“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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