Children with attention deficits don’t respond to traditional parenting strategies (including punishment and rewards) the same way as do children without the condition. This occurs because they don’t seem to learn from their mistakes, avoid behaviors because of punishment, or are motivated by rewards as easily as other children. As such, parents often second guess and question their own effectiveness. Unfortunately, this thinking then typically leads to increasingly harsher punishment and over-reactivity from the parents, which only makes the child’s behaviors worsen. Unless people experience it first hand, they cannot begin to understand what it is like to raise a child with ADHD.
Children with an attention disorder want to do well, but they are unable to do so consistently on their own without supportive interventions, supervision, and coaching. While it is hard to believe, these children do not intentionally wake up each morning and make it a goal to see how miserable they can make their parents or siblings. It is important to remember that your child’s misbehavior is often related to his or her deficits in executive functions including impulsive control, understanding of the passage of time, getting started, listening and carrying out multi-step directives. The sad reality, however, is that some children with ADHD after experiencing years of failure to please others become discouraged, depressed and may even no longer care about adult approval. Ideally, parents will seek support before problems reach this crisis stage.
It is very important to find a parenting style that works with your child. Parents often become frustrated when one style does not work with all the children in the family. This is particularly true in families with a child struggling with an attention disorder. It is best to aim for consistent, predictable consequences and more stronger and meaningful rewards. Below is a list of several strategies that can help make your job as a parent easier.
• Keep a Disability Perspective. Try to remember that children with ADHD are developmentally behind in some areas and truly need you to help them in order to execute effectively what is being demanded of them in a particular situation.
• Establish a Routine “Special Time” with Your Child. Go ahead and engage in an activity that your child is good at, even though you are not skilled at it. Remember that our children can teach us a thing or two. Increasing positive interactions with your child increases his/her self –esteem.
• Don’t be Afraid to Hug and Tell Your Child You Love Him or Her. Human touch is nurturing and often comforting.
• Set Reasonable Expectations and Give Choices. It is important to remember that children with ADHD are less mature than same age peers and so expectations should be at a level that the child is capable of achieving. In order for children to feel some sense of control in an environment that typically has control over them, it is critical to provide some reasonable choices at school and home (e.g., what time do you want to start your homework? Right after school or after a 30 minute down time?)
• Avoid Falling into a Pattern of Nagging about Misbehavior. Rather than stating to them what they are always doing wrong (e.g., “It always takes you so long to get your work done.” Try to take a problem solving approach such as “How can I help you get your homework done in a timely fashion?”
• Avoid Confrontations and Power Struggles. Try to talk about the behavior, set limits and state expectations clearly upfront. Try using dialogue that includes, “If you (the behavior), then (reasonable consequence).
• Provide Unconditional Positive Regard. Make every effort to love your child. After all, it is not the child you have a problem with, it is his/her behaviors that you dislike. Children need to know that you believe in them and will be for them no matter what.
• Lastly, Do Some Reframing of ADHD. Remind yourself that the traits that get these children in trouble now (e.g., high energy, little sleep, persuasiveness, strong-willed, etc.) are characteristics that will likely serve them well in the future when they chose their career.
Maria Kanakos, Psy.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist