Discipline Do’s: Creating Limits for ADHD Children

5 ways for parents of ADHD children to establish a reliable structure and solid limits.


Filed Under: ADHD and Discipline
How to give a child with ADHD reliable structure and solid limits.

Deal-making is for the used-car showroom.

Your child with attention deficit disorder (ADD ADHD) is loving, intelligent, cute, creative — and often wants his own way. He has the talk and charm to out-debate you, and will negotiate until the 59th minute of the 23rd hour. Like salesmen who won’t take no for an answer, he can wear you down until you give in to his wishes.

Sound familiar? Children with ADHD are more often slave to, than master of, their wishes and feelings. Those who are exceedingly impulsive and distracted seem to have a greater need for interaction and attention, even if getting it means battling with their parents. While all children require reliable structure and solid limits, ADHD kids need them more. Holding your ground is not mean or unreasonable. Here are some strategies for hanging tough.

Be clear.

Your child may be good at distracting you. You ask your son to clear the dinner table. He tries to avoid the chore by pointing out that his sister didn’t clean her room, and that you left a dirty dish in the TV room. And he has too much homework to do, after an afternoon spent with his new Wii.

Resist the bait and keep your reasonable goal of clearing the table. Re-state it in simple, direct words: “I’d like you to clear the table, please.” Telling your child why you want him to do it, or why he should want to help, is a waste of breath.

Be a deal-breaker.

When your child says she’ll clean her room in return for a later bedtime, walk away. Deal-making is for the used-car showroom. You are a good and loving parent, and your expectations are reasonable and in your child’s best interest. Allowing your child to nickel-and-dime your parenting will cheapen the power of your wise influence.

What should you do if your child raises the stakes or says something nasty? Be strong. Resist yelling or punishing, for those only demonstrate your lack of power. Stick to your original expectation and consequences. Your steadiness over time will persuade your child to fulfill your requests.

State your terms once.

When your child asks again whether he can watch the late movie after you’ve said no, do you have to answer that question another 15 times? Do you have to defend your position? Do you need to ask your child’s permission to parent?

No, no, and no. When children ask you to explain something 21 different ways, are they seeking understanding, or do they want to wear you down? Answer once or twice, and assume the message got through. “Because I said so” may be the best answer.

Create a bribe-free home.

Bribery is tempting. All parents have done it, especially in moments of fatigue and frustration. Buying our children’s time, however, is a slippery slope that leads to paying for every inch of cooperation.

What if your child is already accustomed to getting something in return? It’s time for a regime change. It’s never too late to stop overindulging your child. Once you stop, he will probably protest—loudly. But don’t be dismayed by the ruckus; a tantrum shows that change is indeed needed.

Follow through.

I work with loving parents every day who know what they need and want to do, but somehow they can’t back up their words with action. If you threaten to take away that trip to Chuck E. Cheese, do so. Giving in to an angelic grin and promise of better behavior tomorrow or rationalizing that life is tough enough and he needs some fun will teach him that he can count on getting his way. It may also teach him that he can’t count on you to deal with him.

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