Order in the House: Disciplining ADHD Behavior

A leading parenting expert shares his secrets for dealing with ADHD behavior problems.

Newsmaker, Part 2

What else can parents do to keep kids from behaving inappropriately?
It’s important for parents to recognize that much of the behavior they call inappropriate really isn’t. It’s just inappropriate for a particular time and place.

Children need to express themselves, and parents need to make it possible for them to do so. If your child needs to roughhouse, for example, you might keep a punching bag in a certain room. If your child enjoys dismantling appliances, it probably won’t work to tell him not to. Instead, give him a box of old vacuum cleaners or toasters, and designate a room or space where he can take them apart. The message to the child should be that “In our home, we will offer you an appropriate way to meet your needs, but we will not permit you to meet those needs in an inappropriate way.”

What about a child who yells and curses?
I encourage parents to sit down with the child during a calm time and say, “I know a lot of things are going to upset you, but right now you’re doing things that can’t be done in the house. So let’s figure out things you can do when you’re mad.”

Like what?
Well, maybe some name-calling is acceptable. After all, all kids get angry at their parents, and ADHD kids are more prone to anger and frustration than other children. So it makes no sense to tell your child not to get angry at you. Instead, help him find acceptable ways to express anger.

When my younger son was 10 years old, he asked me, “Can I call you ‘buttface’ when I’m mad?” I thought that over, and decided that was unacceptable. But I told him he could say, “I hate you” or “I don’t love you anymore.” Each family must determine what is acceptable within their home and then teach that behavior.

Isn’t that a slippery slope?
Not really. We all need to learn appropriate ways to express unpleasant feelings. Children with ADHD are slow to learn how to do this without help. One good way to provide this help is via a program of incentives or rewards. For example, my son and I agreed that, for every hour that he didn’t call me bad names, he earned points toward a reward.

I have parents sit down with their child and make up reward coupons. The coupons are for whatever the child loves to do—stay up late on a weekend night, eat pizza, earn $5. The point is to motivate the child to learn self-control.

Aren’t non-ADHD siblings going to be jealous of these rewards? Fairness isn’t the same thing as equity. I define fairness as equal opportunity for success within a family. Every child should have equal access to rewards, attention, and parental approval, but there may be different expectations for each child. Susie might have to clean her whole room, for example, while Ben might only have to clean one corner.

Is it ever too late to impose structure?
I won’t say it’s ever too late, but the longer you wait, the more the child has to unlearn. Provide consistent boundaries as early as possible. If you wait until adolescence, the challenge will be much greater.

How would you characterize your approach to discipline, overall?
If parents help a child feel valued, loved, and competent, he will be more likely to overcome the challenges and adversity familiar to kids with ADHD.


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TAGS: Behavior in ADHD Kids, ADHD and Discipline, Siblings of ADHD Children

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