Admonishing Children with ADHD: Get the Results You Want

Mother talking to daughter about behaviorDo you have or care for a child with attention-deficit hyperactivity (ADHD)? If so, how often do you find yourself telling the child not to do something, to stop doing something, or to do something differently?

Most children are accustomed to being corrected or reprimanded by adults, which typically leads to desired behavioral changes over time. But for children with ADHD, repeated reprimands in of themselves are not always helpful in reducing the frequency of unwanted behaviors. In some cases, such children may even develop low self-esteem or negative self-perception as a result of admonishment or corrective critique. This is unfortunate because children with ADHD may not always have full control of their actions due to hyperactivity and impulsivity symptoms.

So what to do if you’re a parent or caretaker of a child with ADHD? The following suggestions may help shape more positive behaviors and decrease the likelihood of negative ramifications from discipline.

  • Prepare ahead of time with the child if they are going to enter a situation where misbehavior is likely. For instance, if your child has trouble going into the supermarket without grabbing things off the shelf and at times opens containers to eat the contents, reminding the child of the rules and expectations right before going into the store may prove helpful. (Depending on the age or particulars of the child, a visual reminder of the rules—either written out or in picture form—may help get your message across.)
  • When you catch the child in the act of doing something they shouldn’t be doing, see if the child appears aware of the rule-breaking behavior after the fact. If the child seems unaware, stop them verbally and/or with a physical signal (holding a hand up as a “stop” sign, for instance) and ask if they are aware that they did something they should not have. Get the child to verbalize what they did wrong. In the moment, or when you get home, explore further with the child what caused them to act on their impulses in the moment and what they can do to prevent the situation from occurring again.
  • Document the situation in order to refer back to it with the child. Recording events on a chart—where the event occurred, the specific action that took place, and the result—can be a helpful cue for children to better understand the sequences of events that caused negative or unwanted behaviors. Having children note what they should have done differently is especially helpful.
  • At least to some degree, pick your battles when it comes to reprimanding the child. If the child is constantly touching things they shouldn’t in public and you have to tell them every few minutes to stop it, it may make sense to not harp on smaller negative behaviors (moving toys off a shelf at home without asking, for instance). Whatever you do, be consistent in reprimanding the child for bigger rule infractions. If you focus on addressing the more significant behavioral issues, the less severe ones will likely get better as well, even as they distract less from the significant issues.

When thinking about how to most effectively discipline a child, keep in mind that even when ADHD isn’t a factor, children do not have the same level of impulse control or ability to think about the consequences of their actions that adults typically have. Try to put yourself in the child’s shoes. Would you want someone telling you every five minutes not to do this or that? How would that affect your behavior and your ability to internalize its consequences? And what effect might all the harping have on your self-esteem?

© Copyright 2016 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Carey Heller, PsyD, ADHD: Inattention, Impulsivity, and Hyperactivity Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Kristen

    March 25th, 2016 at 7:35 AM

    I try to make more of a point of praising when she does something right than admonish when she does something wrong.

  • chloe

    March 26th, 2016 at 5:32 AM

    It never gets any easier to discipline your children. I do think that there are those people who take it to the extreme and they do more harm than good. Disciplining them no matter whether they have adhd or not shouldn’t be about hurting them. It should be about showing them how you want things to be done and teaching them a lesson. It should in the end be about giving them some lessons valuable ones at that that they can carry with them in their lives and help them be better people as a result of it.

  • Jason

    March 28th, 2016 at 8:27 AM

    You know I have never wanted to be that parent who yells just so I am being heard. But you do feel like that when your kid has attention deficit you just think that if I talk a little louder maybe they will hear me. Not cool, not the right thing, I know, but there is always that temptation that this is what will finally allow you to break through to them.

  • Fran

    March 29th, 2016 at 10:51 AM

    None of us like being talked down to right? So just because you are the adult in the relationship doesn’t mean that you can talk to your children in way that beats them down. Our job as parents is to find a way to lift our kids up, and sure there could be more challenges with some kids, more than there are with others, but you know what? We are not given things that ultimately we can’t handle. There is a way out there, it may just take a little extra work to find it.

  • Walker

    March 30th, 2016 at 4:07 PM

    How about simply talking to them and have a conversation with them about the things that they think work for them and what doesn’t?

  • Troy

    April 2nd, 2016 at 12:05 PM

    Maybe I am wrong but I do not think that this only applies to children with ADHD. In so many cases I think that if you are constantly telling a child what they are doing wrong then they will never be able to believe that they can do anything right. I agree that maybe this could be a little stronger in the kids with ADHD but you know that it hurts everyone a little bit more every time when they only hear what a bad thing that they are doing and never anything good about themselves.

  • Carey Heller, Psy.D.

    April 11th, 2016 at 6:44 AM

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

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