Do 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?
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