Simple Strategies for Helping your Child Listen and Follow Through

By Dr. Mary Rooney, Ph.D.

When your child has ADHD getting them to follow through on seemingly simple requests can be frustrating and challenging. You've probably wondered more than a few times how your child is able to tune you out so effectively, to the point where he or she seems to literally not hear you when you ask him or her to do something. Or you struggle to understand what exactly happens when you ask him or her to go put on his or her shoes and socks only to have them come back 20 minutes later with a sock on one foot and no shoes in sight. Moments like these are par for the course when you have a child with ADHD, but there are things you can do to make these moments less frequent. The way that you give your child instructions can have a huge impact on his or her ability to follow through. And, when you pair these effective instructions with praise for a job well done, you'll see big improvements and less frustration all around.

5 Strategies for Giving Effective Instructions:

  1. Always get your child's attention first. Kids with ADHD often have trouble shifting their attention from one thing to the next. So, don't assume that your child is paying attention when you speak. Make sure you are in the same room as your child, then say your child's name, ask him or her to look at you, or put your hand on his or her shoulder. All of these steps will help ensure that he or she is ready to take in what you have to say.
  2. Give only one or two instructions at a time. Most children with ADHD can only absorb one or two instructions at a time, maybe three if they are a bit older. If you chain too many instructions together you will exceed what their mind can process and will compromise their ability to follow through on anything that you've asked them to do.
  3. Tell your child what to do instead of what not to do. Make it easier for your child to follow through by telling him or her exactly what it is that you want them to do, and don't leave it up to their interpretation. For example, if your child is running down the stairs and you tell him or her to "stop running" he or she can choose to slide down the bannister and still comply with your instruction. Instead, be clear and direct and tell him or her to, "Please walk down the stairs."
  4. Avoid "asking" your child do to something. It feels very natural for us to ask someone do something in the form of a question, "Would you get me a cup of coffee?" We communicate with other adults like this all the time and in many instances it would be rude not to - "Get me a cup of coffee now!" But, when you're giving instructions to your child, especially your child with ADHD, the same rules don’t necessarily apply. When you phrase an instruction as a question your child can take you quite literally and simply say no. "Would you clean up your toys?" can result in this response, "Um, not now, I'm busy." Well, you asked and they answered! If you instead say, "Please stop playing and clean up your toys now," you're not asking your child for a favor. You're telling him or her what you need him or her to do, and he or she will be more likely to follow though.
  5. Give your child time to react. It takes many kids with ADHD a little bit longer to process information than you might think, and in general kids process information more slowly than adults. So, give your child at least 5 -10 seconds to follow through before you repeat the instruction or start to feel ignored.

When you follow these 5 simple steps consistently you'll be surprised by how much better your child follows through when you ask him or her to do something. In fact, he or she may even show up with socks and shoes on both feet the next time you ask!



Mary Rooney, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco. Dr Rooney is a researcher and clinician specializing in the evaluation and treatment of ADHD and co-occurring behavioral, anxiety, and mood disorders. A strong advocate for those with attention and behavior problems, Dr. Rooney is committed to developing and providing comprehensive, cutting edge treatments tailored to meet the unique needs of each child and adolescent. Dr. Rooney's clinical interventions and research avenues emphasize working closely with parents and teachers to create supportive, structured home and school environments that enable children and adolescents to reach their full potential. In addition, Dr. Rooney serves as a consultant and ADHD expert to Huntington Learning Centers.


Huntington Learning Center is the tutoring and test prep leader. Its certified tutors provide individualized instruction in reading, phonics, writing, study skills, elementary and middle school math, Algebra through Calculus, Chemistry, and other sciences. It preps for the SAT and ACT, as well as state and standardized exams. Huntington programs develop the skills, confidence, and motivation to help students of all levels succeed and meet the needs of Common Core State Standards. Founded in 1977, Huntington's mission is to give every student the best education possible. Call us today at 1.800.CAN LEARN to discuss how Huntington can help your child. For franchise opportunities please visit

This website does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The material on this site is provided for educational purposes only.

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