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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.

Practice Makes a Little Closer to Perfect

Another discipline strategy for kids with ADHD (or any child) is to teach them the skills they need to succeed before they have a problem.

For example, all kids need some sort of a schedule or guidance to help them keep up with chores, homework, and other expectations. Kids with ADHD, Pastyrnak says, can't be expected to "just get it" from verbal instructions. Instead, they often respond better to a visual schedule that they can follow.

Reward systems work well for kids with ADHD, but they, too, may need to be tweaked slightly. "For example, one expectation might be to play appropriately with his sister," says pediatrician Mark Bertin, MD, author of The Family ADHD Solution: A Scientific Approach to Maximizing Your Child's Attention and Minimizing Parental Stress

"It's probably not realistic to set that expectation for an entire day," Bertin says. "If they mess up in the morning, you've lost the whole day." 

Instead, break the day up into thirds and give points for good behavior in the morning, the afternoon, and the evening.

Adjust Expectations

You can't change everything at once in children with ADHD, Bertin says.

"Choose a few big things that you want to work on, and put other things aside for now. Don't wrestle as much with the stuff you're not working on yet."

That was something RaeLyn Murphy of Milwaukee learned through her son, Josh, who was diagnosed with ADHD when he was 4 years old. "You need to pick your battles -- but when you do pick one, stay with it and be consistent."

She developed a four-point strategy she called CARE, which echoes much of what ADHD experts say about disciplining such children:

1. Clear away distractions and things that cause inappropriate behaviors.

2. Allow your child to choose an appropriate activity.

3. Redirect into a more appropriate activity when things are not running smoothly. Offer them something they can do, rather than just telling them what they can't do. For instance, "You can't hit your sister, but you can whack these pillows."

4. Exit. When things are out of hand and you know you can't do anything but fight an uphill battle -- get out. Go to the park or to an indoor play center. Don't fight with your children.

It seemed to work with Josh, who's now a successful and happy young man. "I focus on positive parenting," says Murphy, who wrote a book, Gifted With ADD, about what she's learned. "If he knows you're on his side most of the time, when you pick the battle, he knows there's a problem."

Reviewed on March 28, 2012

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