How to Talk So Your ADHD Child Will Listen

Community Member

One popular wish of parents who have a child with ADHD is that their child would listen. Sometimes it may appear that your child is either unaware of what you are saying or that they have heard you but they don't care to respond. It can be extremely frustrating to talk to your child, knowing that you may be ignored. But there are many things you can do to increase your child's attentiveness to you and also to increase their responsiveness. How you talk to your child is of great importance in how well your child will respond. My purpose in writing this post is to give you some strategies you can implement right now to get your child to listen.

One of the first questions you may ask yourself is, "Why is my child not listening?" The answers may be important in how you deal with their behavior. Don't always assume that your child just wants to push your buttons. There may be other things going on that you need to be aware of. Your child's lack of attention and responsiveness to you may be due to varied reasons including:

  • They may have a slow response time due to poor processing capabilities. ADDitude Magazine discusses what this means to have slow processing speed: "It means that he takes a bit longer than other kids his age to make sense of the information he takes in. He might have trouble assimilating written or spoken information, or take longer to answer questions or finish tests." Basically your child may need a longer time to figure out what you are saying and to respond.

  • They may not be able to tune out distractions in the environment. Are you trying to talk to your child from across the room? Is the TV blaring? Are they playing a video game? Is it a noisy environment? Your child with ADHD is less likely to be able to pay attention to you when there are other things going on in their sensory environment to capture their interest.

  • Are you yelling? If you end up raising your voice to get your child to listen, this strategy quite often backfires. Here is more about Why Yelling Doesn't Work.

  • Is your child frequently defiant? There are some children with ADHD who consistently react to requests by being negative and non-compliant. Here is an article describing how to help your defiant child.

How do I talk so that my child will listen?

  • One of the first things I learned when I went to graduate school for special education was to stop phrasing commands as requests. If you want your child to do something, stop asking long winded questions such as, "When you get the chance could you please take out the trash because it is overflowing and the last time it spilled all over the floor?" If you want your child to do something you need to be precise and short as in, "I want you to take out the trash right now." If it is not a choice don't ask a question. Cut the chatter and be specific.

  • Indirect language does not work. Saying something like, "Be good" or "Behave yourself" means nothing to a child. You need to describe what you want in specific concrete terms as in, "I want you to use a quiet voice when we are in the house."

  • Phrase things in the positive. A child is going to tune out the "Don't do this" talk. Tell them what you want them to do instead. If you don't want your child to slam the plates down while setting the table for example, don't yell, "Stop slamming those plates" Instead tell your child what you want them to do as in "I want you to put the plates down gently." If necessary, model the behavior you are seeking.

  • Give your child a better opportunity to pay attention to you by always speaking to your child face to face and within close proximity. No more yelling from across the room. Get rid of distractions in the environment such as the TV or video games.

  • If you suspect your child has processing difficulties it may be good to wait some seconds for a response from your child. If your child does not respond, ask your child to paraphrase what you just said so you can see what the processing difficulties may be. You may be surprised at what your child is actually hearing you say.

  • Use different sensory modalities to get your child's attention. You can tap your child's shoulder, for example, before you talk. You can use the much used teacher strategy of turning off and on the lights to capture your child's attention. With my child who has autism, I have taken his hand and put it on my throat as I am talking so he can feel the vibrations. He is always more attentive to my speech when another sensory outlet is used.

  • Praise your child for paying attention and responding to you. Be concrete and specific in your verbal praise. Here are some examples: "I really like the way you look me in the eyes when I am talking to you" or "I like the way you got out your homework right away when I asked you to."

  • If your child does not respond to you the first time you speak, don't keep speaking. The more you talk, the less your child will listen. If they know that you will make the same request ten times then why should they listen the first nine times? Actions always prove stronger than words. Provide the structure that they need by following through to make sure that they respond to what you say. It may mean doing a task hand over hand with your child in order to get it done. The bottom line is that you want your child to listen to you the first time and you don't ever want to provide opportunities for them to tune you out.

Of course this is all easier said than done I realize. I am a parent too. Every situation with a child is going to be different. The main thing is to really get to know your child and what works best for him or her. Parenting is one of the hardest jobs in the world. Some days it may seem that all you are doing is surviving. But I want to help you to increase the odds that you will have better days with your child and decrease those behaviors which interfere with having good days. We are going to talk more about behavior management this month and I hope to hear your tips and suggestions. Remember that you are the true experts. We want to hear from you!