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ADHD in Children Health Center

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Disciplining a Child With ADHD

WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD

If your child has ADHD, should you discipline him in a different way than with your other children?

The answer might surprise you.

"ADHD is a challenge, not necessarily an excuse for kids," says Steven L. Pastyrnak, PhD, of the Helen DeVos Children's Hospital in Michigan.

Still, you might need to be a little more flexible in your expectations.

"We need to be more aware of how the ADHD impacts their ability to listen, follow through on tasks, and control their impulses," Pastyrnak says. "However, having ADHD does not take away the expectation that they will improve in these areas."

So you don't have to discipline him differently. But you may need to do it more often and be more consistent, Pastyrnak says. A lesson may take longer to sink in. "I sometimes tell parents that parenting a child with ADHD is like parenting a child times five."

How to Use Time-out

Carla Counts Allan, PhD, of the ADHD Specialty Clinic at Children's Mercy Hospitals and Clinics in Kansas City, MO, suggests these tips for time out, whether or not the child has ADHD.

Contrast time-out with time-in. That means that if you put your child in time-out for hitting his sister, you should have been praising him earlier for playing well with his sister -- and should praise him after time-out for having a good attitude. "If there isn't a big difference between time-out and time-in, kids don't understand the consequences," Allan says.

Keep time-outs brief and consistent with the issue. "Long time-outs can start a battle of wills," she says. "For younger children, 1-2 minutes is plenty. A minute per year of age is more an upper limit for time-out, but for preschoolers, sometimes a 30-second or 1-minute time-out is plenty if they show me quiet feet, quiet hands, and quiet mouth."

Stay calm. If you tell your child to go to time-out and he ignores you, add 1 minute to his time-out. If he doesn't go again, add another minute. If he ignores you a third time, don't pick him up and drag him to time-out -- that can make things worse, and the attention, even negative attention, may unintentionally reinforce the behavior.

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