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ADHD in Children Health Center

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Disciplining a Child With ADHD

What parents need to know about effective child discipline for children with ADHD.
WebMD Feature

If your child has ADHD, should you use different tactics to discipline him than you'd use with your other children? 

The answer might surprise you. 

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

Still, you might need to be a little more flexible in your expectations of a child with ADHD. 

"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 shouldn't necessarily use different approaches with a child who has ADHD. Instead, you should just know that a disciplinary lesson may take longer to sink in for a child who has ADHD.

"Where discipline also tends to differ is in the frequency and consistency needed for kids with ADHD," Pastyrnak says. "I sometimes tell parents that parenting a child with ADHD is like parenting a child times five."

Does Time-out Work?

Carla Counts Allan, PhD, director of psychological services at the ADHD Specialty Clinic at Children's Mercy Hospitals and Clinics in Kansas City, Mo., outlines a time-out strategy that she says works effectively with all kids, whether or not they have ADHD, when used consistently.

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 infraction. "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 just escalates things. "Instead, impose a consequence that means a lot, such as no video games for the rest of the day," Allan says. "Deliver that consequence calmly and don't talk about it further. Even if he says, ‘I'll listen, I'll go into time-out now,' don't give in then!"

Practice time-outs. Ask your child to pretend that he misbehaved, and that he is sent to time-out. "'If you go willingly when I tell you to, you earn a point on a behavior chart and earn privileges,'" she says. "Have them practice going to time-out without putting up a fight."


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