Ask An Expert / Learning and Development Disorders

How can I increase the positive interactions I have with my child who has ADHD and dyslexia?

The first step is to catch him being good.

Mary Rooney, PhD

How can I increase the positive interactions I have with my child who has ADHD and dyslexia? It seems like I'm always on his back to do homework or practice speech and language drills.

Kids with ADHD and dyslexia definitely take a lot more pushing. They’re getting a lot of commands from their parents, and they’re also getting a lot of negative feedback. They get used to hearing, “Why haven’t you done this yet?” or “I’ve told you this five times already!”

To help offset and slow the flow of negative feedback, parents can practice looking for positives, small positive things your child does throughout the day. A great way to do this is to focus on what we call “catching your child being good.” I encourage parents to pick one or two things their child currently does sometimes that they would like to see them doing more often. For many parents, these are things like following through on a parent’s instruction the first time or playing nicely with a sibling. So when your child follows your instruction the first time you ask him, say, “Thank you for doing what I asked right away!” When you catch him having a positive interaction with a sibling or a friend, say, “Oh, you guys are playing so nicely together!” Try to praise these smaller things as they happen throughout the day.

You also want to be sure you are praising your child effectively. Effective praise helps him really hear what you are saying and take in that feedback to improve his behavior. The first rule of effective praise is labeling what you’re praising. Rather than simply saying, “Good job!” you want to actually say what he did. “Good job getting out of bed on time this morning!” or “Good job putting your shoes on quickly!” If you clearly label these positives, and do it repeatedly, you’ll see an improvement in these behaviors over time, as well as an improvement in your relationship. It might take a lot of practice and focus on your part, but it really works.

It’s also important to plan for some quality time, one-on-one time with your child. For a child who receives a lot of commands and negative feedback throughout the day, we provide parents with guidelines for structuring quality time. Specifically, the child should lead the activity, and parents should refrain from telling him what to do or evaluating his activity or performance — positively or negatively. This gives your child the chance to express himself and bring you into his world a little bit. Guiding your child toward a non-competitive activity that doesn’t require a lot of parental instruction is key to successful quality time. Activities like playing with play dough, shooting basketball hoops, drawing, or playing with Legos are often good choices. You’ll find that doing this a few times a week, even if it’s just for 15 minutes each time, can lay the foundation for improving your relationship with your child.