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8 Tips to Help High Energy or Distractable Children Improve Their Language and Communication

Bismillah al Rahman al Rahim

The solemn little boy taps his finger on his tooth, pondering.

He is trying to think of the name of an animal - an animal he read about it, drew a picture of it, and then wrote the name of down in his word book the other day.

His Mother sighs, exasperated, and says 'Come on, son, - we did this word last night!', and still, her son wriggles in his seat, looking a bit apologetic, but unable to draw the word from his memory.

turtle puzzle

At last, when I say the first sound 'T...', he gets it: 'Turtle!' he shouts, relieved - as we are too!

With a diagnosis of ADD, this 6 year old boy's main problem is his speech and language: he has very poor memory for words, and his ability to express himself is impaired. So he cannot pay attention in class. I get him to focus and work specifically on some of the following areas, which are all things you can do at home too -

1. Sort things into categories

Name things by the group word as well as the names of each thing in the category, for example -

  • Vehicles: car, train, cycle, plane

  • Animals : cat, dog, giraffe, lion, chicken

  • Foods : pizza, egg, fries, fish-fingers

  • Feelings: happy, excited, sad, angry,

  • Sizes: big / small smaller smallest

2. Use toys or pictures, or even common activities to help.

You can also use an activity you are doing, like:

- When doing the family washing or cooking: sort into colours/whose clothes

- When cooking in the kitchen: name and sort things to stir with / cook with / cut with.

3. Involve your child in your activities

This may take energy and take longer than usual. But make an effort to be aware of what you do and how you do it, so you can talk with him: name things you use and what you do with them.

That extra time and hassle is worth it for the help he will gain from you and the language he will pick up: new words, new ways of saying things and putting his ideas together.

Do things sometimes that perhaps he would normally do with someone else, like his Nanny - to give him a chance for you to teach him words he would not usually hear.

You might even find he is less distractible doing those things with you than if you had tried to leave him playing or amusing himself.

If English is not your first language, use your own language. A Mum is an amazing multi-tasker, but even she would find it hard to engage her hyperactive child in the things she is doing, as well as talking to him in a language that is not her own!

4. Help him make his own word book

A word book with his own pictures and written words is a fabulous, personalised way to help him remember when he needs that word, in school for writing or using in his class work, or at home, when he is trying to tell you something. Make sure his teacher knows he has his own Word Book.

5. Use a 'stop, look, listen' rule when talking

Get him to stop and look at you when you are talking, or when he is talking to you. Not every time! you will never get anything done! but choose a couple of words or sentences that are important for him to listen to.

6. Read books together

Make time to sit with him and read books. Get him to tell the story back to you. Or put story pictures in order and tell the story.

For bilingual children, this is a great way to tell the same story in both languages.

7. Give him a lot of chance for active exercise!

Give him plenty of outlet for the abundant energy he has! And talk to him about what he is doing, even repeating words you think he already knows. He will not remember unless you keep saying them to him in different ways and sentences.

Physical activity is great, especially in sports or groups, because following rules and listening, watching, taking turns can all be learnt and practiced.

Other sports like karate and martial arts teach children to control their bodies, wait, watch, move consciously.

One game that is really fun and also teaches him more words and sentences is ‘Simon Says’, using about three key words, such as: Run round the table twice'. A good end to that game is trying to do the impossible, ‘Rub your tummy and pat your head!’ and fall about laughing.

8. Pace and vary your activities

Keep rewards or fun till he has done more challenging things. For instance, do one or two sitting-down concentrating tasks like sorting and naming pictures or practising using a full sentence with the pronouns ‘he/she’, swiftly followed by a physical game.

Encourage and ensure your child does the things he finds hard, but make sure you have lots of fun as well! Fun is such a good motivator for learning!

I hope some of these tips will help you find a way to have more fun learning.

Enjoy - and best wishes

Margi Kulsoom

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