9 Ways to Listen to Your Daughter with ADHD
Dr. Angela Hanford
Statistically, boys are diagnosed with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) more frequently than are girls. However, girls do exhibit ADHD symptoms and, in fact, might be underdiagnosed because the presentation can look different than what one stereotypically thinks of as ADHD. For example, some overlooked ADHD symptoms in girls are talkativeness and daydreaming.
It’s easy to dismiss this because one might consider being talkative to be a personality trait. Daydreaming may be looked at as someone being “spacy”, creative or contemplative rather than being distracted by their own thought processes. While being talkative and daydreaming do not mean your daughter has ADHD, these are two of many symptoms that may be present in this diagnosis.
9 Ways to Engage with Your Daughter with ADHD
If your daughter has received a diagnosis of ADHD, it is important as a parent to learn a new set of skills. Here are eight ways to listen to and engage with your daughter with ADHD.
1. Don’t focus on the seemingly negative side of the diagnosis, but instead embrace the positive elements.We all have strengths and weaknesses. A diagnosis should not define us. Find the strengths. For example, your daughter may be extremely creative, may have a high capacity for empathy, or be able to hyperfocus on activities. Help her to understand and enhance her strengths. This does not mean to ignore the growth areas, but not to fixate on them.
2. Don’t dismiss her talkativeness as merely part of her ADHD symptoms.
Aspects of our wiring don’t define us, and your daughter’s desire to talk should not define her. She is created with a host of qualities that can be strengths in various situations or weaknesses in other circumstances. Talking frequently simply means that your daughter needs to be heard or has a strong desire to connect with others.
3. Understand how ADHD impacts her relationships.
When we are parenting girls, it is sometimes easy to dismiss friendship trouble as “girl drama.” However, when your daughter has ADHD, it may be that she struggles to make or keep friends. For example, she may not realize that she is dominating a conversation or not listening well to others.
Listening to her share about her day or her friendships through this lens can help you develop compassion for the situation. With a more compassionate or empathic stance you are in a better place to offer support and guidance.
4. Recognize the three types of ADHD and how they impact her life.
There are three presentations of ADHD: hyperactive-impulsive, inattentive, and combined. The inattentive type of ADHD differs from the hyperactive-impulsive type of ADHD in that the first is more prone to troubles paying attention and focus, whereas the latter struggles to sit still, may fidget continuously, and can be impulsive. A combination of the two – referred to as combined type ADHD – displays a mixture of the two sets of symptoms.
5. Understand the need for building up and teaching versus punishment.Especially in girls, diagnoses for ADHD tend to come later. It’s easy for people to see her chattiness or her shifting in her seat as a personality trait. But once a child is diagnosed, parents may need to unlearn what they once perceived to be her quirkiness and recognize it as something to be mindful of and teach but not necessarily punish.
For example, a young daughter who gets up from the table multiple times during a meal may once have been punished when it was thought to be a tactic used to delay the inevitable bedtime routine. However, after diagnosis, parents may need to recognize that an inability to sit still isn’t personal. It’s not defiance but is one of many ADHD symptoms.
Likewise, a child’s lack of focus isn’t personal. It doesn’t mean she is not listening to her brother’s story or that she does not care about her grandma’s shopping mishap. However, it does mean that her attention will need to be gently brought back to the story, the task, or the activity, or whatever is going on around her.
Girls’ self-esteem can plummet if they begin to see themselves as inferior or bad due to a diagnosis (or undiagnosed symptoms) of ADHD. A parent’s best recourse is to build up the aspects of her intellect, emotional cues, and social awareness that are cause for praise. Being specific helps.
For example, instead of continually reminding your daughter that she hasn’t finished cleaning her room when she has had hours to do it, try to find one or two things she has cleaned up. Tell her what she did well in detail: “I see that you got the craft supplies back into their cabinet; thank you for organizing them so well.”
This reaffirms her sense of confidence that, broken into smaller parts, an entire room can be cleaned. Help her to develop organizational skills and to create routines and reminder systems. There are books and professionals that can help with this as well.
6. Don’t respond to her emotions with emotion.
A young girl who shares that she is hurt, upset, or feeling misunderstood – however small the cause of this emotion – is entrusting something vulnerable to her parent, something worth taking seriously but calmly.
Sometimes, we respond based on how important we believe feelings are, such as a tearful outburst about a stuffed animal that has come apart at a seam. While this does not seem like it merits such an emotional response, parents can remain calm, ask questions about what happened, and help produce soothing solutions. Try to actually put yourself in her shoes.
When a parent tames his or her response and develops empathy, it helps to soothe the emotional distress of the child, making it easier to process with words and phrases, such as “I feel like…” or “This makes me sad because…”
7. Listen to your daughter as if she were younger than she is.
Children with ADHD may struggle to develop appropriate emotional regulation while they’re young. This means that she may respond to something that seems mild as if it’s anything but mild. It may appear that she is “acting like a 4-year-old,” when her ability to regulate her emotional responses may simply be developing at a slower rate than her peers. You can help her learn emotion regulation by empathizing and soothing her over-taxed nervous system.
8. Try not to refer to her diagnosis when listening.
If you do, it can serve two unintended consequences: First, feelings of inferiority may resurface. Second, she may shut down, thinking she cannot learn or change. Neither of these is true, so not mentioning her diagnosis while she is talking is important. It communicates that you care about her and that you see all of her, not just a diagnosis.
9. Be gentle.
If, for example, your daughter struggles to finish her sentence or stay still while sharing, encourage her to gently focus on what she wanted to say. Ask a question that reflects how interested you are in her story. It may pull her attention back to the conversation.
Another option is to make a small gesture such as the touch of your hand on hers or a stroke of her hair. Simple actions can help a girl who is struggling regain focus, still her active mind, and produce the confidence to share her point of view.
The Bible reminds us that, as believers, our witness is far more evident than we realize – with or without our words. Colossians 3:12 teaches to “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” And Philippians 4:5 says, “Let your gentleness be known to all. The Lord is near.”
ADHD symptoms are a small part of how our daughters are wired, and God’s Word reminds us that all children have similar needs from their parents: compassion, kindness, a humble heart, a gentle approach, and patience. Learning to listen well requires all of these attributes.
Seeking Help for ADHD
If your daughter is displaying signs of ADHD, it might be helpful to seek out a professional evaluation. During the evaluation, the clinician will likely use a combination of interviews and testing to determine if a diagnosis of ADHD is appropriate.
Treatment for ADHD is often a combination of medication and psychotherapy and/or ADHD coaching. A psychiatrist or psychiatric nurse practitioner is typically the one who prescribes medication. Psychologists, psychotherapists, mental health counselors, and coaches who have experience working with people who have been diagnosed with ADHD can help you do develop treatment strategies. Help is available!
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