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Child Discipline and ADHD


Updated September 27, 2012

Child Discipline and ADHD

Parenting a child with ADHD can sometimes feel like a whirlwind.

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Question: Child Discipline and ADHD
"My 7-year-old throws a fit every time I ask him to pick up his room. Getting him to try new foods is like literally pulling teeth. He backtalks and tells us we are being mean to him. When he gets in trouble, he doesn't know why and gets really upset. I have to sit him down and explain it to him, but he still argues about it until his face is blue. He has an older brother, and I sometimes feel like he gets the raw end of the deal. Homework has been horrible for my 7-year-old. He is going through a medication change. I feel like I'm walking on eggshells around him all the time! How can I help him with his behaviors?"

Perhaps you’ll see some positive changes with the medication. I know it is frustrating to be uncertain about how your son will react depending on his mood. Walking on eggshells can get pretty stressful after a while! Below are a few parenting tips that may help:

Identify a Target Behavior to Improve

It sounds like there are lots of behavioral issues going on right now. Sometimes as parents we need to pick our “battles” around negative behaviors. Battles probably isn’t the right choice of words — it may be better to say that we must decide what issues we are going to address and which ones we are going to let slide. For example, following directions the first time asked is a good goal. You mentioned that his room may sometimes be messy, so a specific issue you may want to work on your son with first is, “I will keep clothes and toys off my bedroom floor.” This goal is specific and simple. It may be a good first step.

Set Up a Reward System

Sit down with your son and set up a reward system. Let him help chose the reward he will earn for completing the cleanup task. It doesn't have to be anything extravagant or complex. A simple sticker chart that hangs on his bedroom door, a jar for collecting a small token for each time he cleans (after a number of tokens are collected they can be turned in for a small prize), earning extra computer time, etc. — anything that is motivating and fun.

Provide Guidance to Improve Successes

Sometimes bedrooms can get pretty messy, and it can feel like an overwhelming task just to know where to start. You can help your son by keeping the task simple (keep clothes and toys off floor) and guiding him initially. Set up times twice a day, in the morning and in the early evening, when he is expected to take a look at the floor of his room and pick up any clothes or other items off the floor.

Make sure he has designated spots for the items: a bucket for any toys, room in his drawers for the clothing. Make cleanup a fun time. If he is open to this, you can come up with a fun cleanup song. I know this sounds corny, but even at age 7, my kids loved to sing, “Clean up, clean up. Everybody, everywhere. Clean up, clean up. Everybody do your share!” Give him lots of loving praise and attention as he begins to pick items up.

Ignore Some Behaviors

In regard to his trying new foods, this is an issue that you may simply let slide. I know there are varying opinions about this. No, I definitely don’t think you should go out of your way to make separate meals for him when you have worked hard to prepare a meal with new foods for the whole family. What I mean is this is an area where a power struggle is just not helpful. Simply say to your son, “This food is what the family is having for dinner. If you don’t want to eat any, you may have a banana instead.” Also, if you have planned a dessert, let him know that only those who eat their meal will have dessert. Then he can make the choice. Don’t engage in any other discussion around it after you have stated the rules clearly.

Handling Button Pushing Behaviors

As parents, it can really hurt when our children backtalk or tell us we are mean or they don’t care. Be aware of how these reactions make you feel. Be careful not to allow your child to push your buttons. If you feel yourself getting angry or feeling guilty, take a deep breath, count to 10 and remain in control. If you need to leave the room in order to keep your composure, then do so.

Dealing with Tantrums

If your child starts to scream and yell at you in a tantrum, leave the room. Don’t give him this negative attention. Tell him you will talk with him when he can use a normal voice tone. When he is in a huff and his emotions are running high, this is not the time to try to reason with him. Many parents find that using time-out is helpful when this occurs. Use time-out as a safe place where he can settle down. When he is settled, then talk about the issue. If he begins to argue, state the rules concisely and move on. Do not let him pull you in to a power struggle.

Helping Siblings

It is good that you are sensitive to the feelings of your older son, who seems to get "the raw end of the deal,” because he is compliant and easy going. When one family member is struggling with ADHD, it can certainly affect the entire family. Your awareness of this is very helpful. Talk with your older son and let him know you appreciate his hard work. Make an effort to set aside quality time to spend with him. Often it is the one who is acting out who receives the most attention. Simply knowing this can help you and your husband come up with a plan, where your older son is getting his needs met as well.

Here is an article that may be helpful with homework time:
Homework Help

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