Kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD) are, in some respects, no different than any other eight- or 10-year-olds: They interrupt while you're on the phone, throw the occasional temper tantrum at a friend's birthday party, or talk too loudly (OK, shout) at the dinner table.
ADHD children just seem to do all those things more often, more energetically, than their non-ADHD counterparts.
We introduced our daughter, Christine (yes, the author of "Christine At Campus" in this magazine), to manners when she was in pre-school. Rehearsing the social graces at home was fun and effective. "How do you do?" she'd ask. "Fine, thank you," we'd respond.
And although we had to prompt her to say please or say thank you outside of the home, we found that she, like many ADHD kids, responded well to the structure that manners provide. After all, manners are nothing more than clear rules to help us navigate the vagaries of social situations.
The benefits of manners go well beyond a burst of pride at seeing your child practice the polite arts. Acquiring manners forces a distracted child to focus on the world around him—he realizes that his words affect the feelings of others. Mannerly behavior also enables a socially immature child to shine in interpersonal relationships: People respond warmly to him because he has set the right tone. Social success can provide a much-needed boost in self-esteem.
Here are some tips to smooth out the rough edges of your child's behavior:
Demonstrate Good Manners Yourself
Make eye contact with a person you're talking to, pay attention to guests when they visit your home, say "please," "thank you," and "excuse me" -- if you do it, chances are, your kids will, too. Remember to treat your child the way you'd like to be treated: Don't interrupt him when he's talking to a friend or gabbing on the phone. Explain to him that you expect the same courtesy.
TRY THIS: Write on an index card what to say when answering a call, and keep it near the phone. Remind your child to use the card every time he answers the phone. The routine will become second nature.
Sit Down to a Training Meal
Instead of pummeling your child with constant reminders about manners at every meal, pick one dinner a week at which manners are mandatory, the main course, so to speak. Tell your child ahead of time which behaviors you're expecting -- saying thank you when handed a plate, showing interest in each other -- then take a lead in practicing them.
Prepping For a Social Event
If your child is going to a friend's birthday party or another social outing, rehearse what is expected of him: when to say hello, thank you, excuse me, and good-bye, for instance. Have him repeat the rules and expectations back to you so you're sure that he fully understands them.
TRY THIS: Prep your child the day before the actual event. Starting weeks before will only overexcite your AD/HD child, making it less likely that he'll meet your expectations once the big day comes.
Pour Out Praise
Compliment your child when he uses polite behavior. Praise goes a long way with a child who is mastering something new. For instance, you might say, "I noticed you put down your game and said hello to Uncle Harry when he came. That was really appreciated." Or use physical encouragement -- patting the child's shoulder or giving him a hug -- to let him know he's done a good job.
Play a Game
Tap into your child's playful instincts by coming up with stimulating games. For instance, you might devise a pop quiz about holiday manners. Ask him how he'd respond after opening a holiday present he didn't like? Answer: a) Yuck; b) I'm never going to play with this thing; or c) Thank you for the nice present. When he gives the wrong answer, explain why it would hurt the gift-giver's feelings.
Enroll Your Teen In a Class
Adolescents rarely listen to their parents, so sign up your teen for an etiquette class at the YMCA or local community college. Adolescents take advice from a third party more readily than from you. In the end, repetition will help you win the etiquette battle. One day you'll have the pleasure of hearing a "Thank you" that is automatic or a "Please pass the bread." It happened with our daughter, Christine, who is now 18 and still respectful and polite.
To share strategies for teaching manners to your ADHD child, visit the Parents of ADHD Children support group on ADDConnect.