Everyone knows that having children means dealing with interruptions. But ADHD kids can take interrupting to a whole new level! Try this technique to reduce (or even eliminate?) interruptions. Though I titled this post “Reducing Interruptions with ADHD,” this is actually an excellent technique for ANY child – certainly not just the ADHDers in the world.
First, I’m going to describe the technique, then I’ll walk you through implementation.
We’re going to teach your child to get your attention unobtrusively and without talking. Whenever they want your attention, and you’re talking to someone else, they’re going to put their hand on your hand (or shoulder, or arm – you can pick a body part). To acknowledge that you know they want your attention, you’ll use your other hand to cover their hand. They will wait patiently until you can reasonably wrap up your conversation.
It sounds so simple and I also know you’re sitting there thinking, “yeah, sure, right, lady.” Stay with me here. It’s all in the implementation.
Before you start. Before Step 1. You have to decide this is really a thing you want to fix. You have to want it bad enough to stick with it longer than you stick with your New Year’s resolutions. You have to want it bad enough to stay positive about it for months. Maybe months and months. You have to recognize that this is HARD.
Step 1. Explain to the child what the expectation is. “Hey, kiddo, we’re going to work on a new skill. When you want my attention and I’m talking, instead of just starting to talk, you’re going to put your hand on my hand. I’ll put my hand over yours so you know that I know you want to talk to me. Then you’ll wait very patiently and very quietly. When it’s your turn to talk, I’ll let you know.”
Step 2. Be positive and confident. “I’m sure you’ll do GREAT!!”
Step 3. Break the task into achievable pieces and Establish a reward. Most ADHDers respond well to external rewards – they don’t work so great on intrinsic or internal rewards. We use a home currency for reward purposes, and it works really well! For my kiddo, when we first started this, we rewarded for remembering to touch my hand at any point. Once he was doing that well, we changed so we only rewarded if he remembered without any reminders and without FIRST starting to interrupt. Now we’re working on the waiting patiently part, so we reward only for achieving BOTH remembering to touch my hand without interrupting AND remembering to wait quietly. “It might be hard to remember at first, BUT you’ll earn TWO fuzzies for every time you remember to touch my hand when you want my attention!”
Step 4. Help. A lot. Have low expectations. Expect this to take a while. We worked for a few months on just remembering to touch my hand. He’d stroll in and start jabbering at me and I’d just look whoever I was talking to direct in the face, pointedly NOT looking at Mr Interrupting, and I’d shove my hand in his direction. Sometimes I’d reach over for his hand and PLACE it on my hand. Yes, I still rewarded this.
Step 5. Train YOURSELF. Oh. My. Gosh. How many times did I forget he was supposed to touch my hand, and I just immediately stopped whatever conversation I was having in order to address him? Wow. Habits are hard to break.
Step 6. Be consistent but be Kind!! This is a learning process and it’s also establishing a new habit. New habits take a while to become…well, to be come habitual. Do NOT expect overnight success. My kiddo also has learning difficulties, so it’s hard to make a comparison to other kids, but we’ve been working on this for a year, and we’re still working on the idea that “waiting patiently and quietly” does not mean “waiting while narrating your experience out loud.” (He narrates his life a lot – so while he’s waiting, he says “I’m waiting. I’m waiting. I’m still waiting. This is taking ages and ages.” I’m not sure that his internal dialogue works quite the same way as most people’s, and that may play a role here in making this step particularly difficult for him. He also narrates many other aspects of his life.) If your kiddo forgets – when your kiddo forgets – you respond with a kind and gentle reminder. Not with discouragement or exasperation. Don’t make this yet another thing he/she gets in trouble for. Try for ONLY positive feedback, and gentle reminders. NO negative feedback.
Step 7. Slowly back off on the rewards. With Fuzzies, our home currency, we review what earns a fuzzy on a regular basis. Things that have become habits, he “graduates” from. “You’re doing such a great job on this!! I think you graduated!! You’re like an expert on X now! Yay!” Since we only reward a small handful of things at a time – the things we really want to focus our energy on – this allows us to move out the old things and make room for new things.
Step 8. Even after your kid has “graduated” from working on this, be ready for backsliding, for reminders, and to possibly add it back to the “actively working on” list. That’s just life. Even non ADHD adults do this – you forget a thing once, and then you forget it again, and before you know it, you haven’t been to the gym in a year, right? You kid’s just a person, too. He or she will forget from time to time.