How to Give Effective Instructions to a Child with ADHD

Giving Effective Instructions to Kids with ADHD
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Children with ADHD require a slightly different approach to discipline. Their short attention spans and energetic spirit can make following directions a bit more complicated. If you have a child with ADHD, take steps to prevent behavior problems and set your child up for success by giving directions in a helpful manner.

Here are seven strategies for giving effective instructions to children with ADHD:

1. Get Your Child’s Attention

Yelling from across the room isn’t likely to work with a child with ADHD. If you’re competing for your child’s attention with the TV, a video game, or an exciting toy, you'll likely lose every time. Pause the electronics, turn off background noise, and gain your child’s attention before you give directions.

With some children with ADHD, physical touch can help assure you’ve got their attention. Try placing a hand on your child’s shoulder and get eye contact before you give directions. This will ensure that you’ve captured his full attention.

2. Offer as Little Information as Necessary

Once you’ve gained your child’s attention, you have a small window of time to keep it. Offering lengthy explanations or giving more than one instruction at a time will only set your child up for failure. Keep your directions short and simply by saying things like, “Put your shirt in the hamper,” or “Place your dish in the sink.”

3. Tell, Don’t Ask

One of the most common mistakes parents make when giving instructions is asking, rather than telling. Saying, “Can you please pick up your toys?” invites your child to say, “No.” Discourage oppositional behavior by making it clear that you’re telling, not asking, him to do something.

4. Ask Your Child to Repeat What You Say

Miscommunication between parents and children with ADHD is a common problem. Sometimes, it’s as if there are two completely separate conversations going on. Make sure your child understands your instructions by asking him to repeat back what he heard you say. Then, confirm that he understands correctly, or add clarification as needed.

5. Create a Checklist for Daily Routines

Telling your child, “Go get ready for school,” or “Clean your room,” may not work out well. Children with ADHD struggle to complete a series of tasks. A checklist can help your child become more independent by breaking down each task into smaller, manageable steps.

For example, keep a checklist in your child’s room that helps him remember all the things he needs to do to get ready for school. Include things like, “Comb your hair, get dressed, and brush your teeth.” For a child who can’t yet read, pictures can serve as a good reminder of each step.

6. Offer Praise for Compliance

Praise reinforces good behavior. Praise your child when he complies with your request. Then, if it’s a long task, provide praise to keep him on track. Saying, “You’re doing a great job cleaning your room!” can keep him motivated to keep going.

Give plenty of positive attention for the behavior that you’d like to see more often.

7. Redirect as Needed

Since kids with ADHD get distracted easily, they often get off track. Whether your child starts playing with the toys he’s supposed to be picking up, or he stops to play with his brother on his way to clean his room, provide redirection. Say something like, “Please keep picking up the toys, instead of playing with them.” Redirection serves as a gentle reminder to follow through with directions.