Your ADHD child - how to cope

Many parents whose children have ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) find themselves trapped in a loop of negativity, constantly telling their kids off. But it is possible to be positive?

It’s all too easy to get into a pattern of negativity if your child has ADHD. Their impulsiveness can make bad behaviour a given, and their endless supply of energy can leave you exhausted. Sometimes you need to take a step back and remember: your child can’t help his behaviour and it’s nothing personal. If you modify the methods you use to deal with the way they are and the things they do, you should be able to both cope much better on a day-to-day basis.

Make it work for them, not against them…

ADHD kids are restless and always on the move – this never-ending supply of energy can be a real asset as your child hits early adulthood, enabling them to work longer and get more done. In the same way, try to see your child’s impulsiveness as refreshing spontaneity.

Use perfect timing

Your ADHD child is likely to switch between periods of inattention and (brief!) periods of deep concentration. Try to encourage them to time any tasks they need to think about for the times when they feel able to concentrate – if they use that time efficiently, they can compensate for the times when their minds aren't on the job.

Tap into their talents

Even if your child isn’t doing very well academically because of difficulty focusing, they're likely to be very creative. Success at school, and later success in the workplace, doesn’t always have to depend on academic achievement – your child’s creative nature and vivid imagination can also provide opportunities and help them work out ways to find solutions to the problems they may face. So wherever you can, encourage your child in their creative endeavours and don’t keep the focus solely on their marks at school.

Give frequent feedback

Other kids may be able to get by with the odd nugget of praise, but a constant supply can be a great tool for motivating your ADHD child when it comes to socialising and behaviour. ADHD children live in the moment, so when you see your child doing something right tell them there and then (the same goes for negative behaviour). Make your feedback clear and specific: don’t just say “good job”, say what it is you think your child did well: “you did a good job clearing up those toys so quickly”.

Catch them being good

Don’t use punishment as your first resort to moderate your child’s behaviour. Instead, watch out for the positive behaviour you’d like to see and praise them when you see them doing it. Make a point, several times a day, of actually going to find your child and telling them how well they're doing at that time. As a guide, try to make sure you’re doling out discipline and consequences once to every three or four instances of praise and reward. A reward chart is great for this – and we have a great selection of print-and-colour charts.

Take care over consequences

ADHD kids tend to be less sensitive to rewards and consequences, so you’ll have to target them carefully to motivate your child to follow the rules and behave in a positive way. As well as verbal praise, use more substantial consequences: privileges, treats, points and reward charts. When it comes to discipline, be specific about what your child has done wrong – instead of “you were naughty”, say “you didn’t finish picking up your toys when I asked”.

Plan for problems

It can be embarrassing if your ADHD child has a meltdown in a public place, so think ahead and work out a contingency plan if you know you may be in situations that could trigger bad behaviour. Anticipate the flashpoints, develop a plan of attack for dealing with them, and tell your child what steps you will be taking if the problem does indeed occur and what rewards they'll get if they remain calm. Knowing what’s going to happen if they let rip may actually help modify your child’s reactions to the situation as it arises.

Be consistent

It’s important that you use the same methods to motivate or discipline your child wherever you are: at home, at the shops, at a playdate, eating out or visiting friends. Your child needs to know that the rules and consequences they live by at home will also apply elsewhere. Parenting styles are a factor too: work out a compromise so that one parent isn't punishing your child for behaviour the other parent ignores, and vice versa, otherwise your child will become confused. And be sure that anyone who cares for your child is on the same page as you.

Related links

ADHD: Can your child grow out of it? Children with ADHD may eventually grow out of the condition, according to new research. The study suggests that the brains of children and teenagers with ADHD are not actually different to other children, but that they develop more slowly. This means they may eventually catch up…..

ADHD and behaviour - tips on how to discipline your child: If your child has ADHD, coping with his behaviour can wear you out. But even though he may act up, he still needs the security of limits. So how do you discipline him without losing your mind?

Special Needs and Your Relationship: For a relationship that’s fragile or unstable, a child with a disability can be the last straw. If you and your partner are parenting a child with special needs, here are some suggestions to help your relationship survive the challenges.

How to stay calm with your child: Bringing up children is very rewarding and enjoyable but it can also be very stressful and frustrating. Most parents feel wound up by their children’s behaviour at times, occasionally losing their cool and reacting in a way they later regret. Supernanny expert Dr Victoria Samuel gives her top tips for staying cool in the heat of the moment!

Find out more

ADDISS is a charity which provides information and resources about ADHD for parents, sufferers, teachers and health professionals.

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