Mothers and fathers of children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) often experience considerable stress in their parenting roles. Raising and loving a child with ADHD can tax even the most patient of parents, as it can be very frustrating when a child is easily distracted, forgetful, disorganized, impulsive, moody, attention seeking, or in constant motion. Symptoms of ADHD often lead to chronic problems at home, yet kids with ADHD typically do not respond well to traditional methods of discipline.
As behavior problems at home persist, parents may begin to question themselves, feeling inadequate and inept in their ability to discipline and maintain control at home. These insecurities can become even more pronounced when others give "well meaning" but off the mark advice, or make judgments about what you should be doing differently.
The parent-child relationship can also suffer when non-compliance and misbehavior become everyday occurrences at home. Raising a child with ADHD can bring up all sorts of complicated emotional feelings. Frustration, anger, guilt, helplessness, and worry are just a few.
Educating yourself about ADHD, and the unique ways it impacts your child, can make a huge difference in reducing stress at home. It will also guide you toward effective parenting strategies and interventions that will help your child better manage his or her behavior, reducing behavior problems and increasing overall success and joy! Below are three things you need to know to improve your child's behavior.
1. Children With ADHD Need to Have External Structures in Place
Children with ADHD need to have external structures in place to help better manage ADHD-related deficits. All kids benefit from a structured environment with regular routines, clear expectations, and consistent consequences. Many children are able to structure things around themselves and develop good habits on their own. Children with ADHD, however, struggle with the ability to self-regulate, plan, organize, and control responses and behaviors. Though they may know what they need to do, their inattention, impulsivity, or hyperactivity often prevents them from effectively carrying out the task.
Parents, caregivers, teachers and other involved adults can help a child with ADHD be more successful by providing extra "scaffolding" and supports. A first step in building the foundation of this scaffolding is to create an environment that has well-defined, clear rules and expectations for the child's behavior and specific, consistent consequences for compliance with these rules. It is also essential that the expectations you identify are achievable and realistic for your child, so that he or she experiences success.
2. Children With ADHD Need Immediate and Frequent Feedback About Behavior
It can be frustrating for parents when a child repeats the same negative behavior again and again. Kids with ADHD often do not learn from past experiences. Instead, they tend to live in the moment rather than being able to slow down and redirect their thoughts to consider future consequences. "Now" is in the forefront of their minds. In order to teach new skills, parents must respond to their child in the moment — in the "here and now."
Children with ADHD require immediate reinforcement of good behavior, and immediate feedback and consequences for misbehavior. Any delay in feedback decreases the effectiveness of rewards and punishments. It's important for parents to understand that kids with ADHD need more supervision and monitoring as compared to children without ADHD. Not only do they need immediate feedback around their behavior, they also need more frequent feedback in order to shape appropriate behavior.
3. Children With ADHD Need Powerful, Positive Reinforcement and Incentives
Children without ADHD tend to respond well to verbal praise and social reinforcement, and these forms of positive reinforcement are often enough to encourage compliant behavior for these kids. Children with ADHD, however, need even more powerful reinforcement and incentives in order to stay motivated and on track. These incentives often include material rewards, but that's not to say they don't need praise. Certainly, they do — and they need a lot of it!
Kids with ADHD benefit when you pay positive attention and point out to them when they are displaying compliant and pro-social behaviors. In addition, they often need more significant and stimulating incentives to develop and maintain positive behaviors.
Kids with ADHD tend to misbehave more frequently than children without ADHD. Because they struggle so much to control their behaviors, it isn't uncommon for these kids to become bombarded with negative consequences. Unfortunately, once this pattern starts, it can grow into a vicious cycle: misbehavior by child, leading to punishment by parent, leading to negative feelings in child, leading to more misbehavior, leading to more punishment.
It's important for parents to use incentives and rewards before punishment — positives before negatives — because these positives teach the child the behaviors you want to see. Be sure to reinforce progress toward goals, rewarding your child as he or she makes positive steps, including approximations that are done well.
Russell A. Barkley, Ph.D., Taking Charge of ADHD: The Complete, Authoritative Guide for Parents; Guilford Press, 2005.