It should be really simple: I ask you to do something, and you do it! But with ADHD kids – all kids, actually — it is more complex than that. Ask and ye shall receive – not really! You have to work at it. Leadership experts have identified five essential elements for helping individuals accomplish goals. How can we apply these to parenting our ADHD children?
These steps, practiced consistently, will help you get your kids to do what you ask:
1. Set Clear expectations: It’s important that you are crystal clear about what you are asking your kids to do AND that they understand what you are asking.
- Use language they understand.
- Make sure you have their undivided attention.
- Give specifics: “Go upstairs now and take a shower with soap, shampoo, and water.” (Sounds silly, but it can make all the difference.)
Where it breaks down: We shout from another room, ask for things on the run, or fail to give specifics. Our kids may want to do what we ask, but if they’re unsure, they’re not likely to seek clarification. Also, if they have a history of not meeting your expectations, they might not even want to try. (Example: If you always criticize how they sweep the floor, eventually they just won’t do it.)
2. Get Agreement: Your kids need to agree to the responsibility.
- Require your child to acknowledge (maybe even re-state) basic requests.
- When appropriate, put agreements in writing, like a family behavior agreement or internet-use contract, so there will be no question about what is agreed to.
Where it breaks down: Kids push back when they think they didn’t agree to something. “You said I could watch my TV shows before doing my homework!” Putting agreements in writing or assuring common understanding is critical to the process.Elaine’s family uses, “Get it? Got it. Good,” as a way to verbally seal the deal.
3. Positive Reinforcement: Put a favorable motivator in place as your child begins to take action.
- Words of encouragement (“You can do it”) or praise (“Good job”) are often enough. You don’t have to have a reward for everything.
- Motivators are doubly important with ADHD. Because the ADHD brain requires “genuine interest” in order to take action. Spend time identifying and reinforcing your child’s motivators. With older kids, it’s a great opportunity for conversation: what helps them to “get things done”?
Where it breaks down: Do you really have to tell them “good job” every time they remember to hang their towels up? Well, yes… until it becomes a habit!
4. Consequences: There need to be consequences when your kids don’t do what you ask.
- These need to be set in advance (e.g. house rules). That way you can be at a neutral, supportive position, and the system will be the bad-guy when consequences go into effect. “Man that stinks! You won’t be able to watch TV tonight because you didn’t finish your homework before dinner, and that’s one of the house rules.”
- Just like positive motivators, consequences don’t always have to be “big.”
- When possible — and within reason! — let “natural consequences” teach their own lessons (like walking to school when missing the bus, or losing points for a late paper, assuming accommodations have already been considered).
Where it breaks down: With ADHD kids, inconsistency can be our worst enemy! Our kids are wrong so often that we sometimes we have to make exceptions. But when kids experience consistent consequences, with our encouragement, they can actually learn to empower themselves to try again.
5. Monitor the Process: Put a system in place to follow-up on requests.
- Kids with ADHD do better when tasks are broken into smaller pieces. Monitor the steps in the process, rather than just the result of the task.
- If you don’t have a way to monitor easily, find someone else to be your back-up. Consider making an alternate request if it can’t easily be monitored.
Where it breaks down: It can be hard to keep track of all the things we ask our kids to do, let alone remember to put a monitoring system in place. If you are an ADHD adult, consistency and structure may not come naturally for you.
It seems upside-down that asking someone to do something might mean more work for you, but that is the reality of parenting ADHD kids. Set them (and yourself) up for success by taking it one step at a time. Start with the little things, and gradually build up. The payoffs can be great – you’ll get some additional help when you need it!