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Parents Guide for Disciplining Kids with ADHD

Posted on September 9, 2018

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Receiving our son’s diagnosis of ADHD shed light as to why standard parenting advice wasn’t really working in our home. Understanding our son’s non-neurotypical condition enabled us to be more effective parents as we researched beneficial parenting techniques for children with ADHD.

For those parents who have been struggling to discipline their children with ADHD, I will go through the research we found which revolutionized our parenting practices and helped our son improve his behavior.

Discipline Starts with the Parents’ Personal Discipline

The behavioral foundation for any child starts in the home, and this concept goes double for a child dealing with ADHD. In a study found in the scholarly journal published by the Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America, researchers identified that dysfunctional parenting practices were often the key to changing common problem behaviors in children with ADHD, such as:

  • Struggles with homework which extended to forgetfulness, constant reminders needed, inattention, carelessness, and disorganized.
  • Lacking the independence to follow a daily routine on their own, noncompliance with chore duties, resisting bedtimes and morning routines.
  • Aggressive behavior and outburst aimed at siblings and parents.  

What the study particularly noted was that the parenting practices which did not work for children with ADHD were centered on the parents who handed out punitive, power assertive, and/or inconsistent discipline. To help parents move away from this form of discipline, the researcher recommends behavioral parenting training to help parents learn better ways to work with their children who have ADHD.

Lastly, an observation I found interesting was made by researchers who published their research in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. They discussed the link between a father’s lack of parenting consistency and its strong association with a child’s inattentive ADHD symptoms.

It was posited that as fathers generally have less of a caregiving role, they need to be even more conscious of their parenting practices. As inconsistency will not only trigger negative behaviors in the child but also add to the stress of the mothers, who are often the main caregivers, consistent discipline from both parents is vital to help a child with ADHD become more disciplined. As a father, this study made me re-evaluate how well I was supporting my wife as a co-parent and partner.

Reinforce Positive Behaviors and Ignore Negative Outburst

To begin altering less effective parenting behaviors today to improve the effectiveness of your discipline efforts, you will need to focus on reinforcing positive behaviors rather than reacting to negative behaviors. A study from the Behavioral and Brain Functions scholarly journal found results which indicated that children with ADHD respond even better to positive reinforcement due to their brain’s higher sensitivity to seeking rewarding stimuli.

This result can be confusing for parents, who ask why the child with ADHD is misbehaving if they really want rewarding stimuli. However, what us parents perceive as a reward is different to a child with ADHD.

For their highly active minds, any form of engagement is a rewarding stimulus. Say the child throw a fit over doing homework, and the parents engage in punishment with time-outs or privilege removal. The child with an ADHD has already had their reward as their brain has received the engagement it craved.

Instead, it is recommended that parents ignore these outbursts as long as no one is endangered. Once the child has calmed down, re-engage with the child. If they continually find no rewarding attention for their outburst but the parents focus on actively praising positive behaviors, children with ADHD will naturally begin to focus on expressing the desired behaviors. Many behavior modification programs focus on this form of discipline, as it has been highly effective in creating change.

One Effective Solution for When the Negative Behavior Cannot Be Ignored

While children with ADHD may be wired to seek high levels of stimulation and activity, it can become too much for them, and they will experience a meltdown in their ability to regulate themselves. To assist your child during this time, parents should provide a safe place for their children to regain their mental and emotional composure.

This time-out/quiet place should not be used to punish, or it will become ineffective. Instead, present it to your child as a time and place where your child can process their feelings. The area should be distraction-free to allow your child to focus on processing their overwhelmed feelings. Working with your child’s school district to develop an individual education plan (IEP) can also ensure that your child has a place like this when at school.  

Lastly, while researching how to discipline a child with ADHD, I saw that many studies noted that children with ADHD often had co-morbid conditions, such as Oppositional Defiant Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. As you work on implementing strategies, I would definitely recommend you investigate if your child had any additional issues which may help you understand how to provide appropriate discipline for their needs.  

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Author: Tyler Jacobson

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