In conclusion, be sensitive to the distractions in your child’s environment and offer them concrete steps and positive feedback to help them focus. It may not happen as fast as you want it to but be patient - these skills will help your child and family in the long run.
You can learn more about ADHD on our Diagnosis A-Z List page.