10 Communication Strategies
Children with ADD require clear, concise instructions, presented in a way that will sink in. Whether your child complies or defies often depends on how you phrase your request. Try these 10 communication strategies for children with ADD
1. Use a Nice Voice
- Lower your tone. A high-pitched voice irritates and turns off listeners.
- Speak slowly. Speaking too fast causes the child to tune out.
- Be brief. Use simple words and simple sentences, otherwise your child may become parent-deaf.
Refuse to listen to a child that yells. Say “When you can speak in a friendlier tone or ‘nice voice’ come back and we’ll try again.” Respect is contagious. If you model it as something you expect, your child will learn that everyone should be respected, including him.
Settle yourself first. Talk to yourself before you unload on your child. When you’re angry and upset, you’ll show these feelings to your child, causing him to withdraw or react to your feelings and miss what you’re trying to say. Get your emotions and body language under control before saying a word.
2. Settle Your Child.
Your child cannot process your directives if he’s upset. Calm your child until he is settled enough to be receptive to what you have to say. Show him how to take a deep breath. Let him count to ten, take a time-out to cool down, or take a walk around the block. This will be easy for him if he sees you model this coping skill when you get upset.
3. Looks Speak Louder than Words.
Your child is receiving messages even before you open your mouth. Your facial expressions and gestures can either open the child up to what you have to say or turn him completely off. If your body language says confrontation, don’t expect cheerful compliance from your child. Use the “I mean business look.”. Your raised eyebrow reminds her that she’s off track and is not to proceed with this behavior. But be sure to give approving messages as well: a smile, a nod, a happy face, and an arm around the shoulder – all conveying praise for a job well done.
4. Connect Before You Direct.
With young children, get down to the child’s eye level. Engage your child in eye-to-eye and hand-to-shoulder contact. Begin doing this when your child is a toddler: “Mary, I need your eyes” or “Tommy, I need your ears.” With practice you will learn how to engage your child appropriately: not so intense a gaze that you make your child uncomfortably withdraw, yet engaging enough to hold your child’s attention, show her you really care, and underline the importance of what you have to say. An observant teacher and mother of an A.D.D. child related this connecting tip: Children take more in when you’re on their “dominant side.” If you don’t know which it is, assume it’s the right side (left for left-handers). Every little bit helps.
Dr. Bill notes:
As a Little League coach, to get the attention of wandering little minds and eyes, I sit the team in the dugout and say, “I need your eyes. I need your ears.”
Some teens perceive eye-to-eye contact as controlling rather than connecting, so you may find a more willing listener while you’re doing dishes or driving together rather than in face-to-face conversation.
5. Use “I” Messages
Try non-threatening openers. Begin your request with “I” or “we” instead of “you.” Instead of “You left your dirty dishes on the counter again,” try “We put our dishes in the dishwasher so the counter stays neat.” Or “I am so tired of tripping over this hockey stick” instead of “You never put your things away.” “I” messages do not place blame, so they take pressure off the child and encourage him to look at the situation from another person’s point of view. “You” messages put the child on the defensive, so that he’s likely to clam up or fight you. “I” messages give him a gentle reminder to think through how his actions affect others. “I felt great when I came into the kitchen and the counter was clear.” “I like it when you take out the garbage without being asked.” “I felt relieved when you left a note saying what time you would be home.”
6. Try the Sandwich Technique.
The first slice of bread is a compliment; then feed your child the meat of the sandwich – which is the point you’re trying to make; the second slice of bread is another pleasant, positive statement: “The cover on your homework project looks terrific. The teacher will want you to explain in words what you’ve drawn so beautifully. I know you have some great ideas.”
7. Avoid Negative Words
Refrain from undermining your compliments. If you say, “The cover on your project looks terrific, but you didn’t finish the write up,” the “but” statement cancels out your positive opener. Give your child time to process your compliment, then state your directive positively, “…. Now, let’s finish the writing…”
8. Value Your Child’s Viewpoint
Some children with ADD are verbally hyperactive (“motor mouth),” and parents may tune them out. Teens, especially, are put off when they perceive that you don’t appreciate their viewpoint. You don’t have to agree – often you won’t, but your child expects you at least to listen. Children with ADD need to know that their viewpoint is valued.
9. Legs First, Mouth Second
It’s time for dinner and you call, “Turn off the TV and come for dinner!” Some children will immediately come, especially if they are hungry. The child with A.D.D., on the other hand, is probably in a state of hyperfocus in front of the computer game. Instead of hollering at him, walk into the room and watch the program with him for a few minutes. Then during a break in the action, tell him “It’s time for dinner” and have him turn off the computer.
10. Give Advance Notice to Children with ADD
Children with ADD do not transition well. Because they are egocentric, they do not willingly switch from their agenda to yours. If they are in the state of hyperfocus, they have difficulty complying with your desires. If you are planning a family activity, tell your child the day before or that morning rather than suddenly springing it on him. If your child is deeply involved in his play activity, give him time to sign off: “We’re leaving soon, say bye-bye to the toys, bye-bye to the balls, bye-bye to the trucks,” etc. If you are ready for him to go to bed but he isn’t, let him make the rounds to all the guests, “Say night-night to grandmother, night-night to grandfather, night-night to Aunt Nancy…” By getting behind the eyes of your child and respecting his need for gradual transitions, you avoid battles and encourage compliance. Most people readily give advance notice to toddlers, but older children and adolescents with A.D.D. also need to transition slowly.