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The Resistant Child

Children with ADHD often display resistance when told what to do. This resistance can create challenges for parents, teachers, caregivers (…and even ADHD coaches!) To foster effective communication, it’s essential to understand the underlying reasons behind this behaviour.

Like all children, those with ADHD desire a sense of autonomy and control over their lives. Constantly being told what to do can make them feel disempowered and frustrated. I often tell parents that asking your child to do something is a sure way of getting them ‘not’ to do it. This is especially true when breathing down your child’s neck. Providing children with a level of autonomy (within appropriate boundaries) allows them to develop decision-making skills and a sense of ownership, leading to increased motivation and independence.

From an ADHD lens, there are several explanations for this extra resistance, which can shift depending on the context. One reason is that children with ADHD struggle with shifting attention from one task to another. Suddenly approaching your child and telling them to do something can be overwhelming and disrupt their focus. Especially if they’re in hyperfocus! Providing clear instructions using transition cues or warnings can help your child prepare mentally and to adapt more smoothly to new tasks.

Part of why transitions can be so difficult is that being confronted by complex instructions or tasks, can lead to emotional overwhelm. This is what leads to resistance. Breaking tasks into smaller, manageable steps and providing structure and support can increase the likelihood of a child following directions and completing tasks successfully.

Another common reason for increased resistance is that children with ADHD have a much heightened sensitivity to criticism. Being repeatedly told what to do without constructive feedback may trigger feelings of inadequacy or defensiveness. A guiding approach with a measure of flexibility is a far more likely way to reduce resistance.

I often tell parents to approach parenting as a ‘shepherd’, rather than an ‘engineer’.

Shepherding acknowledges that each child is unique and requires individualised care. It encourages parents to be flexible and adaptable in their parenting approach, recognising their child's needs and adjusting strategies accordingly. In contrast the engineer seeks to control every aspect of their child's life, often resulting in excessive rules, limited autonomy and more resistance.

Understanding the underlying reasons behind a child’s resistance is crucial for fostering empathy and smoother interactions. By understanding the reasons behind this, you can empower your child to navigate their day-to-day tasks more effectively.


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