Disciplining the ADHD Child
Due to the nature of their disorder, children with Attention Deficit- Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are difficult to discipline. ADHD is characterized by trouble focusing, difficulty with emotional regulation, impulsivity and decreased social skills.
The three most common types of ADHD are:
1. Inattentive/ Distractible: easily distracted, poor executive functioning skills, decreased concentration to non preferred tasks. Girls are more likely to be diagnosed with inattentive ADHD, than boys.
2. Hyperactive/ Impulsive: always on the go, excessive talking and movement, inability to stay on task, frequent interruptions and risk taking
3. Combination: a mix of inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive.
As a parent, it is important to educate yourself on ADHD, so you can give your child the best head start possible. Review current research and seek out experts in the field, especially if your family is struggling. Look into natural supplements and dietary options. Take the initiative to observe daily patterns at home and note when the child is more likely to have a tantrum, if it happens right after he gets home from school, or when he has to rush in the morning. Record everything you can in order to learn what sets him off. Now, you can’t avoid these situations forever, but it will give you a better idea of what you’re about to deal with.
Prioritize the health of everyone in your home. This includes getting plenty of outdoor play, eating a variety of colored fruits and veggies, drinking lots of water and getting optimal sleep. Not only will this keep everyone as refreshed and rejuvenated as possible, but it will help establish patterns for the rest of their lives.
Create consistent routines. Sometimes this feels impossible, to create a schedule in the midst of seeming chaos. But I promise, the more orderly and familiar your days become, the less chaos you’ll see. It’s recommended to pick one routine and start there, instead of trying to overhaul your entire day. The following is an example of an evening routine for the elementary school aged child:
6:15pm: Child sets table for dinner
6:30pm: Family sits down for dinner and says grace
7:00pm: Family clears table and cleans up kitchen
7:10pm: Free play until bath time
7:25pm: Clean up toys
7:30pm: Bath time
7:45pm: Dry off and get in PJ’s
7:50pm: Read stories/Cuddle/Pray
8:00pm: Lights out!
This may feel extremely regimented, especially if you don’t currently have anything similar going on in your home. Know that children with ADHD (and those without) benefit greatly from consistency. It gives them a sense of security and allows them to know what’s coming next in their day. Be willing to commit to a routine for 30 days and once it’s locked down and running smoothly, move on to another routine for morning.
Implement organizational items, such as,
- labeled bins for toys,
- placemats with pictures for where items go on dinner table
- hooks for backpacks and jackets
- Mats/baskets for shoes by the doors
Give Clear Instructions
For greater success and less frustration, don’t give multiple step directions. Make instructions clear and concise, such as “Go get your shoes”. Instead of, “go get your shoes, put them on, grab your jacket and head to the car”. Often, children with ADHD will only hear the first part of instructions and then tune out. Be sure to make eye contact while giving instructions and have her repeat them to you. If you’re working to have them establish independence with these activities, make a visual chart with velcro pictures of the steps they need to complete. Keep this chart in a central location such as the bathroom or the kitchen. It may have steps like “brush your teeth”, with a picture of a toothbrush, “wash hands” with picture of soap, etc.
Choose to give positive reinforcement everyday. A study done in 2015 indicated that children with ADHD are more motivated by praise and positive reinforcement than ‘typically’ developing peers. The article goes on to say that a reward system encouraged the children with ADHD to perform their best. This is huge and so easy to duplicate. Create a chore chart and each day when the chores are completed, give them a small token (I’ve used everything from poker chips to marbles). Decide on a system together and once they have acquired X amount of marbles, they can redeem them for a larger prize. This is really a win/win situation. You can also take away the tokens when bad behavior occurs, thus creating a secondary reinforcement.
Spend time with your child. Make and create special times for just the two of you. Pick activities where the child shines and is less likely to get frustrated. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, just make cookies together, or go to the park. This allows you both to have breathing room in your relationship. It can be so easy to focus on the negative aspects and the hard corners of your day when you’re a parent. But choosing to see them for the sweet, funny, intelligent child they are can be a ray of sunshine, even when you’re struggling.
Remember, “He’s not giving me a hard time, he’s HAVING a hard time.” This quote always gives me clarity. It’s easy to get wrapped up in what’s going wrong, especially at home or in a treatment session. Knowing that the child is struggling even more than I am reminds me that I am here to help, not to dominate, or force my will on the child.
- Everyone has heard to ignore small behavioral missteps. To turn around and pretend you don’t see her staring at you while she deliberately does something you’ve told her not to. This gets you nowhere, all she learned is that she can get away with not listening. This allows her to believe she’s in control and is making the rules in the house.
Instead, interrupt the behavior immediately and limit the amount of words you use during these situations. When you see her bringing a cup into the living room, even though she knows it’s against house rules, intervene immediately. Make eye contact, tell her that’s not allowed, and take the cup away. Or say, your child is playing video games after the timer you set has gone off. Instead of allowing just a few more minutes of play, go into the room immediately and tell them to turn it off. If he ignores you, take control of the situation and turn the game off.
Have no doubt, there will be kickback on this, but as you are the ADULT and you determine the house rules, persevere. Your goal is to raise a well mannered child who understands boundaries and rules.
- Natural consequences are a great hands off way to educate your child on following the rules. If she wants to go play outside but doesn’t want to put a coat on (and is of an age where she can make that decision), let her go out. She’ll get cold and come back in for that coat. If he wants to play in the backyard, but doesn’t want to put shoes on, let him. He’ll step on a sticker burr and come back in for those shoes.
This can feel harsh, but we all experience natural consequences every day. When we chose to sleep in for an extra 10 minutes, we lose our chance to have a quiet cup of coffee before the day starts. If your child chooses not to eat their vegetables at the dinner table, there is no dessert. These are simple, natural consequences. It’s important to pick your battles and if your child is of an age to choose not to pack their lunch, when she knows it’s her responsibility, then well, no lunch tomorrow! And please, don’t run a lunch up to the school for them. You’ve effectively taught them nothing by trying to fix it for them.
‘Helicopter parents’ often avoid natural consequences and thus don’t teach their child personal responsibility.
- Undoing and redoing is another simple, logical strategy for appropriate behavior. It is undoing a bad behavior or action and redoing it correctly, which is great for children who rush through tasks. When she shoves all their toys in the wrong containers in an effort to ‘be done’ with cleaning up, have her remove all the wrong items (undoing) and place them where they belong (redoing). Or when he knocks over his cup at the dinner table because it wasn’t placed where it goes, have him clean the mess (undoing) and re-pour the cup and place it farther up onto the table after drinking (redoing).
*Notice how for this strategy to work, systems and knowledge have to already be in place. The child has to know what’s right and wrong beforehand.
- Lose your temper. Nagging, yelling, and criticizing your child doesn’t teach them how to act, it doesn’t teach them how to fix a situation and it certainly doesn’t build their self confidence or feel respected.
- Talk too much during a disciplinary situation. They will not focus on what you are saying and will likely zone out.
- Delay consequences, if your child is acting out in the grocery store, don’t wait until you’re at home to deliver consequences. It can be tempting to give in to the tantrum, just to finish the shopping and make it out in one piece, but no one said parenting was easy.
- Timeout doesn’t work with children with ADHD. It just doesn’t. As these children are often emotional, this can cause them to feel rejected and the negative behaviors may intensify.