The behaviour of a child with ADHD can be exasperating, but is not deliberate. Adult help with problem solving is important if the child is to find ways to circumnavigate their difficulties: –
- Stop fidgeting. Why can’t you sit still?
Movement helps the child with ADHD to concentrate. In addition to lots of opportunities for physical activity and sport to use up excess energy, encourage regular movement breaks in order to re-focus. Suggest ways to fidget discreetly that will not irritate others: rolling a piece of blu-tack, paperclip or a small stone between the fingers, doodling or chewing gum.
- Why do you leave everything until the last minute?
When children with ADHD are given a long list of things to do, they may not know where to start, be overwhelmed and so do nothing. Breaking tasks down into smaller parts will make the activity seem less daunting. Help the child to use the alarm on their phone as a timer to tell them when they must finish breakfast, leave the house for school, go to revision club, get ready for Saturday morning football, and so on. Demonstrate the use of visual aids, for example, checklists written on whiteboards so the child can rub out completed tasks and have a visual reminder of what still needs to be done. Leave check and tick lists around the house in places where they will be obvious, perhaps on the bedroom door, by the light switch, on the fridge or bathroom mirror.
- Your room is always such a mess.
Be specific and set the child one task. ‘Put your Lego back in the Lego box please.’ ‘Could you put the dirty clothes into the laundry basket please.’ Provide lots of storage in their bedroom, and encourage the child to spend a couple of minutes every day tidying one thing in their room, perhaps just putting stationery or books in a cupboard.
- Why do you interrupt people all the time?
The child may blurt out their own ideas, appearing rude and dismissive of anyone else’s thoughts. Teach the child to practise not interrupting: to listen and echo back what people are saying. If they can manage to do this for the first five minutes of a conversation, they will feel more relaxed and less likely to jump into discussions because they are nervous.
- Your writing is so untidy.
Experiment with different types of pens. Which pen makes your writing look neat? Write on every other line of file paper to separate tall and tailed letters. Write on one side of the paper to avoid a shadow from writing on the other side.
Word-process work. In addition to improving presentation, the child can then email work to teachers, as well as saving copies of their work in case they misplace originals.
- Why on earth did you do that?
Punishments for poor behaviour tend not to work because the child is not deliberately misbehaving. Catch the child being sensible and thoughtful, and respond with positive feedback. Their self-control will be better in the morning and will diminish as the day goes on, therefore anything demanding focus and concentration will be accomplished to a higher standard in the first half of the day.
Good sleep habits are important for the child with ADHD. Tiredness will add to their general problem with focus.
- You can concentrate if you try.
The child may be able to hyperfocus on things that interest them for long periods of time. This will make it seem as if the child is simply being lazy when they lose concentration with the everyday mundane. Incorporating their own interests into activities can improve focus and attention.
- Why can’t you look after your belongings.
The child with ADHD is certain to lose belongings, so label everything. The situation will not improve if adults get cross; it is preferable to help the child problem solve. Provide lots of labelled files and boxes in their bedroom. Keep lists of friend’s phone numbers. Keep spares of everything in several places: spare Maths equipment in their school locker, schoolbag and at home: spare timetables in their locker, school bag and at home.
Develop habits, then even when the child is distracted, they will be more likely to do behave automatically. I always look at my timetable in the morning as I clean my teeth. My lunch pass always in the inside pocket of my jacket, my bus pass always in front pocket of my school bag, my keys always in zipped pocket inside my school bag.
- Why are you always late?
Teach the child how to set reminders and alarms on their phone or watch. Encourage them to ask others to help: perhaps a reliable friend could offer reminders, or check on their whereabouts and state of readiness.
- Listen to what I’m saying.
The child with ADHD will be distracted by everything, lights flickering, a wasp at the window, feeling hungry, sleepy or uncomfortable. They are distracted by their own thoughts with ideas circulating constantly in their head. If it is essential for the child to listen to an instruction, say their name, engage eye contact, give the instruction as succinctly as possible, ask the child to repeat the instruction in their own words to show that they have understood, then ask them again in 5 minutes. For added support, provide the child with a notebook to keep in their pocket to jot down instructions, tasks and timings.