Guest Blogs

“How to Use Declarative Language to Build Skills and Self-Confidence in Kids with ADHD.”

“Awesome job!” “You’re so smart.” These may sound like glowing compliments to you, but to your child they are utterly meaningless – and totally unhelpful in the quest to build stronger executive functions and self-esteem. Instead of empty praise, offer your child purposeful praise and recognition by following this advice.

We’re all guilty of it — showering our kids in empty praise that is, essentially, meaningless.

Empty praise sounds like “Great job!” — which is too generic and abstract to be meaningful — or “You’re so smart!” — which is unhelpful because intelligence is a genetic trait; it’s not something that is earned through hard work. On top of that, kids who are reminded constantly of their intelligence can develop a sense of intellectual arrogance that is incredibly off-putting to peers.

Instead of empty praise, give your kids purposeful praise and recognition. When you do this, you’re teaching your child that you appreciate the things that require effort on their part and maybe don’t come naturally — like demonstrating resiliency, practicing patience, thinking about others, and investing effort in non-preferred tasks.

To give purposeful recognition, try using declarative language like this: “I noticed you were really patient in the supermarket today.” When you leave it at that, it requires kids to use their own self-directed talk, internal dialog, or brain coach to connect the dots. Declarative language is helping them build that self-directed talk by prompting them to reflect and think about what they did at the market that was worthy of praise.

To further scaffold better behavior and self-confidence, tap into episodic memory, which is how we remember past experiences and the emotions associated with those past experiences. If your child is nervous about going to a new summer camp, for example, you might say, “Last year, you were feeling really nervous about starting a new camp but after the first day you lost that discomfort and had a great time as you made new friends. Starting the new camp tomorrow is going to be the same in the sense that you’re going to be successful like last time; it’s just different because it’s a new camp.”

Using this same/different language is really important because it connects past success with things in the future. This is key for kids with ADHD because they have weak episodic memory, meaning they can’t always connect past experiences to future plans. We have to build that connection with them by tapping into declarative language and episodic memory.


Using Declarative Language in Positive Parenting: Next Steps

Ryan Wexelblatt, LCSW is the facilitator of the ADHD Dude Facebook Group and YouTube channel.