Raising a child with ADHD isn’t like traditional childrearing. Normal rule-making and household routines can become almost impossible, depending on the type and severity of your child’s symptoms, so you’ll need to adopt different approaches. It can become frustrating to cope with some of the behaviors which result from your child’s ADHD, but there are ways to make life easier.
Parents must accept the fact that children with ADHD have functionally different brains from those of other children. While children with ADHD can still learn what is acceptable and what isn’t, their disorder does make them more prone to impulsive behavior.
Fostering the development of a child with ADHD means that you will have to modify your behavior and learn to manage the behavior of your child. Medication may be the first step in your child’s treatment. Behavioral techniques for managing a child’s ADHD symptoms must always be in place. By following these guidelines, you can limit destructive behavior and help your child overcome self-doubt.
There are two basic principles of behavior management therapy. The first is encouraging and rewarding good behavior (positive reinforcement). The second is removing rewards by following bad behavior with appropriate consequences, leading to the extinguishing of bad behavior (punishment, in behaviorist terms). You teach your child to understand that actions have consequences by establishing rules and clear outcomes for following or disobeying these rules. These principles must be followed in every area of a child’s life. That means at home, in the classroom, and in the social arena.
Decide ahead of time which behaviors are acceptable and which are not
The goal of behavioral modification is to help your child consider the consequences of an action and control the impulse to act on it. This requires empathy, patience, affection, energy, and strength on the part of the parent. Parents must first decide which behaviors they will and won’t tolerate. It’s crucial to stick to these guidelines. Punishing a behavior one day and allowing it the next is harmful to a child’s improvement. Some behaviors should always be unacceptable, like physical outbursts, refusal to get up in the morning, or unwillingness to turn off the television when told to do so.
Your child may have a hard time internalizing and enacting your guidelines. Rules should be simple and clear, and children should be rewarded for following them. This can be accomplished using a points system. For example, allow your child to accrue points for good behavior that can be redeemed for spending money, time in front of the TV, or a new video game. If you have a list of house rules, write them down and put them where they’re easy to see. Repetition and positive reinforcement can help your child better understand your rules.
Define the rules, but allow some flexibility
It’s important to consistently reward good behaviors and discourage destructive ones, but you shouldn’t be too strict with your child. Remember that children with ADHD may not adapt to change as well as others. You must learn to allow your child to make mistakes as they learn. Odd behaviors that aren’t detrimental to your child or anyone else should be accepted as part of your child’s individual personality. It’s ultimately harmful to discourage a child’s quirky behaviors just because you think they are unusual.
Aggressive outbursts from children with ADHD can be a common problem. “Time-out” is an effective way to calm both you and your overactive child. If your child acts out in public, they should be immediately removed in a calm and decisive manner. “Time-out” should be explained to the child as a period to cool off and think about the negative behavior they have exhibited. Try to ignore mildly disruptive behaviors as a way for your child to release his or her pent-up energy. However, destructive, abusive, or intentionally disruptive behavior which goes against the rules you establish should always be punished.
What to do
Make a routine for your child and stick to it every day. Establish rituals around meals, homework, playtime, and bedtime. Simple daily tasks, such as having your child lay out his or her clothes for the next day, can provide essential structure.
Break tasks into manageable pieces
Try using a large wall calendar to help remind a child of their duties. Color coding chores and homework can keep your child from becoming overwhelmed with everyday tasks and school assignments. Even morning routines should be broken down into discrete tasks.
Simplify and organize your child’s life
Create a special, quiet space for your child to read, do homework, and take a break from the chaos of everyday life. Keep your home neat and organized so that your child knows where everything goes. This helps reduce unnecessary distractions.
Children with ADHD welcome easily accessible distractions. Television, video games, and the computer encourage impulsive behavior and should be regulated. By decreasing time with electronics and increasing time doing engaging activities outside the home, your child will have an outlet for built-up energy.
Physical activity burns excess energy in healthy ways. It also helps a child focus their attention on specific movements. This may decrease impulsivity. Exercise may also help to improve concentration, decrease the risk for depression and anxiety, and stimulate the brain in healthy ways. Many professional athletes have ADHD. Experts believe that athletics can help a child with ADHD find a constructive way to focus their passion, attention, and energy.
Regulate sleep patterns
Bedtime may be an especially difficult for children suffering from ADHD. Lack of sleep exacerbates inattention, hyperactivity, and recklessness. Helping your child get better sleep is important. To help them get better rest, eliminate stimulants like sugar and caffeine, and decrease television time. Establish a healthy, calming bedtime ritual.
Encourage out-loud thinking
Children with ADHD can lack self-control. This causes them to speak and act before thinking. Ask your child to verbalize their thoughts and reasoning when the urge to act out arises. It’s important to understand your child’s thought process in order to help him or her curb impulsive behaviors.
Promote wait time
Another way to control the impulse to speak before thinking is to teach your child how to pause a moment before talking or replying. Encourage more thoughtful responses by helping your child with homework assignments and asking interactive questions about a favorite television show or book.
Believe in your child
Your child likely doesn’t realize the stress that their condition can cause. It’s important to remain positive and encouraging. Praise your child’s good behavior so they know when something was done right. Your child may struggle with ADHD now, but it won’t last forever. Have confidence in your child and be positive about their future.
Find individualized counseling
You can’t do it all. Your child needs your encouragement, but they also need professional help. Find a therapist to work with your child and provide another outlet for them. Don’t be afraid to seek assistance if you need it. Many parents are so focused on their children that they neglect their own mental needs. A therapist can help manage your stress and anxiety as well as your child’s. Local support groups may also be a helpful outlet for parents.
You can’t be supportive 100 percent of the time. It’s normal to become overwhelmed or frustrated with yourself or your child. Just as your child will need to take breaks while studying, you’ll need your own breaks as well. Scheduling alone time is important for any parent. Consider hiring a babysitter. Good break options include:
- going for a walk
- going to the gym
- taking a relaxing bath
You can’t help an impulsive child if you yourself are aggravated. Children mimic the behaviors they see around them, so if you remain composed and controlled during an outburst, it will help your child to do the same. Take time to breathe, relax, and collect your thoughts before attempting to pacify your child. The calmer you are, the calmer your child will become.
What not to do
Don’t sweat the small stuff
Be willing to make some compromises with your child. If your child has accomplished two of the three chores you assigned, consider being flexible with the third, uncompleted task. It’s a learning process and even small steps count.
Don’t get overwhelmed and lash out
Remember that your child’s behavior is caused by a disorder. ADHD may not be visible on the outside, but it’s a disability and should be treated as such. When you begin to feel angry or frustrated, remember that your child can’t “snap out of it” or “just be normal.”
Don’t be negative
It sounds simplistic, but take things one day at a time and remember to keep it all in perspective. What is stressful or embarrassing today will fade away tomorrow.
Don’t let your child or the disorder take control
Remember that you are the parent and, ultimately, you establish the rules for acceptable behavior in your home. Be patient and nurturing, but don’t allow yourself to be bullied or intimidated by your child’s behaviors.