Useful tips to discipline your child with ADHD

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These tips are both gentle and practical.

One of the most common questions that parents of children with ADHD ask themselves is whether their child needs to be disciplined in a different way. Sometimes, disciplining children with ADHD can be a challenge. But you can make it a lot smoother for your child and for yourself with these useful tips.

ADHD: What you need to know

disciplining children with ADHD

How do you discipline children who have ADHD? | Image: Instagram

The normal belief is that children with ADHD have a problem in paying attention. But in reality, behaviour is a bigger problem. That’s why disciplining children with ADHD can be a task.

  • Children with ADHD usually face inattention issues and may be overly impulsive. This is what results in tantrums and defiant behaviour. So, for example, if you ask your child with ADHD to engage in tasks that are repetitive, need a lot of work or are generally boring for kids, be prepared for shoes being flung across the room. Kids with ADHD get overwhelmed by frustration coming through such tasks. 
  • They are naturally wired in a way that they get attracted to things beyond what you may want them to do. So, if your little son with ADHD cannot sit in his chair but goes on exploring the whole restaurant, it is just his hyperactive and impulsive ADHD symptoms. Naturally, such situations are going to stress you as a parent. 

Dr David Anderson, the Director of ADHD and Behaviour Disorders Center at the Child Mind Institute says that when children with ADHD find themselves in constant conflict with adults for many years, they may also develop negative behaviour patterns.

Disciplining children with ADHD: Why strategies may fail

disciplining children with ADHD

What strategies can you adopt for disciplining ADHD children? | Image: Instagram

Parents of kids with ADHD need to understand that certain strategies that may work with other kids may not work with their child.

For example, if you lose your temper with your child and yell, it may have an impact because this may only happen once in a while. But when it comes to an ADHD child, this can become a regular feature. Naturally, your child will adjust to this and start ignoring when you yell. 

Disciplining children with ADHD: Scaffolding as a strategy

disciplining children with ADHD

What is scaffolding? | Image: Instagram

Remember that your ADHD child requires more structure. So, clearer instructions may be of great help.

Disruptive behaviour tends to escalate when a relationship is based on negative interactions. But with praise and opportunities for a positive relationship such behaviour can be managed. These are powerful tools available to parents. Such proactive structure is called scaffolding

Dr Anderson says: “As parents we need to help kids figure out what acceptable behaviours are, teach those acceptable behaviours and catch kids being good as often as we possibly can.”

When parents provide a structure to regulate external behaviour, it helps the ADHD child understand what is expected from them. 

Apart from that, you can follow these simple things in your day-to-day disciplining children with ADHD.


Carla Counts Allan of the ADHD Specialty Clinic at Children’s Mercy Hospitals and Clinics in Kansas City shares important tips to follow so that time-outs are given in a healthy way. 

disciplining children with ADHD

How to work with time-outs? Image: Instagram

  • Make sure that you contrast between time-out and time-in. In short, praise the good actions of your child. When your child completes the time-out, make sure that you appreciate their attitude. 
  • Keep the duration of the time-out in mind and make sure you are realistic about it. For example, 30 seconds to one minute is good enough for preschoolers.
  • Stay calm even if your child refuses to listen. Picking your little one and dragging them into a time-out is a bad idea. Instead, focus on increasing the time-out duration or impose a consequence that may mean a lot to them.

Skills to succeed

Teach your child with ADHD skills that can help them succeed. They can respond better to visual instructions. So, a schedule or a guide that is printed can be a great idea as compared to verbal instructions.

Give clearer instructions that are easy to follow. For example, instead of saying “clean your room,” try calling out what needs to be done, such as, “put your books back on the shelf” or “pick up the toys and put them in the basket.” 

You can also give them rewards for good behaviour. Remember that taking back a reward is not a good idea. At the same time, setting realistic expectations is important.

One step at a time

disciplining children with ADHD

Show patience with your ADHD child. Image: Instagram

Focus on a few things at a time rather than trying to fix everything in one go. RaeLyn Murphy, mum to Josh, an ADHD child, has developed a simple program that you can follow. It’s called CARE.

1. Clear: Remove distractions that can reinforce bad behaviour.

2. Allow: Let your child choose an activity.

3. Redirect: If things don’t seem to be smooth, move into an appropriate activity.

4. Exit: When nothing else works, step out of the situation.

Apart from these important strategies, you can follow a few basic rules.

  • Clearly communicate expectations, consequences and rewards. You can involve them in fixing these as they grow up. Your ADHD child is more likely to follow rules that he helped in making.
  • Motivate them to keep at the task.
  • Be consistent in enforcing the rules but avoid embarrassing them in public. 
  • Avoid citing references to the past. Stay in the present and talk about the situation at hand.
  • Help your child feel empowered.


Sources: WebMDChild Mind, Understood

ALSO READ: ADHD: Causes, symptoms and treatment

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