Like all kids, children with attention deficit disorder (ADD ADHD) sometimes make bad choices regarding their own behavior. No surprise there. But to make matters worse, parents could often use a few parenting tips themselves, and err in the way they discipline misbehavior. Instead of using firm, compassionate discipline, they move into what I call the ignore-nag-yell-punish cycle.
First, the parent pretends not to notice the child’s misbehavior, hoping that it will go away on its own. Of course, this seldom works, so the parent next tries to urge the child not to do such and such. Next, the parent starts yelling and scolding. When this doesn’t produce the desired result, the parent becomes extremely angry and imposes harsh punishments. I think of this fourth stage as the parent’s temper tantrum.
This four-part strategy (if you could call it that) isn’t just ineffective. It makes life needlessly unpleasant for every member of the family.
How can you avoid it? As with any other pitfall, simply being aware of it will help you steer clear of it. At the first sign of starting on the wrong path, you can stop what you’re doing and make a conscious decision to try something else. Take an honest look at how you respond when your children misbehave. What specific situations are likely to cause you to go down this path? How far down the path do you typically proceed? How often?
Let’s examine the ignore-nag-yell-punish strategy more closely to see why it doesn’t work — and come up with some strategies that do.
Why ignoring doesn’t work
By ignoring your child’s misbehavior, you send the message that you neither condone nor support his misbehavior. At least that’s the message you hope to send.
In fact, your child may read your silence as “I won’t give you my attention or concern” or even “I reject you.” That can wound a child. On the other hand, your child may assume that your silence means that you approve of his behavior or will at least tolerate it. “Mom hasn’t said I can’t do this,” he thinks, “so it must be OK.”
Even if your child correctly interprets the message that you’re trying to send by ignoring him, he has no idea what you want him to do instead. In other words, ignoring your child doesn’t define better behavior or provide guidance about how your child should behave next time.
Instead of ignoring him when he does something you disapprove of, I recommend another “i-word”: interrupting. That is, quickly move people or objects so that your child is unable to misbehave.
For example, if your children start quarreling over a toy, you might say, “Alex, sit over there. Maria, stand here. I’ll take this and put it up here.” Similarly, if your teen comes for supper with dirty hands, immediately take his plate off the table and silently point to his hands. If you feel the need to tell your child what you expect of him, tell him once, very clearly. Then stop talking.
This article comes from the February/March 2007 issue of ADDitude.