This tip is really directed towards parents and spouses of individuals with ADHD. We encourage parents to speak to their children just like a behaviorist, which means this:
Offer specific behavioral information, in advance, about what success “looks like.” Tell them, in advance, exactly how you want to the outcome to look, offering rich and specific behavioral detail.
When I was a child growing up in the Deep South, parents would throw the back door open and yell at the kids “Y’all play pretty now!” and we would walk around, in circles, wondering “what exactly would it mean to 'play pretty’?” Like any kids, we wanted to just barely meet the threshold of adult expectations. That is, we wanted to do the right thing, but just barely. We wanted to have as much fun as you could get away with.
So, rather than telling us to “play pretty” I wonder if it would have been more helpful to offer specific behavioral information, in advance? What if, upon arriving at the supermarket, you stopped the car, turned off the radio, put your hand gently on my knee and said,
“David, we will be in the Piggly Wiggly for about 30 minutes. That’s about the same time as it takes to watch an iCarly episode. Inside the store, you can touch me, or you can touch the cart. You can bring one item home with you. You can change your mind as many times as you want, and it will be one item. Inside the store, we will use our inside voices talking to each other. If you break any of these rules, we will come back to the car for seven minutes because you are seven years old.”
Now if I am a terrible child, you have just told me all the rules that I will be breaking. But if I’m like most kids, and I want to just barely meet threshold, you have given me specific behavioral information, in advance, to know exactly how to do that. You have told me what to do with my hands, my feet, my rear end, my voice.
And if you are married to someone with ADHD, you can also provide specific behavioral information, in advance, and ask for what you want. In fact, you are actually supporting your ADHD partner by letting them know how to please you. Letting them know, in advance, what success, for you, would look like.
“Honey, we have an important anniversary coming up this weekend. Here’s how I want it to look: I want us to be home by 5:30. I want us to have a conversation about our day, for just a few minutes, with empty hands. Will cellphones in our pockets. I then want us to get ready, and be out the door in time to get to a 7:30 dinner reservation.”
If you ask your partner, in advance, with specific behavioral criteria like this, does it guarantee that you will get what you want? Nope. But it increases the likelihood, and it gives your partner a chance, a fighting chance, to “just barely meet threshold.”
Try it. Just for the next week, practice asking, in advance, with specific behavioral information, for what you want. Good luck!