Imagine this scene: Your 7–year–old won’t stop teasing his little sister. You give him a 10 minute time out, but he refuses to comply and has a total meltdown. Or suppose you tell your 13–year–old to do her homework and stop texting her friend or else she will lose TV privileges for the week. She becomes upset and breaks your favorite framed picture. If you’re the parent of a child with ADHD, this might sound all too familiar.
To put it simply, parenting a child who has been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder isn’t always easy. Kids with ADHD need special attention because they are special—they are wired differently than their peers. Brain scans show that the brains of ADHD kids look much different when performing certain functions than those of their neurotypical peers.
In fact, studies have shown that the thickness of the cortex of their brains is growing at a pace that is three years behind their peers. What does this mean for kids with ADHD? They are thinking and behaving at the same level as children three years their junior do—yet they are expected to respond to situations in an age–appropriate fashion. Kids with ADHD are often scolded and told: “act your age”—but that’s often not possible for them to do.
The ADHD/Anxiety Connection
Many children with ADHD also suffer from extreme anxiety symptoms. When an individual experiences severe anxiety, they will have one of three reactions: they will freeze and be unable to take action; they will attempt to avoid the situation by withdrawing or leaving the scene; or they will act out of rage to protect themselves.
Children with ADHD also have a low tolerance for frustration. When confronted with a difficult task or a conflict they may quickly become emotionally and even physically upset. When a parent is simply providing appropriate guidance and/or limits for their child, they are not expecting a reaction based on fear or rage. They might naturally view this as an act of defiance and respond to the incident with an additional negative consequence, but that will most likely escalate the situation.
Most well–meaning parents approach this behavior with the philosophy of “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” They continue with the same approach, only “kicking it up a notch or two.” Or, they go from one approach to another, all the while saying, “No matter what I do, nothing works.” I would like to give you some simple parenting tips that would make it a breeze to get things going in the right direction, but this is not a simple problem—which means there is no “simple” solution. There are things you can do that will be much more effective, though for your child with ADHD.
5 Tips for Giving Effective Consequences to ADHD Kids: Step–by–Step
The first step is to identify the underlying problem that is causing your child to over–react to minor incidents. This may require professional consultation and assessment by an appropriately trained mental health professional. For children with severe ADHD symptoms, medication may be needed. For others, therapy or a special education program to address the underlying impairment may be in order.
Here are five tips for parenting that can help:
Finally, parenting a special needs child requires patience and endurance. Be sure you have support from those around you. Find time to take a break for yourself. Take a step back and look for positive changes and remind yourself that this task is always going to be “a work in click progress.”
Dr. Robert Myers is a child psychologist with more than 30 years of experience working with children and adolescents with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD - ADHD) and learning disabilities. Dr. Myers is Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at UC Irvine School of Medicine. "Dr. Bob" has provided practical information for parents as a radio talk show host and as editor of Child Development Institute's website, childdevelopmentinfo.com. Dr. Myers earned his Ph.D. from the University of Southern California.