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- Manage your ADHD child’s behavior with these proven techniques
- How your child’s diet affects ADHD
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- Is ADHD a learning disability?
- Establishing rules for your ADHD child
- ADHD in girls: Why is it missed?
- ADHD child is not coping at school: What should I do?
- Should I medicate my child if they have been diagnosed with ADHD?
Your child with ADHD may have trouble following rules. However, clear and consistent rules are an important part of helping your child manage their behavior and function in society. The rules you establish for your family will depend on their age, their level of ability, and their individual needs. Providing unconditional positive attention and rewards will help your child want to follow the rules, while using natural consequences and time-outs will help your child learn to keep the rules. These strategies will help you set appropriate rules and boundaries for your child with ADHD.
Keep your expectations low and your rules simple
When setting rules for your ADHD child, have reasonable expectations. For example, sitting at the table for 30 minutes to an hour while having dinner may be reasonable to expect of most teenagers, but it could be a real challenge for a teenager with ADHD.
Also, limit the number of rules you make and always keep the reasons objective. For example, these 3 rules have worked for our home: Respect yourself, respect others, and respect your things and other people’s things. These 3 rules are broad enough to encompass many “micro-management” type rules that parents can make:
- If a child respects himself, they are going to be active in improving themselves and taking care of themselves.
- If they respect others, they are not going to hit them, kick them, push them, or call them names. They will, for example, respect Mommy while she’s driving and not scream at her because screaming at Mommy while she’s driving can cause an accident.
- If they respect their things and that of other people, they will not destroy them when they get mad and throw a fit.
Also crucial to getting your child with ADHD to learn and follow the rules of the home or classroom is to be supportive and show that you believe he or she is able to make the right choices.
Repeat, repeat, repeat
All children need rules or expectations, and your ADHD child is no different. The strategies that are useful for ADHD children work super well for your average kid too. Keep expectations simple, use pictures to remind them of the expectations and routines and praise the desired behavior. Yes, it sounds simple, and we both know it is not. It requires repetition, repetition, repetition, with a bit of hair pulling (yours!) and the odd pick me up to keep going. Don’t sweat about the other stuff. Embed the small behaviors you want first and then move on. See, easy! Mmmmmm, not so easy, but it can be done and you have courage, patience and love.
Different age groups need different rules
For toddlers, I have found the following strategies to be effective in helping ADHD children follow the rules:
- Provide positive attention. Give your child a period of undivided attention each day.
- Give clear instructions. Ensure good eye contact and give instructions in short commands. Avoid long lists.
- Praise effort. If your child is being good, acknowledge it.
- Ignore mild bad behavior. Your child may be attention seeking. Ignoring mild bad behavior shows that it will not get them the desired result.
- Use time-out. Teach your child to go to a quiet spot to calm down when frustrated or over stimulated.
- Allow for natural consequences. If your child refuses to follow an instruction, e.g., coming to eat a meal, you can allow them to miss the meal but refuse to provide snacks until dinner time.
- Establish a reward system. Reward good behavior in a short-term tangible form.
Rules for older ADHD children should be clear and concise. There should be clear consequences if a rule is broken and discipline should always be consistent. It is important to remember that often the intention of the ADHD child is not to break the rules–rather, they are just unable to do what is required to keep the rules. When setting rules, keep the following in mind:
- Have reasonable expectations. Make sure that the rule is age and developmentally appropriate.
- Involve your child in setting the rules. A child is more likely to obey the rules when they have had some input.
- Limit the rules. Too many rules can be overwhelming and impossible to follow for an ADHD child.
- Let the rules be the decider. Rules should establish clear expectations and boundaries. If your child wants to do something they shouldn’t, it is possible to say, “The rules say that you can’t do that,” removing you as the bad guy from the equation.
- Use positive reinforcement. Praise and reward good behavior and obeying the rules. Support your child when they make a mistake and provide learning opportunities.
Your rules should be appropriate for your child and family
Setting rules for your child with ADHD is a balancing act of reasonable expectations, family strengths and weaknesses, and individual needs. For example, in our house, struggles with impulse control mean we need extra emphasis on rules regarding safety and lower expectations when it comes to things such as clean rooms and volume control.
The rules needed in your family might look vastly different, and that’s ok. The key is to remember what your child needs and what your family as a whole needs. Keep the rules clear and consistent, with predictable rewards and consequences. Always follow through, even when it is hard. Offer lots of praise and positive attention for good behavior. When a consequence has been administered, make sure to take the time afterward to show love to your child and talk with them about making better choices next time.