Parenting a Child With ADHD: 10 Ways To Improve Their Behavior


Mom frustrated with boy who isn't paying attention

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:

1. Create and Post a Daily Schedule in Your Home

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.

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2. Create and Post the House Rules

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.

3. Be Positive and Praise Good Behavior

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!

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4. Make Sure Your Directions Are Understood

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.

5. Be Consistent

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

6. Make Sure Your Child is Supervised

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.

7. Watch Your Child Around His Friends

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.

8. Get Ready for School the Night Before

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.

9. Set up a Homework Routine

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.

10. Focus on Effort and Consistency, Not Grades

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.

Related Content:
8 Tips for Parents of Children with ADHD
ADHD and Young Children: Unlocking the Secrets to Good Behavior


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, Dr. Myers earned his Ph.D. from the University of Southern California.

Comments (12)
  • Mom of Two
    Jeannette, I've had great success in helping my son behave better in school by finding out what toxins are in the classroom. Because our son was not acting out at home (we used non-toxic cleaners and no plastics) and was a different kid at school we found that the teacherMore was using toxic cleaning products (bleach, clorox, etc.) and had a bookshelf full of plastic binders. Once they made a change to the environment our son's behavior changed significantly!
  • Jeannette
    I have a 9 year old that was diagnosed with ADHD two years ago. He has acted out at school since he was 3 years old. Throwing things around the room, touching other kids, pinching, pulling chairs out from under other children. We just thought it was aMore phase he was going through. When he is confronted by the teachers sometimes he gets angry and clams up, then when he is told he is going to the office he runs from the teacher. Socially he is not improving. Funny thing is that he does not act out at home, it's only a school. We take privileges away (TV, friends)and it doesn't phase him. We give him praise when he improves for a few days. Then he's right back to his disruptive behavior. (He has been to the principals office 2 times so far this year) Does anyone have any suggestions how to get through to him about his behavior at school?
  • JB
    A comment for "Cantue" who will give breaks to her son but wonders what a teacher can do? You can speak to the teacher and Principal, your Dr. and a school resources or Special Ed. instructor about setting your son up with an Individual Education Plan (IEP). These peopleMore would then work together to find a way to address you son's issues at school. My son gets more breaks from work by going into a resource room.
  • cantue
    I was reading your blog on this page and you say to give my son breaks while doing homework,but ,what can i have the teacher do?because she has alot of other students and does not have enough time to focus on one child.
  • Katherine09
    My husband and I are at a total loss as to how to help ourselves or our son. He is ADHD and now we are having him tested to see if anything else is wrong with him. He has NO motivation, could care less about school, lies and is selfish.More All he cares about is playing with friends and what he can get us to buy him. He is very good at manipulation, he knows what to say and when to say it. Does ANYONE else have these issues?
  • Toni
    To the aunt trying to help an adult who cannot finish a two-year degree in six years...I strongly urge you to do whatever you must to get this young man evaluated and possibly medicated. You may see an amazing turnaround. His smoking/drinking/gaming etc. are self-medicating/self-stimulating behaviors that might not beMore needed as much with some medication. If you can, I would start with the doctor who was his pediatrician, even though he is an adult. Call that doctor, even if he is in another town, and -- with your nephew's permission -- get his medical records. If you are in the same town, see if that pediatrician will agree to see the young man or, if not, if he will recommend a local doctor who is especially good with these cases. If you must, approach the local schools and see if you can't convince a counselor -- my term for the kind of person you are looking for is "educational diagnostician" -- who will agree to test/interview/evaluate your nephew. Perhaps you can pay her for her time. It would be good if you could get one of these professionals from the school he attended, who could go through his records from there. Convince your nephew that you are trying to do right by him and by the memory of his late mother, and to please just go along with this. Perhaps he could be convinced to participate wholeheartedly by the idea that he might get accommodations at his community college, with a diagnosis in hand. It is NOT too late.
  • JB

    I understand completely the frustration of parenting ADD/ADHD kids, when one or both of the parents also has it! I am ADHD (BIG emphasis on the "H"), and have had to learn and implement many coping skills over the years. My husband is ADD (and the absence of the "H" is very apparent!), and many times seems to sabotage or undo the structures I have laid into place for my own sake and his... and the kids'.

    We have one daughter who is severely ADHD -- absolutely cannot hold more than a single thought in her head at one time (so there is no teaching her cause-and-effect consequences, because by the time her brain gets to the "effect", the "cause" is long gone), and her "H" presents itself as over-the-top impulsiveness. So, here is my take-away on her: PATIENCE. She is now 21, she barely gets by in this world because of her ADHD, but it is HER journey, not mine. She is slowly, surely, learning the techniques that we taught her through the years. Would she have learned them more quickly had my husband been on board better? Maybe. But, I have learned to accept -- "it is what it is."

    We have a son who is 14, severe ADD, but absolutely no "H", he is near-catatonic sometimes, and also loves to "play inattentive" whenever he doesn't like what he is hearing. Okay. Actions speak louder than words, so the words just stopped, and the consequences just started. My take-away with him: don't tell, ASK. ("Oh. Hmm. What just happened? Why do you suppose that happened?" Then he has to own his experience, and he has to make the connection between his action and the consequence -- I don't make that connection for him).

    I wholeheartedly agree with the tip that says make the consequence swift, simple, and get it over with! (for example, 'grounding' your ADD/ADHD kid from something for more than one day is completely ineffective).

    I have found that this same technique works with my husband, too. Not in a mean or unkind way... not even in a judgmental or "better-than-you" way... just in a firm "this is the way it is", non-rescuing way.

    Final take-away: if a technique is not working for you, assess it, tweak it, or discard it and try something different. If you have ADD/ADHD, be sure to give the technique a really good attempt before discarding it, because you will be inclined to discard it too soon.

  • klkilroy95

    How do I parent children (3 possibly 4 out of 5) with ADD and ADHD when I believe my husband also has ADD. He is very inconsistent and often does the opposite of what i do or what i ask him to do.

    The house is very disorganized, i try very hard to organize things, keep them in the same place,keep a schedule/routine so that the children can cope with their disabilities.

    My husband does not believe he is ADD but I am fairly certain he is. He is very resistant to the idea therefore, resistant to getting any kind of help for it or working on his own disorganization and impulsive characteristics.

  • kiwikrs

    I would like to know more information about parenting a young adult with severe ADD. He is supporting himself (just barely) and is in his 6th year of college, on his last semester of getting his Associate's degree. He works as a server in a restaurant. He often ends up getting fired for not showing up on time. He has had poor grades despite being very intelligent. He has addictive behaviors, smoking,drinking,video games. His mother has passed away, as his aunt I am trying to help him. Please give advice to those who are trying to parent an adult ADD person, who still needs parenting.


  • ociana
    I love practical tips. Thank you.
  • Tiffany
    Staying positive and keeping to a routine is very important.
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