Kids with ADHD

If you are raising or working with kids with ADHD you probably have realized that your typical approaches aren’t working with these kids.

I greet exhausted and frustrated parents every week in my therapy office. I hear things like, “He just won’t listen!” And “If it is a video game – he can focus just fine!”

[To listen to my podcast episode on this topic click here]


Working or parenting kids with ADHD can be exhausting, especially if you have the wrong expectations. Here are some expectations that people should throw out the window - and here is what they should do instead.

What I have learned, is that caring and loving parents, educators, caregivers and relatives often misunderstand ADHD and therefore they don’t get kids with ADHD.

It is important to highlight that I meet tons of parents and educators who can  teach me tons on how to work with kids with ADHD
– but this article is for those parents, teachers and relatives that may struggle because their expectations are off base.

Parenting or working with kids with ADHD can be completely exhausting. Even after an hour therapy session with them – my energy is spent (although it doesn’t take much these days)!

The biggest lesson I try to teach people is to stop paddling upstream. When you try to work against a child’s high energy and lack of focus you will both walk away feeling frustrated and unproductive.

Here are 5 unrealistic expectations some (not all) people place on kids with ADHD:


Kids with ADHD fidget, squirm, hop, bounce, chew, pick, tear and tap. They have an internal engine that isn’t going to slow down. Getting angry or telling them to stop isn’t going to help. They aren’t doing it to upset you or their peers. They aren’t trying to be distracting. They physiologically have a hard time stopping.


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* Get them fidget toys they can keep in their pocket.

* Get them cool textured chew necklaces that are specifically made to chew on.

* Get a Small indoor trampoline that they can jump on.



Kids with ADHD have a hard time following multiple step directions. When you say, “Go brush your teeth, get your pajamas on, clean up your toys and come back downstairs” kids with ADHD may only hear “Go brush your teeth.”

If you want kids to succeed, give them one direction at a time.
“Go brush your teeth and let me know when you are done.” This will make them feel more successful and it will reduce your level of frustration.


People will often dispel the notion that kids with ADHD have a focusing issue because of the ability for these kids to focus so effectively on what they enjoy. Kids with ADHD can’t focus on a ten-minute homework assignment, but they can build Legos and play video games for hours.

This doesn’t mean you are being manipulated. This doesn’t mean that these kids are lazy.

We all have varying degrees of focus depending on our interest level. Kids with ADHD have a harder time tuning out all the distractions around them. When a task isn’t engaging this struggle magnifies.


How many times do you find yourself saying “Lower your voice.” Or “Calm down.” Kids with ADHD often have no internal gauge on how loud they are being or how hyper they are acting. This is often a social struggle as well. Getting angry because they are bouncing around right after you told them to stop – won’t help.

Help these kids by giving them a 1-10 gauge. Let them know they should be at a 5 for volume. When they are being too loud or too rambunctious let them know what number they are at. “You are at an 8, please bring it to a 5.” You can also turn down an imaginary radio dial as a visual cue when trying to prompt them non-verbally if that doesn’t embarrass them.


How often do you feel like kids with ADHD might be deaf? You are talking directly to them and they act as if they haven’t heard a word you said. Unless their eyes are directly on you and they are not trying to do another activity – they may not be hearing you.

Don’t shout directions from another room. Make sure you tell them to stop doing what they are doing before you start talking to them. Turn off the TV, tablet or phone and ask them to listen to you. If you aren’t sure they are listening, make them repeat what you said.

These tips are not rocket science, however there are many well-intentioned people out there who have some basic misconceptions and expectations that don’t work with kids with ADHD.

How do you manage kids with ADHD? Do you have some tips that work well in your home, school or work? Share with other readers and help them out!

Do you know someone who could benefit from these ADHD tips? Share this article with them.

[To listen to my podcast episode on this topic click here]


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20 responses to “5 Unrealistic Expectations People Place on Kids with ADHD”

  1. Lauren says:

    I have found that being very patient, and calm and collected helps them listen better and understand instruction. I never shout at them, and i explain clearly and concisely why things are the way they are, and what needs to happen. I talk to them on their level, as equals, and don’t let my temper get out of hand. This helps the kids to feel important and like less of a nuisance. Also, their high energy and easy distraction gets them into alot of trouble on all sides (school, caregivers, relatives), so when they do something good i always thank them whole heartedly because they need positive reinforcement even more than a child without the behavioural disorder.

  2. Stephanie says:

    Any tops for an ADHD 9 year old boy that will not look at me (his mother) in the eyes? I always ask him to look at me when I am talking to him, but it seems like he is unable to do so….any tips?

    • Natasha Daniels says:

      Hi Stephanie,
      My advice would depend on what the situation is when he is not giving you eye contact. When kids are in trouble they often have a hard time looking people in the eyes. For those situations I do not think it is worth getting into a power struggle to force a child to look a parent in the eye as they are being disciplined.

      If it is when you are just trying to talk to him, you could try holding his hands and facing him (eye level). I know that might sound weird, but it will help him focus. If he is distracted, I would turn off the TV and electronics. Kids with ADHD are receiving all that extra input at the same frequency, so it makes it much harder to tune out.

      You can also explain to your son that you are trying to teach him to look people in the eye because other people might think he is being rude. You can explain to him that you know he isn’t a rude kid and it would hurt your heart for other people to have that misperception about him. This will help him understand why you are concerned with this behavior. When you see his eyes wander, you can gently squeeze his hands and redirect him to focus on you. This can help train his brain to maintain eye contact.

      I hope that helps a bit!

