What is appropriate discipline for a child with ADHD?
Real Mom Problem
“My nine-year-old has ADHD and is having major anger issues. No matter what we do, nothing has worked; grounding, taking things away, even rewarding him. I just want my kid back so any ideas would be appreciated.”
- 1. Don't let your child's ADHD become an excuse for bad behavior
- 2. Be sure to set rules and follow through with appropriate consequences
- 3. Physical activity and mental challenges can be productive outlets for children with ADHD
- 4. Diet changes, limiting electronics, and talking with a professional are all tools that might help your child
Real Mom Solutions
Choosing the most effective discipline approach can be extra challenging when your child has ADHD. See what has worked for the experienced moms of CafeMom.
Be Sure to Set Limits Say These Moms
He can't watch "bad stuff" on TV, a computer, or anything else unless YOU give him access. Remove ALL electronics from his room. Password protect your home computer, and put it in a central, easily supervised area. Put parental control settings on your TV. Do not let him watch the TV unless YOU are sitting there with him, which means you have to watch age appropriate programming. NO VIDEO GAMES, EVER. Do all homework at the kitchen table, with YOU sitting next to him, supervising. Get outside with him and exercise. Throw and catch balls. Shoot some hoops. Walk the dog. Ride bikes and rollerblades. Give him regular, age appropriate chores. Get him REAL games, puzzles, and interactive toys. Play WITH him.
You're the parent. Having a kid with ADHD does make it harder, but it shouldn't be used as an excuse. He should still be expected to behave, just like any other kid. Yes, it will be harder for him, but that's life. Set strict rules, expect him to follow them. That should include NOT being able to watch anything violent. And perhaps you can find some ways to teach him opposite behaviors of what he does now like: Getting a small pet he can take care of and be responsible for, or finding ways to help people in the community in order for him to learn to be caring and compassionate for others. You can't just tell him not to be bad, you have to teach him (and teach him and teach him) how to be good.
I have ADHD and my parents never let it be an excuse for bad behavior. Yes, ADHD makes impulse control harder, and you have to work WITH him and his teachers to give him the tools to cope, but you'll do him no favors if you allow his ADHD to be an excuse. When he gets out into the real world, he's going to have to live by the same rules as everyone else. When he has a job and doesn't want to arrive on time, or do boring reports, or sit in a meeting, his boss isn't going to care whether he has ADHD. For the excessive anger, in addition to dietary changes, is he in any regular physical activities? Sports, martial arts, anything like that? It might help.
Some Moms Suggest Physical Activity
"Heavy work," as my mom (an occupational therapist) calls it. For example, I'll ask my son to move a laundry basket full of books across the room. Or simply wearing a weighted vest does wonders. Deep pressure (such as a long firm hug) also helps a lot. My son is five.
Is he in any sports? If not, you should sign him up so he can get some energy out. Also, does he see a behavioral therapist? If not, he should.
Keep them busy! Lots of physical exercise. We have a giant bounce house in our basement. It's especially effective for someone who wants to be running everywhere. Also children who have ADHD often get so worked up that they can't easily calm themselves down and need a break to chill out. A child needs consequences if they are misbehaving.
Other Moms Recommend a Creative Approach
I found that traditional consequences don't really work for my son so I really have to watch him and figure out what makes him tick. What does he really want to do/play/watch? Last night, he had to deal with a negative consequence for some really bad behavior at school. Now, to the average parent, this is no big deal. However to my kid, you would have thought the world was coming to an end. I took away his ability to change the channel on the TV. If he was going to watch any TV, it had to be what his father and I wanted to watch. You would have thought we beat him he was so upset. However, I'm sure the next time he has an opportunity to make a choice, it won't be the bad one.
Traditional punishments don't work. The one thing that works the best outside of taking away her electronics access is talking about how we don't like what she's done. For her, talking about it is just awful punishment. We also see a psychologist and psychiatrist which have given us a lot of help.
My son is 11 in and has extreme anger issues with ADHD. None of the "traditional" punishments work for him. Taking away his tablet has about the best effect if he has misbehaved. Other than that, most things just don't work for him. He does have an IEP at school and is able to leave the classroom when he gets overwhelmed (he has severe anxiety) and goes and talks to the school's psychologist almost every day. She is good at calming my son down. But here at home it is a totally different story. Not much has worked. We work on things every day! It is tough and hard! Plus puberty has hit, so his hormones are even more out of whack.
I am sure that you have been told by your physician that all food additives, preservatives, and artificial flavorings should be totally banned from your kitchen. Many times when these things are eliminated, behavior improves. Gluten sensitivities can also be manifested by behavior issues. Sugar can also be a culprit so you will have to be a detective to see if any of these things affect his behavior.
My brother has had ADHD since he was two; he is now 17 and still has it. We found that giving him things to do like brain teasers and giving him plenty of things that are hard to take apart or put back together helped him a lot and taught him how to control his anger. Kids with ADHD need a lot of structure and need to be challenged sometimes. I hope you find something that works.
Coping Tools Are at the Top of These Moms' Lists
I think a common thread is that something must happen (either really or in the child's perception/mind) that makes them feel sad. The only thing is that they don't verbally express the sadness (maybe they don't know how to do this) and they go directly/immediately to angry. I'm hearing more and more of this. When one of my sons was young he did the same thing. Either he was happy and calm or angry with negative behaviors. It took years, but I taught him how to say, "She wouldn't let me watch the TV show I wanted to. She hurt my feelings. That made me feel sad." Then he would start to cry. Once he started crying the anger would disappear. That was from age three to six. After that he could express sadness through words, without crying and didn't have any of the behaviors. I hope this helps.
Have you read The Explosive Child? It has some techniques for dealing with explosions while trying to teach the child coping mechanisms; it might be helpful if you haven't tried those strategies with your counselors.
Does the child know what triggers him? Does he have coping mechanisms? Like say he gets mad -- is he taught what to do when he gets mad? Like to go draw, or pound Play-Doh on the table, or squeeze a plastic bottle or throw pillows at his bed? And then afterwards will he talk about it? Does he know when to walk away? Maybe he needs to learn those. Consistency, firmness, and understanding seem to work with my kid.