Your ADHD Child: Easy Parenting Techniques

Excerpted from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder a publication of National Institute for Mental Health (2006) NIH Publication No. 3572]

Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder – ADHD/ADD may be difficult to parent. They may have trouble understanding directions. Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder – ADHD/ADD are usually in a constant state of activity.

This can be a challenge to adults. You may need to change your home life a bit to help your child. Here are some things you can do:

Organize your schedule at home. Set up specific times for waking up, eating, playing, doing homework, doing chores, watching TV or playing video games, and going to bed. Write the schedule on a blackboard or a piece of paper and hang it where your child will always see it. If your child can’t yet read, use drawings or symbols to show the activities of each day. Explain any changes in routine in advance. Make sure your child understands what you are sharing.

Set up house rules. Make the standards of behavior for the family simple, clear and short. Rules should be explained clearly. It’s important to share what will happen when the rules are obeyed and when they are broken. Write down the rules and results of not following them. Hang this list next to the schedule. The punishment for breaking the rules should be fair, quick and consistent.

Be positive. Tell your child what you want rather than what you don’t want. Reward your child regularly for any good behavior–even little things such as getting dressed and closing doors quietly. Children with ADHD often spend most of their day being told what they are doing wrong. They need to be praised for good behavior.

Make sure your directions are understood. First, get your child’s attention. Look directly into his or her eyes, then tell your child in a clear, calm voice specifically what you want. Ask your child to repeat the directions back to you. It’s usually better to keep instructions short and straightforward. For difficult tasks, give only one or two instructions at a time, then congratulate your child when he or she completes each step.

Be consistent. Only promise what you will deliver. Do what you say you are going to do. Repeating directions and requests many times doesn’t work well. When your child breaks the rules, warn him or her only once in a calm voice. If the warning does not work, follow through with the punishment that you promised. (Avoid physical punishment; this often makes matters worse).

Make sure someone watches your child all the time. Because they are impulsive, children with ADHD need more adult supervision than other children their age. Ensure that your child is supervised by adults all day.

Watch your child around his friends. It’s hard for children with ADHD to learn social skills and social rules. Be careful to select playmates for your child with similar language and physical abilities. Invite only one or two friends at a time at first. Observe them while they play. Reward good play behaviors often. Most importantly, don’t allow hitting, pushing, or yelling in your house or yard. [Total Focus provides multi-media materials for helping ADHD kids develop social skills].

Help with school activities. School mornings may be difficult for children with ADHD. Get ready the night before–lay out school clothes and get the book bag ready. Allow enough time for your child to get dressed and eat a good breakfast. If your child is slow in the mornings, it’s important to make enough time to get dressed and eat.

Set up a homework routine. Pick a regular place for doing homework. This place should be away from distractions such as other people, television, and video games. Break homework time into small parts and have breaks. For example, give your child a snack after school, let him play for a few minutes, and then start homework time. Stop frequently for short “fun breaks” that allow your child to do something enjoyable. Give your child lots of encouragement, but let your child do the school work.

Focus on effort, not grades. Reward your child when he tries to finish schoolwork, not just for good grades. You can give extra rewards for earning better grades. Additional pointers for parents of children with ADD and/or learning disabilities:

  • Take the time to listen to your children as much as you can (really try to get their “message”).

  • Love your kids by touching them, hugging them, tickling them, wrestling with them (they need lots of physical contact).

  • Look for and encourage their strengths, interests, and abilities. Help them to use these as compensations for any limitations or disabilities.

  • Reward them with praise, kind words, smiles, and a pat on the back as often as you can.

  • Accept them for who they are and for their human potential for growth and development. Be realistic in your expectations and demands.

  • Involve them in establishing rules and regulations, schedules, and family activities.

  • Tell them when they misbehave and explain how you feel about their behavior; then have them propose other more acceptable ways of behaving.

  • Help them to correct their errors and mistakes by showing or demonstrating what they should do. Don’t nag!

  • Give them reasonable chores and a regular family work responsibility whenever possible.

  • Give them an allowance as early as possible and then help them plan to spend within it.

  • Provide toys, games, motor activities and opportunities that will stimulate them in their development.

  • Read entertaining stories to them and with them. Encourage them to ask questions, discuss stories, tell the story, and to reread stories.

  • Further their ability to concentrate by reducing distracting aspects of their environment as much as possible (provide them with a place to work, study, and play).

  • Don’t get hung up on traditional school grades! It is important that they progress at their own pace and be rewarded for doing so.

  • Take them to libraries and encourage them to select and check out books of interest. Have them share their books with you. Provide stimulating books and reading material around the house.

  • Help them to develop self-esteem and to compete with themselves rather than with others.

  • Insist that they cooperate socially by playing, helping, and serving others in the family and the community.

  • Serve as a role model to them by reading and discussing material of personal interest. Share with them some of the things you are reading and doing.

  • Don’t hesitate to consult with teachers or other specialists whenever you feel it is necessary to better understand what might be done to help your child learn.

Parenting skills training …gives parents tools and techniques for managing their child’s behavior. One such technique is the use of token or point systems for immediately rewarding good behavior or work. Another is the use of “time-out” or isolation to a chair or bedroom when the child becomes too unruly or out of control. During time-outs, the child is removed from the agitating situation and sits alone quietly for a short time to calm down. Parents may also be taught to give the child “quality time” each day, in which they share a pleasurable or relaxing activity. During this time together, the parent looks for opportunities to notice and point out what the child does well, and praise his or her strengths and abilities.

This system of rewards and penalties can be an effective way to modify a child’s behavior. The parents (or teacher) identify a few desirable behaviors that they want to encourage in the child—such as asking for a toy instead of grabbing it, or completing a simple task. The child is told exactly what is expected in order to earn the reward. The child receives the reward when he performs the desired behavior and a mild penalty when he doesn’t. A reward can be small, perhaps a token that can be exchanged for special privileges, but it should be something the child wants and is eager to earn. The penalty might be removal of a token or a brief time-out. Make an effort to find your child being good. The goal, over time, is to help children learn to control their own behavior and to choose the more desired behavior. The technique works well with all children, although children with ADHD may need more frequent rewards.

In addition, parents may learn to structure situations in ways that will allow their child to succeed. This may include allowing only one or two playmates at a time, so that their child doesn’t get overstimulated. Or if their child has trouble completing tasks, they may learn to help the child divide a large task into small steps, then praise the child as each step is completed. Regardless of the specific technique parents may use to modify their child’s behavior, some general principles appear to be useful for most children with ADHD. These include providing more frequent and immediate feedback (including rewards and punishment), setting up more structure in advance of potential problem situations, and providing greater supervision and encouragement to children with ADHD in relatively unrewarding or tedious situations. Children with ADHD need consistent rules that they can understand and follow. If rules are followed, give small rewards.

Children with ADHD often receive, and expect, criticism. Look for good behavior and praise it.

Parents may also learn to use stress management methods, such as meditation, relaxation techniques, and exercise, to increase their own tolerance for frustration so that they can respond more calmly to their child’s behavior.