Clear communication is key for a child with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), especially for kids with sensory challenges. Getting it right takes trial and error but it’s worth persevering with, as it can make it easier to get through the toughest days and make family life a little calmer.
The tips below aim to improve communication between children with ADHD and their parents.
1. Observe When Your Child Is Paying Attention
For most people making eye contact is a sign that they are being heard, but the mind of an ADHD child operates at a fast pace. So just because they aren’t making eye contact with you, doesn’t mean they aren’t listening. In fact, it’s common for kids with ADHD to be fidgeting with objects while listening to you, so as a parent, you need to observe your child’s cues carefully. There will be times when a child is simply not listening to you and times when they are, but it might not always be obvious. It’s worth spending some time observing patterns in their behaviour so you can work out the good and the not-so-good moments to communicate important information. Children who are always on the go can get tired very suddenly. It’s worth bearing this in mind as just because your child has stopped for a moment, doesn’t mean they are ready to listen to anything important you have to say. They may need some time to rest first.
2. Provide short and simple directions
It’s easy for ADHD children to be overwhelmed with information, so you need to give step-by-step instructions whenever you’re asking them to do something. You don’t have to lay out all the steps at once; just provide one or two simple steps before moving on to the next step. You can check if they have understood by asking them to repeat the information back to you or somebody else. This is a good way to reinforce the information they have taken in at a deeper level. A young child may be happy to repeat directions to a favourite toy.
3. Establish communication strategies
It’s worthwhile spending some time coming up with different and creative ways to communicate with your child. For instance, you can make use of visual and audio cues to help indicate the things you want your child to do. You can use picture cards showing what you want to happen next such as a photo of a child’s clothes, toothbrush or shoes. When it’s bedtime, you can bring your child a stuffed animal they like to sleep with or turn down the lights and read them a story. Developing routines in this way helps the brain of a child with ADHD to associate events with different images and objects. Of course, every child is different and some strategies will only work for a limited time.
4. Use visual aids
One communication strategy that kids with ADHD often respond to is visual aids. So instead of just telling ADHD kids that it’s bedtime, you can get creative. Design a poster that has a series of pictures that demonstrate the steps. Make your own visual timetable that shows how your child will be spending their day. ADHD children are often creative and may enjoy making their own visual aids. If you can get a child involved, for example by using their drawings or photos, they will be even more meaningful.
5. Be soft and calm when talking
It’s easier said than done and takes practice to get right, but it’s important that you do everything you can to keep your cool. When you become agitated yourself, you might actually stimulate your child. Unfortunately, this is the opposite of what you want to accomplish, especially if you are dealing with a child who is already upset. You need to speak quietly to your child, and as much as possible, stay calm even when they are throwing tantrums. Step away from any flying objects and engage in a quiet activity that your child may find interesting. Your calm state will definitely influence your child. Reassure them that you’re not angry with them and that they can come to you when they feel ready.
6. Mindful Meditation
Mindfulness is a widely-recognised treatment for ADHD symptoms. It is an effective way to calm a racing mind and bring someone’s thoughts back to the present moment. Mindfulness needn’t be complicated and can be as simple as focusing on breathing deeply for a couple of minutes. This is something that an adult can learn with a child or that they can easily teach them. When a child with ADHD uses mindfulness techniques, it can bring them to a state where it’s much easier for an adult to communicate effectively with them. If you would like to learn more about Mindfulness, we have a short online Essential Mindfulness Course. You can take the first lesson here for free.
While professional treatment is always recommended as the best course of action for a child with ADHD, every child is different and it’s a good idea to connect with other ADHD parents. Sharing personal experiences with people who understand what you’re going through can be incredibly helpful. There are a growing number of places you can go to for support, both in person or online. A good starting point is local Facebook groups where you can ask about any groups in your area for families of children with Special Educational Needs (SEND). There are also many online groups and communities you can join to ask for advice and share ideas. Being a parent to a child with ADHD is likely to be a challenging experience, but it needn’t be a lonely one.
At The ADHD Centre, we offer online and face-to-face ADHD Child Assessments as well as a range of evidence-based treatments. To find out more please contact us by telephone on 0800 061 4276 or by email at [email protected]
If you would like to learn more about ADHD in children, please download our free e-book Helping children with ADHD to thrive
Updated April 2022