Parenting Dos and Don’ts: ADHD and Discipline
Do: Shift Your Mindset
With ADHD, traditional methods of discipline aren’t always the best fit. Shift your mindset from “I have to discipline my child” and get curious about how to help them improve their skills. Taking an attitude of, “What can I do to help them” instead of “How can I get them to do what I want” is a game-changer.
Do: Ask Yourself This Question
Is your child’s behavior truly naughty? In other words, is he intentionally making a bad choice, or struggling with the impulsivity that often comes with ADHD? Most kids who have ADHD know what they should do but can’t get themselves to do it. If you choose to see it as something they want to do but are having a hard time with, you’re more inclined to guide positively instead of punish.
If your daughter got distracted and didn’t do her homework, take a deep breath. If you yell, it won’t change anything. She’ll shut down and not hear anything you say. Even if it does seem to “work” in the short term, it’s damaging because your child is only motivated by fear. You want your child to trust you. Don’t model what it looks like to lose control.
Do: Be Brief
When you communicate with a child who has ADHD, get his attention first. Then keep it short and simple. If you make a request, make sure he understands it. If it’s a big request -- It’s time to talk about your grades, for instance -- stagger the conversation over a series of days or weeks. This gives him time to process in between.
Do: Learn and Be Compassionate
You can’t see the inner workings of your child’s brain. All you see is your child’s behavior. That can be frustrating and baffling. Just like in any other trying situation, it helps to be informed and empathetic. Read all you can about ADHD from trusted sources so you understand the condition, and be compassionate with your child and yourself.
Don’t: Ask Too Much of Your Child
Kids with ADHD can’t control themselves as well as other children the same age. They may do something well one day and not do it well the next. It’s too much to ask a child with ADHD to be consistent. You’ll both feel a lot better if you meet your child where he or she is in any given moment.
Do: Celebrate the Wins
Pay attention to what goes well. Maybe your kid raised his grades, even if he still leaves all the lights on in the house. Adjust your perspective so that you notice and celebrate what went well. Reinforce the good instead of only dwelling on what you’d like to be different. When your child does what they know well, highlight the effort and what led to the behavior. For example, “You got your homework done. You must feel so proud of yourself. How did that happen so we can keep this going?”
Don’t: Address Every Little Thing
Kids with ADHD are wrong often. They get redirected all day, every day. If you tackle everything all the time, it’ll wear you both out. Choose one or two behaviors to work on and let the rest go for now. You’ll get to them eventually. This way, your child won’t have that “I can’t do anything right” feeling all the time.
Do: Coach and Collaborate
You wouldn’t expect your child to understand how to play soccer without a coach. You also can’t expect them to control themselves when their brains aren’t wired to tell them how. Coach and collaborate with your child so they can practice skills and decision-making in a safe environment. Practice with phrases like, “How do you think we should handle this situation?” Listen and then decide what’s best.
Do: Look for the Opportunities
Your daughter can’t sit still at dinner. She keeps popping up and running around. Then again, she’s been managing her behavior at school all day and is tired. Shift your expectations so she doesn’t feel shame for making mistakes. For instance, set a goal for her to settle down for just 2 minutes. Or go with it and let her be the person who gets the extra ketchup and removes plates as each person finishes.
Do: Punish Every Child Fairly
If you have more than one child and they don’t all have ADHD, their consequences may need to be different. That can be tricky territory for a parent. Tell all your children that you’re a team and consequences will be fair but not always the same. Show compassion when any of your kids feels angry. Say, “I understand this may be hard for you to accept.”
Do: Take Care of Yourself
ADHD behaviors can be tough to deal with. When you’re calm and rested, you can handle more and handle it better. This may mean you cut back on commitments and adjust your schedule and standards. Self-care -- like exercise, sleep, and a good diet -- is also important. That way, you’re better prepared to help your family -- and yourself -- thrive.