Social graces and manners don’t come naturally to most children and can be especially difficult for kids with ADHD – who may be impulsive, quick to move on, inattentive and distracted. As with any new skill, manners need to be taught and practiced over and over again.
Children with ADHD may also need to learn how their responses will be perceived by others. Scripting a response is a wonderful idea because it provides specific words for your child so he knows exactly what to say! As you describe, a child with ADHD may blurt out what he wants over the phone with no introduction. Though he is not meaning to be rude, his words and tone end up sounding that way. This can convey a negative message to the other person who may respond back in a negative way - making the conversation overall unsatisfying and ineffective for everyone.
If a child already has insecurities around social interactions, they will be amplified as he continues to receive negative feedback in these situations. On the other hand as he learns skills to deal with these situations, his confidence will grow. Practice and role play appropriate approaches with your child in a fun, non-threatening environment. Have him use your cell phone to call the home phone so the two of you can act out a realistic phone conversation.
If your child is initiating a phone call, help him create and rehearse a script. This can ease nervousness and gives a child more confidence going into the phone call. Have him practice deliberately stopping and thinking -- an important skill for impulsive kids to acquire, not only for telephone calls, but for all social interactions. Provide prompts and partner with your child during practices. This teaches him not only to be responsible and courteous on the telephone, but to also become more aware of the world around him and how his behavior affects others' feelings. Even small social successes -- enticing a warm “hello” and “how are you doing” from the person on the other end of the line -– can build a child’s self esteem and lead him to feel more capable in other social interactions.
Here are a few phone etiquette rules to remember:
Rule 1: When you are making a phone call let the person who answers the phone know who is calling by saying “Hello this is __________. May I speak to_________?”
Rule 2: Ask in a polite friendly voice tone and say “Thank you” afterwards.
Rule 3: If you feel yourself getting antsy, take a deep breath or two, count to three, and consciously tell yourself to relax and slow down. You can also use a pre-printed index card with the script of what you want to say.
Rule 4: Make sure you are calling at an appropriate time. For example, don’t call during dinnertime or too late in the evening or too early in the morning.
Rule 5: Together as a family make sure there is always a pad of paper with an attached pen right beside the phone. If you are answering the phone at home and need to take a message, you’ll have what you need.
Rule 6: If you need to take a message from a caller say “May I please take a message?” After you have written down their name and phone number, be sure to check with the caller to make sure you have spelled their name correctly and have written down the phone number accurately by reading both back to them after you have written the message on the pad.
Rule 7: If you have caller ID, you can also screen calls and only answer the calls that come from a familiar person. Otherwise, if you have an answering machine it can take the message.
Rule 8: If you answer the phone at home and it is for someone else say “Please hold on a minute,” then set the phone down or cover the receiver with your hand and walk to get the person instead of yelling across the house.
Rule 9: Don’t interrupt others when they are talking on the phone unless it is an emergency. If you are worried you will forget what you want to tell the person, jot down a quick note. You can also work with your parents to come up with a signal when you need to tell them something that’s not an emergency, but is important.
Rule 10: If you do slip up a few times on the phone, it's okay. Realizing the problem is half the battle. It means you are learning and aware of what is appropriate and what is not. Try not to be hard on yourself. Instead simply apologize to the person on the phone, take a deep breath and start again.
Parents, be sure to give your child plenty of praise as you hear and see him practicing and using these rules. Praising and providing information about the behaviors you want to see is very powerful. So often as parents we can get caught in the negative - telling our kids what not to do without providing information about what we want to see. Using a script and practicing phone etiquette with your child not only gives him information about what to do, it can also be a fun activity for the two of you.
Two good books you may also want to consider checking out are How Rude! The Teenager’s Guide to Good Manners, Proper Behavior, and Not Grossing People Out(Compare Prices) by Alex J. Packer, PhD and Dude, That’s Rude! Get Some Manners – Laugh and Learn (Compare Prices), by Pamela Espeland and Elizabeth Verdick.