Focus & Following Directions

“Are You Listening?” What Inattentive ADHD Looks Like — and Responds to

You’ve asked your child eight times now to put on his shoes, yet still he’s building that LEGO. Daily behavior like this may look and feel like disobedience, but it may actually be ADHD inattention. Learn more about inattentive symptoms and solutions.

A young girl dealing with ADHD inattention, sitting with her head on her knees
Inattentive girl with ADHD sitting by shed outside with head leaning on folded arms

Inattentive ADHD in Kids

As an “invisible” disorder, inattentive ADHD in children is often misperceived as bad behavior. The inattentive child — whose symptoms include forgetfulness, apathy, or distractibility — may be misread as willfully disregarding commands or dragging her feet.

ADHD often forces a child to process thoughts and make transitions more slowly. Without this understanding, a child’s inattention can cause conflict at home. Here are some strategies to help avoid it.

When Your Child Won’t Answer You

Jane felt terrible when her mother accused her of not listening to her. Jane needed time to think, and she stared off while she formulated a response.

[Self-Test: Could Your Child Have ADHD?]

We decided to try a new approach. When her mom asked her a question, Jane would look her mother in the eye and say, “Mom, I need a little time to think about that.” This helped Mom be more patient, too, because she realized Jane was not being stubborn.

When Your Child Is Slow to Complete Tasks

Susan was always late for school. Susan and her mom had a big fight recently when her mom came upstairs, expecting Susan to be ready for breakfast — and found her in her pajamas.

ADHD makes simple sequencing of tasks difficult. Mother and daughter decided to make a list of the steps in the morning routine and post the list in the bedroom and bathroom. They also cleared Susan’s room every night, putting distracting toys in the closet. At first, Susan’s mom stayed nearby, reminding Susan to refer to and follow the list. Soon, Susan was able to do it herself.

When Your Child Struggles With Memory and Focus

Evan and his mom always seemed to get separated at the supermarket. She’d send him to get a few items, and, eventually, she would track him down looking at cereals, with only one item. Or she would push the cart, thinking he was behind her, then turn around to find him missing.

[Free Guide: The Secret Power of Fidgets]

Evan admitted that he could not remember more than one item his mom asked him to get. Evan’s parents started giving one command at a time and acknowledging a job well done each time. Evan gained confidence to handle simple requests, and worked up to getting two items at a time.

Children need to go through the process of learning to be responsible and making mistakes. It isn’t easy feeling like a problem child. With our patience, our kids won’t.