Positive Parenting

If You Shout, You’ll Never Be Heard

Your child is melting down in a defiant blaze of anger. Yelling and scolding will only escalate the situation. So try following this no-shout discipline strategy designed specifically for kids with ADHD.

Positive parenting can help children like this one who fell down, get right back up again and keep trying.
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Stay Cool, Stay Focused

Does your child melt down, act up, or get defiant? It’s tough to keep discipline talking points in mind when a child turns up the volume or starts throwing toys. The more parents react to their child, the worse things usually get. Here, experts show you how to discipline your child with ADHD before you reach the boiling point.

A mom practices positive parenting by reading with her daughter with ADHD.
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Positive Trumps Negative

Taking a positive approach is more effective than handing out angry ultimatums, according to Kenny Handelman, Ph.D. This means rewarding your child’s good behavior a lot, but, more importantly, doing activities together that you both enjoy. This strengthens your bond, so when you have to discipline her, she’ll be more receptive to your authority.

A doctor can help parents determine what is bad behavior and what is ADHD symptoms.
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Symptoms First, Discipline Second

Getting your child assessed and treated for ADHD are critical first steps in managing your child’s misbehaviors. You can’t effectively discipline your child until you know specifically how ADHD, a neurological condition, affects his words and actions. Deciding to put your child on medication may be difficult, but it can help him better regulate his behaviors, so you don’t have to discipline him as much.

A boy with ADHD is having a tantrum. Positive parenting can help.
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Don’t Get Physical

You already know that spanking is a no-no, but it is even more harmful to a child with ADHD. Many kids with ADHD are hypersensitive, so the physical act of spanking can lead to emotional hurt. “Spanking sets a child up for failure,” says William Dodson, M.D. “A child can’t make use of that experience and conform his behavior next time. He learns nothing, except to be afraid of his parent.”

A father practices positive parenting, and hugs his son with ADHD.
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Plan Ahead for Meltdowns

Pick a time when you’re both feeling happy and calm, and plan escape strategies to avoid meltdowns at a birthday party or a family event. Become co-conspirators and make it a game. Say, “Let’s pretend to be magicians who can disappear.” Then, if a child’s behavior starts to go south, take him aside and say, “It’s time to be a magician and become invisible”— and quietly leave the party or room.

A boy with ADHD holds a toy police car.
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Think Like a Cop

Deal with the immediate incident or misbehavior calmly, not with anger, just like a cop who pulls you over for speeding. He doesn't yell at you or tell you how awful you are. He says, “Did you know you were speeding? License and registration.” Says Handelman: “Kids with ADHD are so sensitive to anger, they may not hear what you are saying about their misbehavior. Or the child may begin arguing, and things will get out of control.”

A dad calmly talks to his daughter with ADHD.
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Explain the Crime and Punishment

Many kids with ADHD don’t know what’s expected of them and what’s going to happen if they don’t follow the rules. Parents should be crystal clear about the expectations for behavior and the consequences for not meeting them. And then, be consistent about enforcing the rules.

A girl with ADHD sits on the floor.
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Play First, Punish Later

Lisa Aro, who has six kids with ADHD, has few discipline problems with any of them. She chalks it up to spending lots of positive time with the kids and doing creative projects together—making films and so on. If a child does misbehave, she has him stand with his nose to a blank wall. She stands a foot behind him and keeps him there. The child hates it because it’s so boring. Afterward, she talks with him about how to behave differently next time.

A boy with ADHD lays in a pile of Legos
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Know What Makes Your Child Tick

Learn how your child with ADHD is hardwired, and adjust your discipline strategies to his nervous system. Recognize and respect your child’s hypersensitivities and quirks. This helps you distinguish between willful non-compliance and discomfort on your child’s part. Is your child being defiant or feeling overwhelmed? Is he seeking stimulation because he’s bored, or is he misbehaving on purpose?

A boy with ADHD plays with a toy sword.
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Rule Out ODD

ADHD rarely travels alone. Up to 40% of boys and 25% of girls have Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). It is the second most common co-occurring condition in children with ADHD, says Dr. Dodson. In order to discipline your child effectively, it’s important to rule out ODD. Otherwise, when you talk about misbehaving you’ll hear “Oh, yeah! Make me!” more often than not. See a pediatric psychiatrist or family therapist if you suspect your child has ODD.

A dad with ADHD plays with his sons with ADHD in the grass.
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Are You Part of the Problem?

Attention deficit is highly heritable. If your child has it, chances are one or both of the parents do. Get yourself evaluated and seek treatmentt. Following through on discipline consequences is tough for a parent with untreated ADHD. What’s more, many ADHD adults have quick tempers and bouts of impulsivity, which undermine discipline efforts. Make sure that your ADHD is being treated adequately.

A mother uses positive parenting and smiles at her daughter with ADHD.
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Stick with the Game Plan

The biggest mistake that parents make is to give up on a new discipline approach too soon, says Handelman. “Kids fight hardest when parents start something new. When a new strategy becomes routine and a child realizes he can’t argue his way out of it, he will stop fighting you.” Two or three weeks aren't enough to establish new rules. It takes four to six weeks for a habit to stick.