Like the Teen You Love: ADHD-Friendly Communication Tips
Tough time getting through to your ADHD teen? It’s time to change your communication strategy. Here are some ways to relate to your child that won’t make her tune you out.
Do these situations sound familiar?
You want to help your teenager, who has ADHD, apply for a job, but you don’t know how to do it without his thinking that you’re stepping on his toes. Or perhaps you gave your teen good advice on how to handle a problem with her boyfriend, but she didn’t listen to you. Maybe you’ve read books on helping children with ADHD, and found that none of the suggested strategies work for your teen.
As a coach of teenagers, I have found that understanding your role in your teen’s life will help you form a calmer, healthier partnership with her. Instead of responding as you have for the first 12 years of her life, ask yourself:
- Does she need an advisor or a confidante?
- A sounding board or a hands-on helper?
- How much should I do for my teen?
- How much should I let her do for herself?
Adopting a hands-off approach is hard for parents with ADHD kids, who have advocated for them since elementary school.
Communication is key. It sounds easy, but how do you do it? It requires patience, listening skills, and the ability to bite your tongue without drawing blood. All parents know that their life experience is deeper than that of their teen. The problem is, your teen doesn’t know that.
Let your teen be heard. If you do, you will get more information from her, and she will be more likely to listen to you when it counts. Here are some parent-teen stories that might offer solutions to your struggles.
Out of Sight, Out of My Mind
My 16-year-old client, Justin, sets up a plan for studying in his room. He will study for 30 minutes, followed by a five-minute break to check his progress and renew his focus.
His mom is used to having Justin do homework in the kitchen, where she keeps an eye on his progress. It is a hard transition for her, and she interrupts Justin during his study time.
Justin’s mom and I talked about taking deep breaths every time she was tempted to bother him, or distracting herself with a phone call. I asked Justin to check in with me when he finished his assignments, and to let his mom know immediately afterward, which made her less anxious.
Becky, 15, has hormonal mood swings, as well as ADHD. She is an only child, and her parents insist that her inconsistent behavior is not normal. They ground her and take away computer time, unable to relate to their daughter’s monthly ups and downs.
They blame all the arguments and misunderstandings on Becky’s ADHD and a bad attitude. In a coaching session, I explained how Becky’s hormonal turmoil, along with the chemical imbalances due to her ADHD, made monthly cycles more difficult for her. I suggested they meet with her daughter regularly to discuss what they noticed and why.
Within a few months, Becky reported that she and her parents were able to talk about her moods and behavior.
Kari is 17, going on 30. She is bright, determined, and a bit inattentive.
She resists her father’s ultimatums to clean her room and do her homework. During our coaching sessions, she said her dad treated her like a baby. We agreed that he should attend a coaching session to discuss how to make requests, instead of ultimatums, and allow his daughter to negotiate her terms, at least now and then. The shift in communication style built trust and decreased Kari’s arguments with her dad.
Note to Self
John, 15, takes a long time to answer his parents’ questions about school. This frustrates them and causes them to yell.
Many teens with ADHD process information slowly and require time to compose an answer. It is helpful for them to write down their ideas, in order to stay on in the loop and to refresh their memory later on.
I suggested that John’s parents give him a pad and pen to write down his thoughts before a conversation. I advised that they take notes, too, to show their interest in what he is saying. Their patience encouraged John to open up to them.
It’s In the Details
Julia, 13, has problems with self-esteem. She thinks about her missteps more than her successes. Her parents heap on the praise, saying, “You are the best, Julia. You know we love you.” Their cheerleading, though, falls on deaf ears.
I suggested that Mom and Dad give Julia honest, specific praise instead. One afternoon, after Julia met with her teacher, her mom said, “I was impressed by the way you spoke up in the meeting with your teacher, Julia. You made your requests very clear to her. Great job!” Julia later went out with her mom for a cup of coffee and some girl talk.
Who says the teen years have to be turbulent?
Updated on April 2, 2021