Be a Better Parent, Part 2
5. Never punish a child for behavior that he is unable to control.
Imagine telling your 10-year-old to make his bed. Now imagine finding him, minutes later, lying on his unmade bed playing cards. What should you do? Give him a sharp word and put him in time-out?
According to Dr. Severe, that's probably not the best approach. In many cases, he says, a child with ADHD fails to comply not because he is defiant, but simply because he becomes distracted from the task at hand (in this case, making the bed). Distractibility is a common symptom of ADHD — something that he may be unable to control. And when you repeatedly punish a child for behavior he can't control, you set him up to fail. Eventually, his desire to please you evaporates. He thinks, "Why bother?" The parent-child relationship suffers as a result.
The best approach in situations like this might be simply to remind your child to do what you want him to do. Punishment makes sense if it's abundantly clear that your child is being defiant — for example, if he refuses to make the bed. But give him the benefit of the doubt.
6. Stop blaming other people for your child's difficulties.
Are you the kind of parent who finds fault with everyone except your child? Do you say things like "That driver has no control over the kids on the bus," or "If only the teacher were better at behavior management, my daughter wouldn't have so much trouble in school?"
Other people can contribute to your child's problems. But trying to pin the blame exclusively on others encourages your child to take the easy way out. Why should she take personal responsibility for her actions if she can blame someone else (or if she repeatedly hears you blame someone else)?
7. Be careful to separate the deed from the doer.
"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me"? Don't believe it. Kids who repeatedly hear bad things about themselves eventually come to believe these things.
No matter how frustrating your child's behavior, never call him "lazy," "hyper," "spacey," or anything else that might be hurtful. And stop yourself if you start to say something like "You're such a slob — why can't you keep your room clean?" or "What's wrong with you? If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times... ."
Carol Brady, Ph.D., a child psychologist in Houston, explains it this way: "Parents must make ADHD the enemy — not the child. When you personalize a child's ADHD-associated problems, her self-esteem plummets. But when you team up with your child to problem-solve various negative behaviors, you create a climate where your child feels loved and supported despite her shortcomings."
Next time your child's room is a disaster, tell her, "We have a problem, and I need your help to solve it." Tell her it's hard for you to tuck her in at night because you're afraid you might trip over the toys on her bedroom floor - or that leaving food in her room attracts bugs. Ask for her input. The more involved your child is in the solution, the better the outcome.
8. Don't be too quick to say "no."
All children need to be told "no" at certain times—to keep them from doing something dangerous or inappropriate. But many parents say "no" reflexively, without considering whether it might be OK to say "yes." And a child who hears "no" too many times is apt to rebel — especially if he is impulsive to begin with.
Why are parents so quick to say "no"? Often, it's out of fear ("No, you cannot walk to school by yourself."), worry ("No, you can't sleep over at Jake's house until I meet his parents."), a desire to control ("No, you can't have a snack before supper."), or a competing need ("Not tonight, kiddo, I'm too tired."). Smart parents know when to say "no," and when it makes more sense to take a deep breath and answer in the affirmative.
In many cases, a small change in the way you use the words "yes" and "no" with your child can mean the difference between a pleasant interaction and a nasty confrontation.
Let's say your child wants to go outside to play but you want him to sit down and do his homework. "Instead of automatically saying no," suggests Dr. DuPaul, "ask him to help you brainstorm a workable solution." That way, he feels that he has at least some measure of control over the situation and that you are trying to accommodate his wishes. He will feel less frustrated and be more cooperative.
9. Pay more attention to your child's positive behavior.
In their quest to quash behavior problems, many parents overlook all the positive ways in which their child behaves. The resulting negativity can cast a pall over the household that affects every aspect of life.
"Retrain yourself to look at the positives," says Dr. Severe. "Catch your child being good or doing something well, and praise her. When you point out and praise desirable behaviors, you teach her what you want — not what you don't want."
Bear in mind that some of the problem behaviors you ascribe to ADHD may be common to all children of that age. It's helpful to read up on the stages of childhood development - especially if your ADHD child happens to be your first-born.
Make happiness and laughter the cornerstones of family life. Spend fun time with your children. Go with them on bike rides. Play with them at the park. Visit museums together. Take them to the movies. Sure, life with ADHD can be challenging. But the rewards are great for parents who really connect with their children.