Your child is melting down in a defiant blaze of anger. Yelling and scolding will only escalate the situation. So try following these no-shout discipline strategies designed specifically for kids with ADHD.
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 a child with ADHD before you reach the boiling point.
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Positive Trumps Negative
Taking a positive, calm approach is more effective than handing out angry ultimatums, according to Kenny Handelman, Ph.D. “Kids with ADHD are so sensitive to anger, they may not hear what you are saying about their misbehavior," he said. "Or the child may begin arguing, and things will get out of control.”
Be sure to reward your child’s good behavior a lot, and maintain a continual focus on strengthening your bonds. That way, when you have to discipline them, they will be more receptive to your authority.
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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 misbehavior. You can’t effectively discipline your child until you know specifically how ADHD, a neurological condition, affects their words and actions. Deciding to put your child on medication may be difficult, but it can help them better regulate their behaviors, so you don’t have to discipline them as much.
You already know that spanking is a no-no, but it is even more harmful to a child with ADHD. Many children 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 their behavior next time. They learn nothing, except to be afraid of their parent.”
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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 your child’s behavior starts to go south, take them aside and say, “It’s time to be a magician and become invisible” — and quietly leave the party or room.
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Explain the Crime and Punishment
Many children 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.
Learn how your child with ADHD is hardwired, and adjust your discipline strategies to their 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? Are they seeking stimulation because they're bored, or are they misbehaving on purpose?
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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). To effectively approach child discipline, 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.
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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 treatment. Following through on discipline consequences is tough for a parent with untreated ADHD. What’s more, many adults with ADHD have quick tempers and bouts of impulsivity, which undermine discipline efforts. Make sure that your ADHD is being treated adequately.
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.