At times, all kids resist the rules and demands placed upon them. Children who have attention deficit disorder (ADHD) tend to resist even more than others. To rein in rebellious, impulsive ADHD behavior without creating a power struggle, parents must be infinitely patient and persistent — and creative in responding to rapidly changing discipline situations.
Here are six common discipline problems faced by parents of children with ADHD:
1. My child absolutely refuses to do as he is told.
Sometimes parents and kids get into a pattern in which daily tasks and responsibilities (doing homework, getting ready for bed, and so on) turn into battles. In most cases, the child eventually complies, but the conflict leaves everyone upset and emotionally burnt-out.
The best long-term solution for avoiding power struggles is to set up routines to help children get through daily tasks associated with schoolwork and family life. For example, parents must establish and enforce — calmly but firmly — regular study times for each child. It may take weeks until the child accepts these routines and follows them consistently.
2. My child doesn't care about "consequences."
Whether it's withholding television privileges, refusing to let your child attend a party, or something else, consequences work best when they are imposed as soon as possible following an infraction of the rules. If you delay the imposition of the consequences, you're blunting their emotional impact on your child.
Consequences should have realistic time limits: long enough to teach a lesson but short enough to give the child a chance to move on to more positive things. The severity of consequences should fit the crime. Overly harsh consequences will encourage your child to resent the rules and your authority — and generate more anger and rebelliousness.
3. I can't believe anything my child tells me.
All children lie sometimes. The lying may be mild ("No, I didn't take my sister's CD") or it could be a cover-up for chronic problems ("No, the teacher didn't give us any homework today"). Lying is especially worrisome when it involves issues of health and safety ("Empty beer cans in the basement? What empty beer cans?").
For children with ADHD, lying is often a coping mechanism, albeit a counterproductive one. A lie may be a way to cover up forgetfulness, to avoid criticism or punishment, or to avoid dealing with feelings of guilt and shame over repeated failures.
The first step in dealing with chronic dishonesty is to find the reasons that underlie it. If your child lies to avoid consequences for irresponsible behavior, for example, you must monitor those behaviors more closely and discipline any act of deception. If he lies in order to cover up failure and shame, encourage your child to be honest — and provide appropriate help so that your child can overcome whatever he's struggling with.
4. My child doesn't take me seriously.
There could be any number of reasons why a child fails to respect you or your rules. Are the rules clear? Important rules need to be put in writing. Does the child refuse to accept the rules because she considers them unfair? In that case, the child's objections, and the parent's reasons, warrant further discussion.
Ultimately, if you want your rules to be followed, you must enforce them consistently. That means not "forgetting" about them or occasionally suspending them because you feel guilty or because your child (or spouse) pressures you to do so. If you make empty threats, you're sacrificing your credibility and undermining your authority as a parent.
5. My child overreacts to just about everything.
Heightened emotionality is a characteristic of ADHD. For kids with the condition, failure doesn't just discourage — it devastates. Criticism doesn't just hurt — it cuts to the bone. While most children might protest a bit about being disciplined, kids with ADHD might react with intense indignation and anger. Disciplining an emotionally over-reactive child becomes risky when the child's reaction may trigger World War III.
Keep in mind that chronic overreaction to discipline — particularly when intense feelings of anger or frustration is involved — may not be the result of ADHD. Is the child overreacting because she feels criticized? Unloved? Inadequate? Helpless? Overwhelmed? Are your expectations unrealistically high? In some cases chronic anger may indicate childhood depression or bipolar disorder.
6. My child won't listen to me.
Is there a parent anywhere who has never had the experience of trying to have a serious conversation with a son or daughter — only to be met with indifference ("who are you and why are you bothering me with this stuff right now?")? If the conversation involves a matter of discipline, you can be certain that your message isn't getting through.
If your child tunes you out on a regular basis, do a self-check. Have you become too negative or critical toward your child? Do you focus too much on problems and not enough on solutions? Has conversation turned into a series of lectures, instead of a give-and-take? No matter what your child's age, it can be helpful to involve him in the process of establishing the household rules and setting consequences for breaking them. A child who feels included in the making of family rules will be more likely to respect them.