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Apr 29

ADD/ADHD Children: Effective Discipline Techniques


Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)/attention deficit disorder (ADD) are notoriously difficult to discipline. Because of the effects of the disorder, it’s hard to get some children to even listen to the reasons why they’re being punished. And consequences can be very hard to enforce with children who are easily distracted.

But these challenges don’t mean that you should give up — there are effective ways to discipline a child with ADD/ADHD. First, be aware of these common mistakes:

  • Not communicating to the child what he or she did wrong. “Punishment tells you what not to do, but it doesn’t tell you what to do,” says Sharon K. Weiss, a behavioral consultant and co-author of From Chaos to Calm: Effective Parenting of Challenging Children With ADHD and Other Behavioral Problems. If you just tell your child, “Don’t do that,” she won’t learn what she should do instead.
  • Flying off the handle. Do you have a habit of losing your temper and screaming, or worse? If theatrics are the only thing your child with ADHD responds to, it’s because you’ve taught him that it’s only when “Mount Mom” erupts that he really has to listen.
  • Failing to follow through. Do you threaten punishments and then never follow through on them? “I see parents who complain, ‘My kid never listens to me,'” says Adam Winsler, Ph.D., professor of developmental psychology at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. “But they have contributed to that situation. Children learn they don’t have to listen to their parents, because whatever their parents say they are going to do doesn’t happen.”

Further, parents of children with ADD/ADHD shouldn’t over-rely on drugs to solve problems. While medication is very helpful in getting children with ADHD to calm down and focus, it is not a magic pill — nor is it a one-size-fits-all treatment. New guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics suggest that preschoolers, in particular, should undergo behavioral therapy even before trying medication. Teens and school-age children may also benefit from a combination of ADHD drugs and therapy. “We know that nothing works better than medication but that people who also undergo behavioral therapy are happier campers,” says Ann Childress, MD, a child and adolescent psychiatrist and an ADHD researcher in Las Vegas. “The combination works better than either one alone.”

So how do you effectively discipline your ADD/ADHD child? Here are some pointers:

Get your child’s attention. Children with ADD/ADHD are very good at tuning out the world — and that includes you. You can’t correct bad behavior if the child doesn’t listen to what you have to say. So turn off the TV and take away the video games. Send other children out of the room. Get down to your child’s level and make eye contact. Then explain what he or she did wrong and dole out a punishment that matches the severity of the offense.

Institute a warning system. Children with ADD/ADHD are very routine-oriented. Establish a schedule for the day that includes times when homework will be done, rooms cleaned, and TV watched. If they have clear expectations for how the day will proceed, children with ADHD will better understand why they are being reprimanded if, for example, they are not getting ready for school by a certain time.

Treat discipline as a teaching tool. Before you speak to your child about a behavior you want stopped, says Weiss, “ask yourself, ‘What do I want him or her to do instead?'” If hitting is the problem, for example, explain that “in our family we keep our hands and feet to ourselves.” Then reward your child with ADD/ADHD for not striking a sibling during an argument.

The bottom line: Good discipline requires good communication. Connect with your child, set reasonable expectations, and reward good behavior, and soon you’ll spend less time yelling and more time praising your child’s accomplishments.

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