Don’t Underestimate the Power of Your Words

If your child rated you on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being awesome and 1 being poor, how would they rate you on being an encouraging parent?

Let me preface this, friends, this blog is not about making you feel bad.  It’s about bringing awareness to a very common parenting habit that I was very guilty of before we had our son diagnosed.

I wasn’t even aware of how I was communicating with our son until after I studied ADHD.  I have changed my language with our son and it’s made a world of difference in his attitude, demeanor, participation, accountability and his confidence.

It’s no secret our loved ones with ADHD hear so much more negativity in a day, week, month and year, than all of us neurotypicals.  After years of taking things away, saying “no”, “not right now”, “that’s not going to work”…all the nos and nots add up to, what I call the “Mountain of Negativity.”  Yes, the one I built around my son for so long.

Don’t get me wrong, there are times when “no” is needed, but I decided it absolutely would not and will not be the default word in our home.  And here’s why: for those with ADHD, you cannot, and I repeat, CANNOT encourage, commend, acknowledge and praise enough. Do not fret of a future cocky teen with ADHD with so many accolades.  That’s not happening. I don’t think it’s in their DNA, honestly! We want to raise confident teens who know their strengths!

Let’s talk about our words and the power they hold in our lives.  I’m sure you’ve heard these various quotes:

“Change your language, change your life.”
“Words can start and stop wars.”
“You can change the course of your life with the words you use.”
“Words can inspire and words can destroy.”

Don’t ever underestimate the power of our words.  What we say to our ADHD child REALLY matters. Why?  Because they are hypersensitive, take things very personally and can internalize everything which manifests itself in various forms of meltdowns, negative self-image, depression and lack of motivation.

How have I decreased my negative responses to the multitudes of questions throughout our daily lives?  It has taken a lot of practice, discipline and creativity!! I use phrases such as, “ As long as…” “As soon as…”  “What are some other options?” “Let’s see about another time.” “Let me think on that one.”

EXAMPLE 1: When my teen comes home after school and asks if he can have time on his electronics.  The conversation goes something like this:

ME:  “What all needs to happen before I would consider this?”

SON:  “Homework, shower, backpack ready  and my chores.”

ME:  “I will allow 30 minutes of electronics as soon as your responsibilities are done.”      

By using this phrase – as soon as – you are allowing your teen to manage their time and responsibilities, as well as getting his “ask”.  We all win.

EXAMPLE 2:  My teen is invited to a party with 30 kids from his grade.  I’ve never met the kid or the parents before, so I’m not too comfortable with this, but want to allow him to attend.  So, I respond: “As long as you can confirm both parents will be there the whole time, I’ll allow you to attend the party.”   

When kids ask for something that involves a potential tempting situation, be it social or even being able to manage their electronics, I’ve used this phrase, “I’ll allow ‘it’ as long as ‘it’ doesn’t become a problem.”  

We then get into a discussion when I ask, “What are the potential problems that could occur?”  When you open up the conversation without shutting it down (like I used to), you are allowing your teen to have control of their actions, think a few steps ahead (yes, that’s important for our ADHD teens!) and be aware of the consequences if something does become a problem.  They will know what to expect. Chances are, it won’t become a problem.

Another really powerful language change I’ve made is much simpler to implement and extremely impactful.  I started making positive comments when I notice everyday actions. One comment or so a day makes a world of difference.  Here are some examples:

“Thank you for not having me ask you twice to take the garbage out.”

“Thank you for closing the garage door.”

“I noticed how you came down for dinner on time.”  

“I loved how you handled the change of plans, I know that wasn’t easy for you.”  

“Nice job getting ready for school today.”

“You put the dishes away so nice and orderly.”  

“I really like your manners.  Thank you for using them.”

“I liked how you made eye contact.”  

“I love your sportsmanship.”

“Look how nice your handwriting is!”  

“I love how you share about your Fantasy Football team.”  

“You rocked putting your laundry away.”  

“Thank you for turning off the lights in the room.”  

You get the point.  Now you might think all these comments sound trivial…I assure you, they are not.  By acknowledging all the small stuff, it changes all the big stuff.

Remember, we need to be encouragers to our loved ones with ADHD. Our words are how we do this. The small things matter. It doesn’t take much to change an attitude or behavior – change your language and change a life.

Are you ready to change your words and language?