      • S says:

        That’s really well said, and sound advice. The mother has manipulated the situation to make it all about her, it is clear she has no concern for the emotional well-being or otherwise of her son. Yes, in fact, it is asking too much to demand for him to look her in the eyes while she is talking to him. It is unreasonable to demand a 9 year old child with ADHD look a person in the eyes. Through his eyes, he was minding his own business (in the middle of something that held his intent interest) when he was suddenly and abruptly interrupted. He feels betrayed, he won’t look her in the eyes because she has violated his personal space. He is upset, he had no warning that he would be switching tasks. Warming up with a hug to build your trust may or may not work. However, making the child feel supported and being open and flexible will certainly go a long way. Sometimes you need to talk first and then hug, as some children do not open up as easily as others. Giving a 10 minute warning (friendly reminder) will help, the hyperactivity is in the brain and he may need more time to process one train of information as children and adults with ADHD are often processing multiple trains of information in great detail at once. Hold his hands and come to his level will also help. If you can’t understand, imagine changing the routine of a child with Autism and how they would react… This is your best line of defense in being able to handle the special needs of ADHD. They are not “everyone else” so do not expect them to be. Intrusive behavior is not part of their routine. Work on establishing a daily routine with him where you talk and look each other in the eyes at the same time every day, like after school, or before bed, or in the morning. Over time it will be easier for both of you. He may feel like he is in trouble and not understand why, why is he being punished? It is abbrasive. Try a softer approach.

    • Liz says:

      I am ADHD and so is my son. When I need to get his attention, I calmly move to be in front of him and touch him on the hand. This is like giving kids gravity. They seem to come back to being in space outside their own mind. Then I talk quite softly, so he has to lean in to hear me. This is engaging and a lot less stimulating than a loud voice. Actually a good trick with all kids.
      ADHD’s have amazing and very active social lives in their heads. It is really hard to filter out.
      * A touch on the hand
      * A soft voice
      *One instruction at a time.
      *And don’t expect to work every time, but over time it will work more often.

    • Valerie says:

      It’s my experience that when you are asking a child to “look at you” they’re focus is not completely on looking at you and any other instruction is not heard…eye contact is a big thing with me but my children are incapable of doing it so I just have to let it go and have them repeat to me what I just said

  3. Tanya says:

    Thank you so much for this article! I have a three year old (four next week) with ASD, ADHD, SMD, and a slew of other complications. Today was a very trying day, as I changed his routine to get some new things done. By the end of the night he was completely wired, and way off. I was very close to losing my patience and crying, but I opened my email. I took a breather, and came across this article, which reminded me of how very special my little boy is. Thank you for reminding me that today my expectations for him were very unrealistic, as well as unfair to him because I put him through a long day. Basically, just thank you.

    • Natasha Daniels says:

      You are so very welcome Tanya. I am honored that during your breather, My article inspired and reset you. 💕 We all have those days. I hope tomorrow is brighter…

  4. Natasha Daniels says:

    I agree! There are some amazing products our there that are so helpful!

  5. Karyn Fortier says:

    I would write on the bathroom mirror with an eraserable
    1: take meds
    2: brush teeth
    Etc. etc, she would mark through what she finished
    When she became a teenager she took over.
    I went to her dorm while she was in college and she was still using the technique. Saved a lot of time and headaches.

    • Natasha Daniels says:

      Karyn – I LOVE that tip! That’s brilliant. Thanks for sharing. I am definitely going to steal that idea and tell kids in my therapy practice to do that 😜

  6. Diane says:

    I have a 10 year old girl with ADHD, GAD, dysgraphia, and slow processing disorder, who has a mommy with major depressive disorder and adult ADHD. I feel like I understand her better because of my own issues, and I fight like crazy to make sure she has what she needs. I grew up with untreated ADHD, which has led to the depression and OCD. I don’t want that for my baby girl. But it does get crazy around here. I’ve had to accept her limits and mine. For instance, I’ve been interested in homeschooling for years, but realistically I know it’s not a good idea with our personalities. We do use a LOT of lists. She has a list on her bathroom mirror for hygiene. She has a list on her bedroom wall for room cleaning. She has a list in her binder for preparing her backpack to come home. I also managed to get through my own brain fog and redo her bedroom to make it ultra organizable. I bought a loft bed with a ton of built in storage. And a cube shelf with 9 cubes for small toys to replace the toy chest that got emptied out Everytime she looked for a certain toy. And two nets for stuffed animals and baby dolls. And a bookshelf. And a shoe rack. We labeled the bins with pictures of the toys in them. It has helped tremendously with keeping her room picked up.

    • Natasha Daniels says:

      Diane – sounds like you are doing an awesome job at giving her the tools she needs to succeed. She’s lucky to have a mom who “gets it.” ❤️

  7. Erin says:

    I disagree with the multi step instruction point. We have found that with simplified instructions, multi steps can be given. For example, instead of saying “ go brush your teeth, put on your pajamas, clean up your toys and come downstairs” If the child knows the expectations for each of this tasks you can just say “teeth, pajamas, toys, downstairs”. It is a simple enough instruction that they can repeat over and over to themselves until everything is complete. So there are certainly times when we can expect multi step instructions to be followed. Every morning we use “shoes, coat, bookbag, lunch, what day is it?” To get through our routine. But my daughter knows what the expectation is, choose school appropriate shoes, check the weather for coat vs. jacket, put in bookbag/pack bookbag, grab lunch bag, and see what day it is for gym clothes or band instrument. I do hear my daughter repeat the words to herself many times until she has completed everything. Even for myself I have to write steps down at times to finish something… that would be a good strategy for kids old enough to write to keep track for themselves of multi step instructions at home or school.

  8. Vanessa says:

    This was a great read. I agree that parents can change the way they communicate. It does really help!

  9. Suzanne says:

    Thanks for sharing! This was an interesting read!

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