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Say, What?!

Lessons in taming the tongue in kids with ADHD.

Blurting out whatever comes to mind, regardless of timing, appropriateness, or job security, is a hallmark of ADHD. This is one reason my ex and I have wondered if our youngest has ADHD, especially because her older sister and I have it. However, with all of her other mental health challenges and cerebral palsy, the condition was masked — even insignificant, comparatively. No professional diagnosis for ADHD was ever made.

Perhaps she has pseudo-ADHD brought on by her other conditions, but the older she gets, the more apparent the symptoms seem. While I may have something new to discuss again with her therapist this week, a recent incident reminded me of how difficult it is to raise a child with ADHD that has a motor mouth. Heaven help them if they have bold self-esteem! Like me, my older daughter used to create enemies out of her teachers in high school. Now that she’s 18, maturity is tempering her tongue, as is life experience. All those heartfelt discussions we’ve had have finally sunk in.

Forthrightness can be a positive attribute. It should be cultivated in our children, but when courtesy is missing, forthrightness is rudeness. Losing friends, making enemies, and creating self-inflicted drama at work are effective educators for any adult with ADHD, but, as parents, we can help our children understand what is happening to them and how to fix it.

I use these simple approaches when helping my girls. Be prepared to repeat them. It takes children with ADHD years to develop the self-control they need over their impulsivity. Reinforcing the following concepts when they stumble will help them learn over time:

How would you feel? The first trick to managing the anti-social aspects of this ADHD trait is to use empathy. Children may see themselves as speaking the truth, or feel justified in some way, but by using examples from their own life when somebody spoke unkindly to them, we can help them see themselves in somebody else’s shoes. Then role-play different ways they can re-word the same “truths” without being discourteous.

[Free Guide to Improving Your Students’ Social Skills]

Actions have consequences. Go ahead, I tell them. Let your teacher know exactly how you feel, but don’t be surprised if they treat you like a second-class citizen afterward. Words, like actions, have consequences. I taught my daughters without ADHD how diplomacy and tact smooth over altercations. For my daughters with ADHD, I use the drama their mouthing off causes as a visceral consequence they would rather avoid in the future.

Bite your tongue. Having ADHD might explain why kids don’t have a filter when they speak their minds, but it doesn’t excuse it. They still need to get along with people, or they’ll end up isolated and miserable. I teach my girls that they have the power to control their tongues. We discuss coping strategies to blow off steam instead of spouting off. We role-play. We discuss the appropriate times for forthrightness, and we talk about how wonderful their strong sense of self is. We also discuss how it’s best to avoid drama by keeping comments to themselves.

Each time they have an incident where their mouth gets them into trouble, we revisit this conversation. With my 18-year-old, the conversation is more focused on diplomacy and self-analysis, as well as ways to manage and prevent further drama. With my youngest, we keep things basic. She may have the ADHD tendency to speak without a filter, but she can learn to control it, and use it as an asset.

[Free Guide to ADHD Coping Mechanisms]