Here is the scene: Your child is playing a video game or watching TV and you ask them to do a small chore. You come back 15 minutes later to discover HE IS STILL SITTING THERE and the chore has not been done! What are you suppose to do?
Instead of using traditional parenting wisdom and concluding the chore is not done because your child is lazy, unmotivated, and CHOSE not to mind you. Let’s break this down and see what went wrong.
First, your child is engaged in a very stimulating activity which is sucking all of the focus out of his brain. Just because you walked through giving instructions, didn’t mean his brain was ready to hear them. Transitioning from a focus-sucking activity to start another (like doing a chore or coming to dinner) is tremendously difficult for a child with ADHD. Allowing your child adequate time to make that transition will often result in a better connection with your child. It will also result in fewer incidences of emotional responses like crying, tantrums, or eye-rolling.
Second, pay attention to how you are delivering the instructions. Are you just barking out orders as you pass through the room? Are you downstairs yelling at them upstairs? You have to focus on making a connection BEFORE giving instructions.
Third, you have to check for understanding. You don’t have to make them repeat your instructions (what a drag). Just hang around for a second to see your child stand up and head towards starting your request.
Finally, let your child know he was successful. A simple “thank you” can be quite motivating for the next time.
- Allow for a focus transition. I like giving a 2-minute warning for the child to find a stopping place. Then I come back in 2 minutes with my request.
- Make the connection. Wait for hands to be still and eyes to be on you before giving instructions.
- Wait for physical engagement. You don’t have to loom over your child, just hang out and see he is headed in the right direction.
- Say “Thank you”.
You can learn more strategies like this in my parent behavioral training class “Chaos Free ADHD: The Parent Sessions”
What to do when you have an adolescent?
Don’t think of age as the determining factor for using this method. The most important thing to consider is “How difficult it is for your child (or adolescent or spouse, even) to transition between activities?” Give the 2-minute warning a try when interacting with anyone who struggles in transition, then focus on making sure your communication is face-to-face.
If you give the 2-minute warning and your target responds with a gentle and friendly “You can just tell me now,” go ahead and proceed with your face-to-face communication. But, if the “JUST TELL ME NOW” is filled with frustration and emotion, give them the 2 minutes to find a good stopping place.
Thank you, Gaby!
Thanks for the tips. The hardest thing we see is even with “2-minute warnings” and other cues, there’s a lot of waiting for things to be accomplished. Sometimes there’s not time to stop and let things settle and find a stopping-point. There’s stuff to DO. There’s lives to lead, there’s places to go and not all of it is on a schedule. Other people in the family to work around. We are talking about a teenager here.
Chris, I hear you. In order to teach your teenager how to transition, you must give them plenty of time to have a successful transition where they find the place to stop on their own. Sometimes, that means a little more planning on your part. Once they get good at stopping on their own, they generally get faster at it. Remember to be very careful with your language – “Find a place to stop” vs “You need to stop in 2 minutes”. And when you return in 2 minutes, stay with them until they engage in the new activity or request. As with any technique, it is not the technique that makes the difference, it is the consistent practice of that technique. Let me know if I can help further.