Ask An Expert / ADHD

How can I get my daughter with ADHD to follow instructions?

Strategies for helping kids respond the first time you ask

Stephanie A. Lee, PsyD

Senior Director of the ADHD and Behavior Disorders Center

Child Mind Institute

How can I get my daughter with ADHD to follow instructions?

First, for perspective, it’s important to note that we never anticipate that kids will follow 100 percent of directions on the first try. On average, typically developing kids with no behavioral issues follow their parents’ directions on the first request about 75 percent of the time.

If you want to increase your child’s compliance, start by thinking about the number of directions you’re providing in the day, and how often you follow through if your child doesn’t respond. If we don’t follow through on a high percentage of directions, children, including those with ADHD,  learn that they don’t actually have to comply with directions the first time.

Often I recommend reducing the number of commands or instructions  that you are giving to your child so that you can increase your follow-through. This means waiting till you’re ready to follow through with the demand before you actually give it.

If you’re in the kitchen and you think it would be great if your daughter put her shoes on, but you’re not actually ready to go into the living room where she is and make sure she puts those shoes on at that moment, I would not give the verbal direction yet. I would not start the direction until I was in close proximity and had the wherewithal and time to follow through with getting those shoes on.

Another thing I would suggest is whenever your child does follow a direction quickly, without arguing, after the first command, you give them positive attention for their efforts. It’s particularly helpful if it’s labeled praise — “I love it that you put your shoes on as soon as I asked you to” — that tells your child what it was about their behavior that you liked. If you put a label on it you’re going to get more of those specific behaviors. And children with ADHD, who maybe distracted, will especially benefit from being reminded of what actions and behaviors you like best.