Pay Attention, Parents! ADHD Answers You’ve Waited For

child playing with toy car“If he would only listen!”

This phrase has been spoken by more parents of children with ADHD than any other. Although all children have behavior issues that exasperate their parents, children with ADHD face significant impediments which continually make it difficult for their parents to cope with their behavior.

Behavior issues in children with ADHD stem from inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. Some children with ADHD may act on impulse, failing to consider the consequences of their actions. Others may not pay attention to their environment, resulting in behavior that negatively affects them and those around them. Regardless of the behavior that is present, parents and educators can become frustrated with the inability of the child to effectively control behavior.

The problem in these cases is that the behavior keeps occurring despite continued efforts on the part of parents and educators to stop it. What is perhaps most interesting about this situation is that, in most instances, children with ADHD want to control their behavior. Children with ADHD often recognize when their behavior is causing problems, and many desire to please parents and educators. The situation can be detrimental to the development of the child as negative behavior results in a cycle of internal shame and guilt which only serves to fuel more negative behavior. As such, the negative behaviors exhibited by the child with ADHD not only have a detrimental impact on the parents and teachers, they negatively and significantly affect the child. So what can a parent do?

Although there is no magic pill that can make children with ADHD behave, there are several things that parents can do to foster improved behavior in their child. For example, parents can schedule unstructured time for their child every day. Structure is commonly used to keep children with ADHD on task and focused. While structure is important, too much structure can overload your child’s brain.

If your child is stressed as a result of too much structure, behavioral difficulties may increase. Providing a set time for your child to do whatever he or she wants is critical to helping your child unwind and remain focused for other structured tasks during the day. Unstructured time not only helps the child relax, it lets the child know that there are times during the day when he or she does not have to be constantly aware of behavior. This process can be incredibility cathartic for the child and can be helpful for reducing tension, anxiety, stress, and frustration.

Accentuate the positive. Children with ADHD are accustomed to hearing negative feedback about poor behavior. Unfortunately, parents and caregivers often fail to recognize positive behavior and do not provide feedback when it occurs. How would you feel if you went to work and never heard your boss say anything positive about your performance?

Children with ADHD often experience higher levels of negative feedback because of the behavioral challenges they face. Focusing on the positive can be an important change for reinforcing positive behavior and building your child’s self-esteem. When children with ADHD receive positive feedback about their behavior, this can change the focus for the child. Positive feedback provides another area of focus for the child that can be used for decision making in the future. Only by highlighting the positive and showing your child the right way to behave will it be possible to create the supportive and positive foundations needed for breaking the cycle of negative behavior.

Finally, when attempting to improve behavior in children with ADHD, clearly outline the consequences that will result if bad behavior occurs—and follow through. While many parents are good at establishing consequences for poor behavior, few are experts at following through. Remember, following through is difficult and it can be emotionally taxing. However, failing to enforce limits demonstrates to your child that there are no consequences for bad behavior. This alone can result in an increase in bad behavior, making it even more difficult for you control your child’s behavior.

Consistency, follow-through, recognizing positive behavior, and helping your child unwind can reduce your frustration as well as your child’s. Follow-through is particularly difficult because it often means the removal or suspension of activities that can be helpful for distracting the child and mitigating ADHD behaviors. Parents need to be aware of these challenges and recognize that consistency in punishment is essential for establishing the boundaries needed for effective discipline.

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© Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Michael Clatch, PsyD, Grief, Loss, and Bereavement 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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  • Mark Loewen, LPC

    August 27th, 2014 at 11:47 AM

    Great article! Focusing on the need for unstructured time is so important. Children with ADHD often feel that they are falling behind with everything. Having time for themselves, without instructions to follow makes a big difference.

  • Malcolm

    August 27th, 2014 at 1:48 PM

    Taking the time out to reinforce the positive behavior works great for my son. Not thet I want him to be people pleaser but he is 8 so making sure that he is doing what we want and express the bahavior that is appropriate we have found that the more that we acknowledge that behavior then the harder that he tries to do that time and again. Sometimes that works for him and well of course sometimes it doesn’t but we all keep on trying. The teachers try to help us out with this too because for him thsi kind of reinforcement also helps to keep him on task a little better at school too.

  • reeny

    August 27th, 2014 at 4:13 PM

    My kids don’t have any behavioral or attention issues; however we always let them have some time to decompress and take a little time for themselves before they get home to start on homework and the rest of the day.

    O know families who have their kids going from morning til night but honestly this would not work for me and I would never want this to have to work for the kids either.

    When we are pushed to the absolute limit I think that this is when most of us would truthfully say that we are at our worst, and we are adults. Think about how stressful this must be for our children. If I am allowed some me time during the day then shouldn’t they be too? And don’t you think that this would probably go a long way toward improving their school performance as a result?

  • Brady

    August 28th, 2014 at 3:45 AM

    The biggest issue that I see with many parents who have kids with ADHD is that they are the ones not paying too much attention to what their child’s needs really are. They are not looking for the things that will help them in any given situation. They are looking for a way to make the child behave in a way that is maybe a little more consistent with the behavioral patterns of other children that same age. That is not the way pretty much any child works, they all have their unique needs and things that they need to do to be a success. But that does not tend to stand out quite as much to ADHD parents and I think that thaey are constantly looking for a way that will help their child conform to some preconceived notion of how they should actually behave. This is a huge disservice to the child. I think that if you understand their own little uniqueness a little bit better and are more open to accepting that and working with it instead of always against it then the child may find greater opportunities for success.

  • kendra t

    August 28th, 2014 at 10:26 AM

    This can be a tricky situation for teachers as well as parents because you want the child to learn but you can’t have so many distractions form this one person in the classroom that he or she winds up being a distraction to the whole class.
    And how many accomodations does a traditional classroom teacher need to make to reach this one child? Again, maybe even at the risk of losing others along the way?

  • Collin

    August 29th, 2014 at 11:51 AM

    I know that I myself would want to have it fixed as soon as possible because I don’t want irreparable damage to come to my child because he is lagging behind in class. But you can’t do this in a way that will be hurtful to the child- you have to find something that he can go with and start out slow.

  • tobias

    August 30th, 2014 at 12:38 PM

    Gosh this will sound so judgemental and I really don’t mean for it to be but I think that a big part of the problem for most families is that the parents are either unwilling to listen or unwilling to take the time that is needed to implement real changes for their kids.

    It is not that they don’t love them and don’t want the best for them but they are tired and confused and I suppose that they are at a loss for what to do as well.

    I think that they have the notion that there is someone out there who can always do something better with the child than what they can when in all honesty I think that most of the real and lasting change is best starting at home.

  • Carson

    August 31st, 2014 at 7:30 AM

    Find something positive to say to your child every day and that can make a tremendous difference in how he feels about himself and his own self worth. ADHD kids feel so beat up on all of the time, and I know that most of the time it is because we are pushing them and trying so hard to help them complete a task that we don’t understand how this can actually tear them down and cause them to be less successful than what they could be. Let’s build them up. Tell them that tbey are good, that they are strong, that they are capable… do this enough and they will come to see and believe that this is true. They already berate themselves enough… they don’t need us to do any more of that to them too.

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