Dear ADDitude

Dear ADDitude: Helping an Immature Child Follow the Rules

“My daughter is immature for her age and doesn’t seem to fully understand what it means to be a responsible student and follow classroom rules in school. How can we put these important lessons into terms she’ll grasp?”

ADDitude Answers

Kids with ADHD often lag behind their peers in maturity, as much as 30 percent. The teacher might need to adjust expectations accordingly. Or you might need to request an IEP or 504 plan to establish accommodations.

At home, try to shift focus from what she’s doing wrong to what she’s doing right. Set up rewards for 1-2 goals at a time — reward her for doing great at that change in behavior, ignore when she’s not.

Ask teachers to send you weekly feedback, and to include how she did with the goal you’re targeting. Include that in your tally for earning rewards. Rewards shouldn’t take longer than 4-7 days to earn or they won’t be effective — a shorter period is even better, daily is ideal: Behavior Therapy for Children with ADHD

Posted by Penny Williams
community moderator, author on ADHD parenting, mom to teen boy with ADHD, LDs, and autism

A Reader Answers

I’ve been in the same situation for years. My son is now 13 years old and is still disruptive in class, but it has gotten much better. I take him to see a therapist once a week. It is a blessing because when I speak to him about how important it is to pay attention in class and not be disruptive he thinks I’m just nagging. When he hears it from the therapist, he listens! The therapist has him sign behavior contracts and they work towards rewards if I don’t get any calls from his teacher that week.

Don’t stress yourself too much. Just try your best. Get her a tutor if she falls behind.

Posted by stressedmom

A Reader Answers

In first grade, we enrolled our son in karate classes, where he’d have to follow rules, and he started Cub Scout camp in the summer (again rules). He took chess lessons (rules), and music lessons, in which he excelled and loved. His music teacher, my best friend, refused to teach him unless he paid attention and did what she asked.

I gave him fish oil supplements to help his focus. I also added a “Remember Book,” for common offenses. He would write in the book, “I do not interrupt in class,” one hundred times or more if it was a repeat offense. He also wrote an apology letter to the other children he upset in class.

There is structure at home. We work on a schedule. My son has to clean up the table after meals and pick up his clothes and toys and put them away before he goes to sleep each night. If he spills something or gets something dirty, he has to clean it up. I do not allow him to be sloppy in his homework either. He has to redo any messy homework. If he gets a test question wrong, he also has to redo it, sometimes many times if it’s an easy question.

My advice: It’s important to give your child as much structure as possible. Put him in with groups of children where he’ll have to pay attention and follow rules. There were times I though he’d be thrown out of karate, but luckily, he wasn’t. Give consequences and rewards immediately to discourage or reinforce behavior.

Give your daughter as much responsibility as she can handle.

Posted by Takeoutchick

A Reader Answers

Stories, analogies, and examples help my son.

For example, today I explained about delaying gratification because I think improving this would help with his impulse control. I explained by telling him a cute story I made up about children and squirrels that love marshmallows. If they eat the single marshmallow given to them right away, they will not get more. But if they wait, they will be rewarded with more than one marshmallow. The longer they each wait, the more marshmallows they will earn. Luckily, my son loved that story and would like to go to that delayed gratification school where those children and squirrels go so that he would get a chance to earn marshmallows.

To teach him to respect other students’ boundaries in class, I use the analogy of the double yellow line on the road. I explained to him that the drivers of the other cars must follow the rules and stay on their side of the road. If they cross over, they can cause an accident and people can be hurt including themselves. I explained that each of us have invisible double lines/boundaries that we don’t want others to cross and we must respect each other’s rules. Being a little boy who loves cars, I saw a light bulb light up when I used this example. Now, he uses this analogy himself whenever he sees someone expressing their boundaries.

I will continue with this approach and do my best to guide him.

Posted by FindingUs

A Reader Answers

What we’ve repeatedly experienced is that a different set of rules apply for a child with ADHD. Our expectations have had to change because our child’s ability to meet them is not the same as you would expect for a child without ADHD. I wished I’d understood that when my son was younger because it would have saved us all a lot of hardship and tears.

Kids with ADHD have up to a three-year lag in maturity. You’ll have to understand that you may be dealing with a child who is much younger than her chronological age.

We’ve learned to discipline differently because the usual methods just create more drama. Rules are important in life, but we have to realize that their struggle to control impulses, regulate emotions, and pay attention, mean they need more time to be able to master what we expect. You can’t hold someone accountable for what they are physically incapable of doing. It’s the same thing for a child with ADHD. Medication helps, but it will not change the fact that they have ADHD.

You can’t teach a child with ADHD not to get frustrated because life is so frustrating for them naturally. Living in a world where you cannot feel successful through no fault of your own is painful and for a child whose eager to please it can be emotionally damaging. Lower your expectations and try to help make school fun or she may grow to hate it.

Posted by Havebeenthere

A Reader Answers

Here’s what we did for our daughter:

1. Made sure she took her medication after breakfast (except on weekends).

2. Involved her in lots of physical activities she liked, such as dance, gymnastics, and soccer.

3. Enrolled her in a social skills class.

4. Continuously reminded her to behave ‘maturely.’

You need to work closely with your doctor to find a plan that will work with your child.

Posted by ACW