Parents of kids with ADHD are often frustrated when it comes to discipline. Kids with ADHD often fail to obey their parents and do things that they regret later. The question often comes up about what to do about troublesome behavior, since in some sense, it is part of the child’s disorder.
Failure to obey can stem from a number of different issues in ADHD. You should not assume your child is trying to defy you unless it is completely obvious that this is the only thing in play.
1) A child with ADHD may not be paying attention when an adult makes a request. It is not enough to yell to your child from across the room. You might have already noticed that your child can easily tune you out. It is better to touch them gently, maybe even wave your hand in front of their face, and say their name. Always require an answer when you make request.
2) A child with ADHD may not follow through on a request because of distraction. It is fair to remind your child to complete a task, particularly if it will require a lot of time, multiple steps, or it is something they don’t like to do. Use checklists, post signs, set a timer, and have them repeat to you the steps of what they must do. Don’t spend a lot of breath on reminders, as they can easily be perceived as nagging. One or two words will usually work just as well as a frustrated tirade, and takes far less energy.
3) A child with ADHD may not do something because he doesn’t want to do it and has procrastinated. He meant to do it, but he forgot. Procrastination is a bad habit that needs to be curbed, but it is not the same as defiance. You should always be clear when you expect your child to start on something–for example, “now”. Remind your child that procrastination will lead to the job not being done, and name the consequence upfront. Sometimes setting a timer or alarm, or giving a small reward for completing the task can be helpful to help a child stay on task. Breaking a task down into smaller components can also be helpful. Older children can be taught to set a calendar alarm to remind them to do something.
4) A child with ADHD may not do something because of defiance. If your child is defiant, it’s usually a good idea to figure out what lead to the defiance in the first place. Sometimes you can remind a child that what they said isn’t appropriate, and ask if they want a do over. If the defiance was impulsive, usually your child will choose to obey once they have a second chance.
However, often when there is major defiance in play, emotions are high and no one is really able to listen to each other and sort things out. The best way to deal with this is a time out for the purposes of cooling down so that the parent and the child can both think and discuss the issue rationally.
If emotions are high, it is not unusual to hear impulsive words like “I hate you” or to experience some physical responses like kicking, hitting, or throwing things. Do your best not to respond to this behavior as it is occurring, because responding teaches your child that they can manipulate you by being verbally or physically abusive. Such behavior is unacceptable and you should respond to it, but during a tantrum your child is not in state where he or she will receive teaching. If your child damages things while she is upset, make sure that her time out space is clear of items that can be broken. Explain that when he is calm, then you will listen to him, and do your best to do that. The formula we use in our house is, “I understand that you were (angry, frustrated, sad….), but your response was not acceptable because (reason). Can you think of another way you could have handled that?”
You also want your child to understand that they need to respect your requests as an adult and as a parent. The first part of this is making your requests reasonable and not selfish. Ask them to do things respectfully by using “Please” and “Would you do me a favor?” and by not interrupting activities unless it is necessary. The second part is communicating that what you are asking is important to them–that you ask it for their own good and because you love them. If your child has acted defiantly, then it is appropriate to ask for an apology and for them to make things right with you by restoring broken property or by giving a hug or kiss to make up for nasty words.
Not doing it over again.
Prevention is the cornerstone of discipline of the child with ADHD. A lot hinges on how you present your requests to your child, and how you motivate them to do those tasks. Also, your child will learn from how you respond to their tantrums whether it is worthwhile doing the same in the future, and how they should respond to negative emotions in the future.