Behavior & Discipline

“Because I Said So!” (Is That Really the Best You Can Do?)

There are good ways to discipline a child with ADHD. Nagging, yelling, and punishing are not among them. Learn how to break the ignore-nag-punish-yell cycle here.

A father and son fish together, a good way to bond and establish relationships for effective child discipline.
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Break the Nag Cycle

Parenting children with ADHD can challenge a mom or dad's patience — and good judgment. Just like all kids sometimes make bad choices regarding their own behavior, parents can make bad decisions disciplining this misbehavior. Instead of using firm and compassionate approaches, parents of kids with ADHD are often driven into the ignore-nag-yell-punish cycle. Sound familiar? Try these child discipline strategies to break that cycle once and for all.

A girl with ADHD pinches her friend in a play fort.
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Do: Get Involved, Quickly

Quickly move people or objects to prevent bad behavior. 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 child comes in from outside for supper and refuses to wash his hands before eating, immediately take his plate off the table and silently point to his hands.

A child with ADHD looks sadly out the window after being disciplined by his parents.
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Don't: Ignore Your Child's Misbehavior

You should respond to your child's behavior, when it's good and bad. Otherwise, your child may read your silence as "I won’t give you my attention or concern" or even "I reject you." She might also assume that your silence means you approve of what she is doing — even when you don't.

A mother disciplines her child with ADHD.
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Do: Be Brief

Keep your words to a minimum when disciplining. Some of the best parenting advice that can be given is summed up in the following statement: The fewer words you use to discipline your child with ADHD, the more effective (and heard) they will be. Tell your child once, very clearly, what you expect of him. Then stop talking.

A father disciplines his child with ADHD, and then gives her a hug.
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Don't: Be a Chatterbox

It's important that you don't go on-and-on about what your child is doing wrong. Words are like tires: Each time they rotate against the pavement, they lose tread, and become less efficient at starting, stopping, and steering. Eventually, they will have no "traction" at all — as tires will eventually become bald.

A parent of a child with ADHD has a glass of water to calm down and avoid disciplining too harshly.
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Do: Keep Calm

Don't let your own anger get the best of you. Tell yourself that you won't open your mouth until you're calm enough to speak at normal volume and in a cordial tone. To calm down, spend a few minutes alone — something as simple as excusing yourself to get a glass of water may do the trick.

Two children with ADHD yell at each other, and need discipline.
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Don't: Shout

Try not to bark orders like a drill sergeant. Yelling shows a child that you, the almighty parent, has lost control. Shouting also opens up the door to your child to return the favor and to yell back.

A child with ADHD does dishes as discipline for misbehaving.
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Do: Punish Fairly

Use appropriate punishment when responding to a misbehavior. The consequence for spilling milk might be that your child cleans up the mess, and then pours another glass and sets it in a safer place on the table. No reason to blame or yell at him, or even withhold food.

A mom and dad yell at a child with ADHD, and the child tunes them out.
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Don't: Overdo It

It's important that you don't go overboard with punishment. In most cases, harsh punishments, like spanking, encourage children with ADHD to become sneaky so as not to get caught next time. They may even cause your child to doubt your love for him — something you want to avoid at all costs.

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