Talk Therapy: Getting Through to Your ADHD Teen

Q: "How do I show my teen how wonderful he is without him thinking that I am saying it because I’m his mom? How do I give him advice without making him feel like he’s stupid or that I’m criticizing him?"
The Experts | posted by Peg Dawson, Ed.D.
Best practices for coexisting with your ADHD teen. istockphoto/Thinkstock

A: Teens tend to discount the positive things their parents say about them — "You're my mom. You have to think I’m wonderful, but that doesn’t mean I am” — and look to friends and peers for affirmation.

Nonetheless, here are some tips for letting your son know how great he is and to pass along constructive advice that he will listen to:

  • Avoid global praise. Don't say, "What a great kid you are" or "You are so smart." Give specific feedback that encourages him by focusing on skills and behaviors that are important to your son as well as to you. You can say, "You are such a thoughtful friend. I'm impressed with how you helped your best friend through a rough patch." Or "Thanks for letting me read your essay — you have such a nice way with words."
  • Put it in writing. Put those same thoughts in a note and leave it where your son will find it — his pillow, for instance. Don’t expect him to respond and don’t ask if he saw it — you know he did, and the compliment will sink in.
  • Be his eyes. Since the opinions of other kids may matter more than your own, point out to him things he may not have noticed about how others act toward him. "Did you see how Jeff asked you for advice — and listened to your suggestions?"
  • Ask, don't order. When giving advice, use open-ended questions rather than suggestions. "You've got midterms to study for and you want to practice for that Battle of the Bands coming up next week. Have you thought about how you're going to make time for both?" If your son says, "Don’t worry, Mom, I've got it covered," you might say, "What’s your plan?"
  • Use active listening. "It looks like you were pretty frustrated by the comments you got back from your English teacher." Stop there — bite your tongue before saying, "Maybe if you hadn't left the paper to the last minute, it would have turned out better.” By using active listening, your son may come to the same conclusion himself.

Peg Dawson is the co-author of Smart but Scattered: The Revolutionary "Executive Skills" Approach to Helping Kids Reach Their Potential

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