Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are often difficult to parent. They have trouble understanding directions. They have trouble with social situations. And those with hyperactivity issues are usually in a constant state of activity.
It’s an understatement to say that parenting kids with ADHD is a special challenge. In my 25 years as a child psychologist, and as the father of a son with ADHD, I’ve found that it’s helpful to shift the way you think about parenting in some ways.
Here are 10 things you can do today to make your parenting easier and more effective:
Set up specific times for waking up, eating, playing, doing homework, doing chores, using electronics, and going to bed.
Write the schedule on a whiteboard or a piece of paper and hang it where your child will see it. The refrigerator is often a good place to hang it.
If your child can’t read yet, use drawings or symbols to show the activities of each day. Explain any changes in routine in advance. Make sure your child understands the changes.
Make the rules of behavior for the family simple, clear, and short. Rules should be explained clearly. It’s important to explain what will happen when the rules are obeyed and when they are broken.
Write down the list of rules and the consequences for not following them. The consequences for breaking rules should be fair, quick, and consistent.
Hang this list next to the daily schedule.
Understand that children with ADHD spend most of their day being told what they are doing wrong. This can be demoralizing over time. Therefore, praise their good behavior often. It can be as simple as a pat on the back, a smile or a “good job, thanks!”
Reward your child regularly for any good behavior, even little things such as getting dressed and closing doors quietly.
Also, tell your child what you want rather than what you don’t want. In other words, be positive with your words when you can.
Pro Tip: this technique works well with all your relationships!
First, get your child’s attention. Look directly into his or her eyes. Then tell your child in a clear, calm voice exactly what you want. Ask your child to repeat the directions back to you.
It’s usually better to keep directions simple and short. For difficult tasks, give only one or two directions at a time. Then congratulate your child when he or she completes each step.
Only promise what you will deliver. Do what you say you are going to do. Repeating directions and requests many times doesn’t work well.
When your child breaks the rules, warn only once and do so in a quiet voice. If your child ignores the warning then follow through with the consequence that you promised.
Related content: Effective Consequences for ADHD Kids
Because children with ADHD are impulsive, they need more adult supervision than other children their age. Make sure your child is supervised by adults all day.
It’s hard for children with ADHD to learn social skills and social rules. Be careful to select playmates for your child with similar language and physical skills.
At first, invite only one or two friends over at a time. Watch them closely while they play. Reward good play behaviors often. Most of all, don’t allow hitting, pushing, and yelling in your house or yard. For this reason, it is especially important to supervise your child around his friends.
School mornings may be difficult for children with ADHD. Get ready the night before—lay out school clothes and get the book bag ready. Allow enough time for your child to get dressed and eat a good breakfast.
If your child is especially slow in the mornings, it’s important to make enough time to dress and eat.
Pick a regular place for doing homework. This place should be away from distractions such as other people, television, and video games.
Break homework time into small parts and have breaks. For example, give your child a snack after school and then let him play for a few minutes. Then start homework time. Stop frequently for short “fun breaks” that allow your child to do something enjoyable.
Give your child lots of encouragement, but let your child do the school work on his or her own.
Reward your child when he tries to finish schoolwork, not just for good grades. The goal should be for them to be consistent and persistent in their studying. If they can achieve this goal, the grades will eventually follow. Of course, you can give extra rewards for earning better grades.
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.