Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder associated with impulsive, hyperactive behaviors and low attention span in children. While occasional impulsive and hyperactive behaviors are normal in children, constant and excessive displays of such behavior may be caused by ADHD (1) (2). However, many parents of children with ADHD struggle with how to discipline a child with ADHD.
ADHD often interferes with the daily functioning and quality of life of children. In addition, the child’s behavior can also cause distress to people in their social environment. Hence, finding the appropriate means to discipline them is important.
Read this article for some practical tips and strategies on disciplining and managing a child with ADHD.
Useful Tips To Discipline A Child With ADHD
- Be patient and persistent in your efforts. Children with ADHD are often impulsive and have difficulty managing their emotions. For them, setting a routine and following it is a challenge (5). Due to their cognitive, emotional, and behavioral problems, they may take more time to understand instructions and execute them. So, be patient and persevering, and try the following.
- Spend time with your child and teach them how to organize, structure, and prioritize tasks.
- Use daily planners, checklists, and alarms to help the child stay on track.
- Organize your home and teach the child to pick an item, use it, and then put it back in its original place.
- Assign small tasks associated with structuring, organizing, and prioritizing so that they get experiential learning. For instance, you can ask them to help you set the dining table or arrange the living room while following a set of instructions. While giving instructions, wait for the child to finish one task before moving on to the next instruction.
- Listen and pay attention. Children with ADHD can be highly attention-seeking, which can exhaust you. But more than the parents, it’s the children who get overwhelmed with several things happening around them. They may find it challenging to comprehend and control everything that’s going on around them. So, be patient and spend some one-on-one time with them. This will help you
- Instill faith in them and let them know that you have their back.
- Highlight areas that the child needs to work on.
- Understand what you can do together to improve their behavior.
Let your child understand that making behavioral changes is a gradual process, with no shortcuts. Also, avoid interrupting your child when they are saying something. Pay attention to what they are saying and respond appropriately when they ask you something.
- Establish a routine and ensure the child sticks to it. For this, you need to set rules and expectations that are easy to understand, realistic, and manageable for the child. For instance, you can set house rules such as
- do 30 minutes of physical activity daily.
- go to bed early and wake up early.
- clean the room after waking up.
After setting a routine, your role is to help your child stick to it with regular reminders, rewards, and reinforcements. Ensure you enforce the house rules consistently and the child follows the timetable religiously.
- Minimize distractions. Switch off the television and turn off the music or video games while the child is talking to you, eating meals, or doing homework. This is vital to reduce overstimulation. You can also avoid going to crowded places, such as a mall, with the child. Also, ensure you remove TV and video games from your child’s room to provide a distraction-free environment.
- Ensure effective communication. This is essential as children with ADHD often struggle with understanding instructions due to hyperactivity or inattention or both. Gain your child’s attention by taking them to a distraction-free room when you need to talk to them about important things.
Then, ask them to sit calmly and make eye contact with you. As the child sits patiently, explain to them what they need to do. Ask the child to repeat the instructions so that you know they are listening attentively.
You may also break the daily tasks or chores into simple steps to make it easier for children to understand what they need to do. For instance, when you want to ask your child to clean the dinner table, provide them with a written checklist containing steps, such as
- Put the used dishes, glasses, and spoons into the dishwasher.
- Put the used napkins into the laundry basket.
- Wipe the table clean using a kitchen towel.
Explain these steps to your child, and if you feel their attention is waning, make physical contact by touching their hand or gently patting on the shoulder and seek confirmation that your child understood what you said.
- Praise the child for their efforts. Offer praise when your child follows your instructions, such as when they sit calmly and study, play quietly, or behave well with siblings and friends. You can say, “I’m proud of you,” “You’re a great kid,” etc.
In addition to the kind words, you can shower them with loads of hugs, kisses, and small prizes to make them feel acknowledged and appreciated. Finally, promptly communicate about their good and bad behavior as children need feedback to know if their actions are correct.
- Reward positive behavior. Experts believe that rewarding a child’s positive behavior motivates them to stay on track (4). So, give them tangible rewards, such as happy face stickers, for positive behavioral changes. Additionally, you can follow a token economy system wherein
- If the child exhibits desirable behavior, such as finishing homework on time or keeping books or toys at the proper place, they earn a privilege or reward.
- If the child exhibits negative or undesirable behavior, they lose their rewards or privileges. For instance, you could reduce their TV time by 20 minutes (4).
- Use the “time-out” technique. This disciplining technique aims at establishing desirable behavior by not paying attention to the child for several minutes for their unacceptable or inappropriate behavior. For instance, if a child throws an item on a sibling or displays disruptive behavior, ask them to sit in one corner of the room. Ignore their cries, whines, or tantrums for a certain period.
You could also go to a peaceful place and calm down. Doing so will give you and the child the time to settle down and speculate (6). Set the time-out rule only after explaining to the child what time-out means and which negative behaviors warrant a time-out.
- Abstain from punishment to modify behavior. Spanking, screaming, or yelling at your child can jeopardize your efforts and make the child rebellious. Maintain your calm and remember that children with ADHD do not misbehave mischievously on purpose. Instead, it’s their inability to control their behavior that prompts them to act in certain ways. So, learn to manage the child’s erratic behavior with patience, perseverance, and the right guidance.
Note: Some children with ADHD also show symptoms of oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). ODD is when a child intentionally displays rebellious and disobedient behavior towards elders, such as parents and teachers, who try to discipline the child. Experts indicate that punishing such children can breed negativity and pessimism in them (7).
- Teach natural consequences. Avoid constantly reminding your child to be careful or to foresee the impact of their actions. Instead, let them do what they want and then face the consequences. For instance, if your child performs poorly in a school test, you can ask them to spend extra hours studying every day. Explain to them that failing to perform and then spending extra time studying is an inevitable natural consequence of their behavior (inattentiveness in school).
- Let them take charge. Involve your child when you set rules, expectations, and rewards for acceptable behavior. Doing so helps a child remember what’s expected of them. For instance, you and your child can decide that they will not use social media while studying. However, they can do so when they take a study break. Setting such clear and mutually agreed rules motivates a child to stick to them.
- Work with school teachers and management. It’s a vital step to track the child’s behavior and then communicate the areas of improvement. It will also help the teachers modify their rules and support the child in their academics, such as by giving the child some extra time to complete a task.
As your child grows and adjusts to set expectations, rules, and routines, they become more self-directed. It’s then that you can gradually remove some support and let your child be independent. A sense of autonomy and responsibility boosts a child’s self-esteem and confidence, which is essential for their development.
ADHD could hamper the child’s functional abilities and quality of life. For instance, children with ADHD might display hyperactive and impatient behaviors and struggle to interact socially. By now, this post would have helped you understand how to discipline a child with ADHD. Know that their actions are not under their control, and you need to understand their cues and work together to help them cope with the condition. You may try ways to implement a routine, set realistic goals, encourage positive actions with rewards, and maintain effective communication to discipline a child with ADHD.
- Stay patient with your techniques while disciplining a child with ADHD.
- Try to minimize the distractions for effective communication.
- Create a routine for them that considers all of their needs, and you can use the time-out technique if they don’t follow it.
- Refrain from using punishments. But, reward their positive behavior.
- What Is ADHD?
- What is ADHD?
- Behavior Therapy for Children with ADHD.
- Teaching Children With Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Instructional Strategies and Practices.
- Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): The Basics.
- Steps for Using Time-Out.
- Oppositional Defiant Disorder Symptoms & Causes.