Children with ADHD are not the only ones to be inattentive. Your child might have emotional problems pressing him, which result in reduced attention during moments when you may need him to stay focussed. The emotional issues might be due to his being bullied, or having other social difficulties at school; or it may be the result of unresolved issues that date back from life
circumstances when he was still a toddler. It is important to try to get to the reason behind his inattention, so that this can be correctly managed and he can be helped to deal with the issues and move past being “stuck” emotionally. This needs empathic listening (I will discuss this in a future article).
This article will deal with strategies of managing his home behaviours in a way that helps your inattentive child stay on task or do his chores without the usual shouting and punishment that so often spirals from children who don’t seem to listen and do what they’re told. When we parents manage situations well, we can prevent the negativity and maintain a more congenial, positive atmosphere in the home. Both parent and child feel happier and more gets done.
Here are some tips in the art of positive communication: The first thing to do is to make sure that your words are heard. Check that your child is actually looking at you and focussed on you before you even start giving instructions. There’s little point in walking into his room and rattling off a list of chores. He simply doesn’t hear you. You might
then think that he is being oppositional; but the fact is that he did not know you gave him instructions.
Use few words and short sentences. Inattentive children loose focus during long verbal instructions.
Let your words evoke a positive response. For example: if you want him to take his schoolbag to his room and change out of his uniform, you would put a positive spin on it. Thus, instead of saying: “for goodness sake, how many times must I ask you to put your bag away and get changed?”; you would now rather say: “You still need to put your bag away and change. Do this quickly, so that you can go and play.”
Warn him of imminent tasks. Giving him warning that he will need to do a task in 10 minutes, allows him to prepare himself and stop what he is doing. It also helps him develop a sense of time. You say: “You will need to come to the table in 10 minutes. What must you do to make sure that you will be ready?” Five minutes later you say: “Are you ready because this is your last 5 minute call”. At the time he is due you tell him “come now”. This works even better if he has a large analogue clock and you show him where the hands must be for him to come to the table. Children with inattention usually have very poor sense of time. Training them in this way helps them develop this important life skill.
Set house rules. Keep these simple and few; but let them be the key behaviours that will help the family get through each day smoothly. Examples of good rules could be:
- Put your schoolbag away when you get home.
- Put your dirty clothes in the wash-basket each evening.
- Homework must be done before going to play.
- Come to the dinner table when called.
of being part of the family team in your child. Helping your child develop routines and participate in some of the simpler home chores that directly relate to him, helps him feel a sense of self worth and a sense of belonging as well as helping him become more organised and systematic in his approach to tasks in general.
Children with inattention struggle with developing a systematic approach to tasks and this affects them in every sphere of life; so training him from early on in simple systems and routines in the home, is a way of building this important life skill. If your child is struggling to remember to follow these basic house rules or even if he is being oppositional, you can start a
token reward system (see my article). Children with inattention are particularly responsive to a well-planned, consistently applied token reward system. One of the best benefits of such a system is that it changes your role from one of nagging parent, to one of shepherding, supportive parent and thus removes confrontation. The other is that research has shown over decades that behaviour that is rewarded increases in frequency. So we can shape behaviour by rewarding those behaviours we want and being very careful not to reward behaviours that we do not want.
People often talk about consequences. In children with inattention we must be careful that the consequences are not just a punishment for his inattention and poor memory. We therefore have to ensure that he knows the expectation and is aware of how to get started. We can even give him gentle reminders and support in starting. For example, many children with inattention forget to take their Physical Ed kit to school on the correct day and end up in detention for their error. This is not a fair consequence for these children because they struggle with memory. It would only be a fair consequence if the teacher reminded him to write it down (or had previously given his parents a roster of the days he would need it) and his parents reminded him each day to pack his school bag while checking the roster. Then the consequence would be for packing without checking his roster, even though he had been reminded; and that would be fair consequence.
Give frequent positive feedback. Throughout the time you are together, praise him whenever he does something good. Be careful to say what it actually is that he is doing well.
Don’t just say “good job”; be specific and say: “Wonderful! I loved the way you greeted Granny without me first having to remind you. It made Granny so happy.” This tells him exactly what it is that he did well; therefore directly rewarding the behaviour you want to increase.
Review his day each evening. At the end of the day, when you are both relaxed and he is ready for bed, you can sit together and chat about his day. Look over his token chart and praise his successes as you give him his token. For times when things have gone badly, avoid castigating him and rather say: “what a pity you weren’t able to earn more tokens today. Let’s see what tomorrow brings, perhaps you will have a good day and be able to earn many tokens”. This lets him go to sleep feeling positive about the next day and often is a great self-fulfilling
Support him with homework. Children with inattention often have difficulty starting homework tasks, staying on task and completing them. They get into trouble at school for incomplete homework or for leaving their books at home. If your child is inattentive, it is not reasonable or fair to insist that he takes full responsibility for remembering to bring all his books home or even to write down his homework in his school diary. Form close links with his
teacher. Send messages about his work to each other in his school diary. Children work
better at school if they see that their parents and teacher are a close team. Find a “Study
Buddy”; a classmate who is good at remembering and whom you can call to borrow books for
homework if your child has left his at school. Help him divide his work into smaller segments. This is particularly important when he has to do projects or study for exams. Teach him to draw up a time-table to schedule the work so that it is completed by the due date. Inattentive children struggle to work out when to start and how much time each segment of work will take. Click here to Read more on Homework Tips.
CLICK HERE TO SEE A PROGRAMME TO TEACH INATTENTIVE CHILDREN TO READ