When it comes to discipline, kids with ADHD do need the security of limits even if they don’t seem to pay much attention to the ones you’ve set. Over and above those things he really can’t help, your child needs to be held responsible for bad behavior you know he can control – but you need to approach discipline carefully.
Keep the focus on helping your ADHD child be good rather than punishing him for being bad, and establish a brief set of house rules – with consequences – that you stick to. Bear in mind that you can’t simply give your ADHD child an instruction and then go to do something else while he does what he’s told – he very likely won’t. You need to structure the situation, sustain your child’s motivation and reward his positive behavior.
Don’t just tell your child it’s bedtime. Say that bedtime is at 8pm, that you’ll be telling her it’s time to get ready for bed at 7:30 and that this will be her signal to put on her pjs and brush her teeth. Then she needs to report to you and the rest of the time up until 8pm is story or chat time. This structure gives your child a clear idea of what she’s supposed to be doing once you’ve given her notice, at 7:30. This structure and the hope of a reward – the story or chat – helps your child stay focused and motivated until she’s ready for bed. Provide encouraging and reinforcing comments as needed after your first announcement about bedtime: ‘Wow, you’re really moving along there!’. These verbal rewards help sustain your child’s motivation.
Follow these tips:
- Keep it positive Instead of making your house rules a list of don’ts, make them a list of dos – for example, instead of phrasing it like this: ‘Jake must not interrupt if Mom and Dad are talking’ do it like this: ‘Jake can wait a minute’ and then say “Excuse me” if he needs Mom or Dad when they’re talking; instead of ‘Jake must not shout’, say, ‘Jake can ask nicely if he wants something’.
- Score good behavior It’ll give him the incentive he needs to co-operate if he gets an immediate reward in the form of points. Draw up a reward chart with pictures of what he’ll get when he has enough points and keep it doable – for example, 10 points could win him a new comic book. This works better than promising an unspecified reward at the end of the week if he tidies up his toys every evening – that objective is too far off and he’s likely to forget what he’s working towards and how well he’s doing.
- Use visual reminders Children with ADHD are easily distracted from the task at hand, whether it’s getting ready for school or concentrating on homework. A kitchen timer is a useful little tool for keeping their minds on the job: you can say they have until the bell rings to get dressed, complete a page of homework and so on.
- Take one step at a time Don’t reel off a list of instructions to your ADHD child – they can’t manage multi-tasking and he’ll find it difficult to absorb anything after the first request. Tell him what you’d like him to do one thing at a time. The same goes for doing: turn off the TV if he’s studying; play with one toy at a time; tidy up after one game or activity before moving onto the next.
- Show, don’t tell When it comes to new tasks or activities, he’ll find it easier to pick things up if you demonstrate how to do them one action at a time, with any spoken instruction kept very brief and clear. You may need to repeat yourself, but use a clear slow tone and try not to get impatient if he’s having difficulty following you.
- Keep playdates painless Children with ADHD are particularly excitable, so having a whole platoon of friends over is a recipe for a discipline disaster. Restrict it to just one or two other children and invite them to your home, where you’ll be better able to supervise your child. Make sure the other children’s parents know that you have a few simple rules for your child and that his friends will need to follow them too.
- Set aside a sanctuary Try to set aside one corner of a room in your house as his calm down spot. Keep it low-key, without bright paint colors or busy wallpaper: perhaps a table and chair facing a blank wall. If he’s overstimulated and unable to calm down enough to behave, take him to sit there for a few minutes to help him focus.
Coach Benjamin Mizrahi. Educator. Learning Specialist. Family Coach. Father. Husband.
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