Teens with ADHD

“Stop Trying to Fix Everything!” Scripts for Reflective Listening

Your teen comes to you with a problem. Do you offer advice, or just validate their feelings? Reflective listening can help you decide. Use these scripts the next time your teen needs an ally.

Teen girl smiles as she looks at her mother.

Q: My teen has ADHD, and sometimes, she can be very sensitive. When she confides in me, I don’t always know when I should give her advice and when to stay quiet and just listen. How can I tell which response is best?

When your teen opens up, try to determine whether she just wants a safe space to vent or she is uncertain and seeking guidance. Knowing is half the battle. A teenager’s primary job is to move away from their parents little by little to eventually become fully independent. Teens are a lot like toddlers—venturing farther from you to test their independence, but still requiring support as they face a host of dangers they don’t understand. Your role is to encourage safe exploration and stand by.

You can do this by listening reflectively and asking thoughtful questions. Your best strategies will be to reflect on what you’re hearing, to be honest about your own uncertainty, and to ask what she needs. If she does want guidance, be sure to keep your advice simple, brief, and nonjudgmental.

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You might say something along these lines:

  • “It sounds like this situation with Suzie is really frustrating. I have some thoughts about how you might handle it, but I’m not sure that’s what you want right now.”
  • “Seems like you’re facing a tough choice. What would be the positives if you made choice A? What about B? Are there any negatives to either choice?”
  • “Gosh, that is a dilemma. How would you feel if you didn’t (do the thing, say the thing)?”
  • “I see how much thought you’re giving to this, and I get how challenging this must be. What does your gut say?”

Walking alongside her as she thinks about and solves her own problems is far more powerful, and supportive of a growth mindset, than is solving the problems for her. But don’t be surprised if she resists answering your questions. If her response is a sigh and an eyeroll, show your reflective listening with responses like, “I get it. Wow, that’s hard.”

Remember to acknowledge her thoughtfulness, as praise is scarce for many teens who have ADHD. You might say, “Thanks for including me as you think this through. I’m really impressed by how you’re handling it.” For a teen who struggles (and let’s face it: what teen doesn’t?), knowing you’re her ally, confidante, and biggest cheerleader can be the best scaffold in the world.

Parenting Teens with ADHD: Next Steps

Merriam Sarcia Saunders, LMFT, is a licensed psychotherapist working with parents who have children with ADHD. She is the author of five books on ADHD and the creator of the on-demand course, How to Parent ADHD: 5 Steps to the Relationship You Want with Your ADHD Child.

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