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Tips on Helping a Child With ADHD Follow Directions

By Karina Richland M.A., E.T.

Following directions is one of the most difficult tasks for a child with ADHD to master.  Children with ADHD are easily distracted and have a tendency to get sidetracked a lot.  With a lot of patience and support, you can help your ADHD child learn to follow directions using these very simple ideas.

1.  Organize and simplify the directions:

Keep the directions as simply stated as possible so that your child can remember them easily and not get lost in your words.  Make the most important information stand out.  “Sara, I want you to get your jacket, get your backpack and put on your shoes, then come back here to me.  Got that?  Jacket, backpack, shoes.  Go!”

2.  Use multisensory strategies to help the memory:

You can sing and dance the directions with your child.  “jacket, backpack, shoes, yee-hah!”  You can have your child clap his hands or tap the table for each step he needs to do.

3.   Teach your child to repeat the directions:

Have your child repeat each direction a few times.  “get out a piece of paper, a pencil and write my name at the top of the paper.  Paper, pencil, name.  Paper, pencil, name.”

4.  Make charts for procedures or routines that are repeated:

This is especially helpful for organizing and keeping a routine.  For example if you have a list of items that need to be done each day before school you can create a checklist.

1.    _____  make my bed.
2.    _____ put dirty clothes in the hamper.
3.    _____ feed the cat.

As your child completes a step, he/she can check that step off the list.  This will give your child some direction and keep the attention on the task at hand.

5.  Be supportive and stay positive – nagging your child is not going to assist them in learning strategies and skills to follow directions.  You can provide support for your child by:

  • prompting your child for listening skills.  “I am going to give you the directions, I would like you to please look at me so I know you are listening.”
  • asking  your child how you can provide a reminder for them without nagging them.  They might suggest a hand gesture or a tap on the wall, a wink of the eye, etc.
  • offering understanding when your child feels frustration.  ” I understand it is hard to keep track of doing so much at once.  Would you like me to help you put together a list that we could start checking off after each step?”
  • praising your child often.  If they don’t complete the task praise them for making an effort.  If your child fails to complete a task, encourage her/him to try to get it finished.  Use positive encouragement.

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Karina Richland, M.A., E.T. is the Managing Director of Pride Learning Centers, located in Los Angeles and Orange County.  Ms. Richland is a reading and learning disability specialist. Ms. Richland speaks frequently to parents, teachers, and professionals on learning differences, and writes for several journals and publications. You can reach her by email at: info@pridelearningcenter.com or visit the Pride Learning Center website at:

www.pridelearningcenter.com