Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder — ADHD or ADD — are often difficult to parent. They can have trouble understanding important directions — and those with hyperactivity issues are usually in a constant state of activity! It’s an understatement to say that this can be a challenge to adults. 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. (Warning: You may need to change your home life a bit to help your child!)
Here are 10 things you can do to help:
Organize your schedule at home. Set up specific times for waking up, eating, playing, doing homework, doing chores, watching TV or playing video games and going to bed. Write the schedule on a whiteboard or a piece of paper and hang it where your child will always see 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.
Set up 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 rules and results of not following them. Hang this list next to the schedule. The consequences for breaking rules should be fair, quick and consistent.
Be positive. Tell your child what you want rather than what you don’t want. Reward your child regularly for any good behavior — even little things such as getting dressed and closing doors quietly. Children with ADHD often spend most of their day being told what they are doing wrong. They need to be praised for good behavior. It can be as simple as a pat on the back, a smile or a “good job, thanks!”
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 specifically just 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.
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 in a quiet voice. If the warning doe not work, follow through with the punishment that you promised. (Avoid physical punishment. This often makes matters worse).
Make sure someone watches your child all the time. Because they are impulsive, children with ADHD need more adult supervision than other children their age. Make sure your child is supervised by adults all day.
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. Invite only one or two friends at a time at first. 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.
Help with school activities. 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 really slow in the mornings, it’s important to make enough time to dress and eat.
Set up 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.
Focus on effort, not grades. Reward your child when he tries to finish school work, not just for good grades. You can give extra rewards for earning better grades.
About Dr. Robert Myers, PhD
Dr Robert Myers is a child psychologist with more than 25 years of experience working with children and adolescents with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and learning disabilities and is the creator of the Total Focus Program®. 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, 4parenting.com, which reaches 3 million parents each year. Dr. Myers earned his Ph.D. from the University of Southern California.