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Talking to Your ADHD Kid(s): 8 Strategies For Successful Communication

1) GIVE THEM A HEADS-UP that you have some questions or want to have a conversation. Say something like, “Hey, I need to have a conversation with you, but I want to be sure that you’ll be able to really focus on what I’m saying. Is now an OK time, or do you want to talk later?” This small consideration lets them know that you respect them and want them to have a voice in whatever it is that you’ll be discussing.

2) GIVE THEM A NUMBER to focus on. “I need 5-minutes of your undivided attention,” or “I have 2 things I really need you to hear.” This will prep them and hopefully prevent the dreaded, “Are you done yet?” question.

3) Think about what you want to say and KNOW YOUR TAKE-HOME MESSAGE before you start the conversation. This way, if/when you notice that they are starting to check out, you can fast-forward to the most important part, your "take-home message".

4) Now, take everything you thought you needed to say and CUT IT IN HALF. If your kid is anything like the kids I work with, who happen to struggle with attention and executive function skills, then they are simply not taking in all of what you're putting out. This is especially true of kids with a decreased processing speed. They see you coming and tune you out before you even get a chance to repeat yourself! Short and sweet is the way to your child’s memory.

5) WATCH THEM carefully while you’re giving your message. Stop talking when you see signs that they are just “yes-ing” you (i.e. nodding and smiling and agreeing to make the conversation stop), “Yep. I get it. Totally. I’ll do that next time."

6) If you see signs that they aren’t taking in what you’re saying, then CONSIDER YOUR TIMING. Tell them that you want to “pause” the conversation until they are ready to focus. Typically, kids will say, “No! I’m listening, I promise.” Which is why the next two tips can be especially useful.

7) CHECK FOR UNDERSTANDING. And, I don’t just mean asking, “Do you understand me?” What kid is going to answer “No” to that question?! Instead, say to them, “Tell me what you just heard.” Or, “What are your two take-aways from this talk?” When you hear it from their own mouths, you can be sure that it got in. Of course, that doesn’t mean that it will stay there, so a follow-up might be necessary at some point in the future.

8) Use a calendar to WRITE IT DOWN. I love Neu Year calendars for this:

At my house, we have one of their giant wall calendars that spans the entire year. Whenever something exciting or disappointing or important happens, we use the calendar like a journal. For instance, on June 3, 2020 our calendar says: "Awesome time on the boat! Planned August vacation". Now, when my husband, who happens to have ADHD, says, “What?! We didn’t plan a vacation.” I can say, “Check the calendar!”

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