Impulsivity & Hyperactivity

Little Missed Manners? Why It’s Important for Kids with ADHD to Practice Politeness

Good manners are all about waiting, pausing your immediate needs, and being mindful of other people – all difficult tasks for impulsive children and adults with ADHD. Difficult, but not impossible, with these tips.

Two girls with ADHD smile after learning manners.

The Ladies’ Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness, first published in 1860 and updated as recently as 2011, defines good manners quite simply: Putting others’ needs before your own. An individual with good manners, it says, will display inhibition, delay gratification, and subjugate his or her immediate desires for those of others.

No wonder our children with ADHD struggle so mightily with manners. As you know, the signature symptom of attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) is weak self-regulation – that ability to pause and not respond to an external stimuli or internal thought in the moment. Here, I discuss why that is and how parents can shift their discipline strategies accordingly, as originally presented in the Attention Talk Radio episode “ADHD and Minding Your Manners,” moderated by Jeff Copper of DIG Coaching.

A child with ADHD often knows that he shouldn’t interrupt, or go charging through the door without holding it for the person behind him. The challenge, of course, is tapping into this social awareness hundreds of times a day in hundreds of different situations, all with loads of distractions.

As Russell Barkley, Ph.D. says, “ADHD is not a disorder of knowing what to do. It’s a disorder of doing what you know.”

Bad manners often land kids with ADHD in trouble at school. They aren’t expelled for big, seriously delinquent behaviors in many cases. Instead, educators and peers are worn down over time by a lot of little social disgraces:

  • Interrupting
  • Stepping on toes, literally and figuratively
  • Grabbing things that aren’t theirs
  • Yelling out the answer without raising a hand

[Free Download: 3 Defining Features of ADHD That Everyone Overlooks]

Children, with and without ADHD, are judged for how they present themselves to the world — and that can impact their performance socially and academically. Teaching manners – and how to stop, think, and use them – is a process for children with ADHD. Below are four steps every parent can take to begin emphasizing and building better manners at home and out in the world.

1.  Consider Brain Development

Self-regulation is partially a function of brain development and maturation. Children with ADHD often lag behind their peers developmentally.

As kids get older, they will naturally gain more self-regulation and, therefore, parents will need to do less of the regulating.

2. Try  Medication

Medication can help lessen symptoms, like impulsivity, that impair self-regulation. When symptoms are under control, it’s often easier for children to stop and access the manners they have stored away, but are often unable to use in the moment.

[Read This: Manners Matter]

3. Adjust Your Expectations

Parents of children with ADHD should resist the temptation to think, “He is 10 years old; he should be able to mind his manners.” Even if, age-wise, your child should have a certain skill mastered, it’s healthier and more productive to accept the reality that he doesn’t — yet. If your child were short, you wouldn’t say, “Well, now that he’s 10, he should be able to reach the second shelf.”

Before helping your child learn and use manners, you first need to check your expectations. That doesn’t mean lowering them. It means figuring out what your child can do in a reliable and consistent way.

If your child can’t remember a particular desired behavior, then clearly the method is wrong, and we need to find another way to approach the situation. It’s a shift in perspective from, “I told you not to do that.” To, “You made a mistake. Let’s make a plan to fix it.” We don’t want to make kids with ADHD feel like success is so difficult that it is unachievable because that makes kids give up.

4. Teach Your Child to Pause

If your child forgets her manners and interrupts or grabs, teach her to pause and give her brain a second to engage. For example, make the time-out sign with your hands and look at your child expectantly, but otherwise don’t jump in. This gives kids the opportunity to realize their mistake and fix what they did wrong the first time.

It’s not necessarily the mistake or social slip-up that damages relationships; it’s not fixing the mistake. As parents, we have a lot more control over teaching our kids how to correct errors than we do in preventing social blunders in the first place.

View manners as an exercise in self-regulation. Practice them with your child to help him stop and think. Practicing this response with parents or loved ones can help kids use it outside the home with friends and at school.

[S is for Self-Regulation: Lessons in ADHD Emotional Control from “Sesame Street”]

This interview was originally broadcast on Attention Talk Radio and moderated by ADHD and Attention Coach Jeff Copper of DIG Coaching, which offers coaching services in person and remotely.

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