5 Tips for Parenting a Child with ADHD

by | Oct 30, 2018 | ADHD, Child Health, Parenting

Chris Gilbert, Psychologist, Baulkham Hills NSW

30 October 2018

Parenting a child comes with its fair share of challenges, even if your child is an absolute angel and you’re a super-parent. But when a child has Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (or ADHD) the challenge takes on a whole new level of complexity.

Seemingly simple tasks like getting ready for school, doing their homework or chores, or organizing their school bag become, at best, taxing & draining ordeals of constant reminding, or at worse, all out battles that result in your child needing a major calm-down (and you needing a Fijian holiday!). Here’s a few behavioural tips for parenting a child with ADHD.

1. paying attention

Children love attention. They crave it! And they’ll seek it out however they can (even if it means sometimes misbehaving). The undivided attention that you give your child is (or should be) one of the most effective ways to motivate and reward them.

However, because kids with ADHD can often be demanding to spend time with, the quality of the attention that they receive often diminishes over time. They sometimes demand attention at inappropriate times or in inappropriate ways, and as a result of the busyness of life sometimes miss out on the time & attention they crave.

What’s the quality of the attention that your child receives from you?

Does your child highly value your attention?

Try this at Home – Special Attention Time

3 days a week, spend focused 1-on-1 time playing with your child. Get into their world, on their level. Let them guide you. Introduce it by saying “I think we need to play together more. Why don’t you choose something for us to play with together for the next 15-20mins?”.

In doing so, the child begins to value your attention more and parents often begin to appreciate their child more. If the child misbehaves in a minor way, simply turn away temporarily, in order to briefly remove attention (ignoring minor behaviours you want to discourage). If the child misbehaves in a major way, simply say “OK. Our special play time is over. When you can act nicely we can continue.”

2. praising your child

Most of the things said to kids with ADHD end up being around what they should or shouldn’t be doing. And understandably, without your constant reminding and instructions they’d probably never get ready for school or do their homework!

But in the midst of the chaos at home, these kids typically miss out on the appreciation and encouragement that allows desirable behaviours to thrive. If you explicitly celebrate and praise your child for their positive behaviour you’ll typically see more of it over time. For some kids, you might have to dig a bit deeper to reveal the gold, but it is there!

In making behavioural changes, we typically don’t make giant leaps over short periods, instead we take small changes over long periods. You’ll have to remember this with your child. Children with ADHD will still struggle to consistently perform the tasks you ask. Hence, they may not get it all right, but what did they get right?

If we don’t want our kids to give up out of frustration or discouragement we should be praising progress and effort, not perfection.

How much are you encouraging your child’s positive qualities?

Is your praise outweighing your reproving?

Try this at home – Specific Praise

Specific praise clearly communicates why the child is being praised (for doing what they were told, putting something away, calming down on their own, trying their best etc.). Instead of simply saying “good boy/girl” or “well done”, you can start sentences with “I really like it when you…”, “you did a great job…”, “when you… it made me feel really happy and proud”. Make a goal for yourself to praise your child 5-10 times each day. Praise improvement, not perfection.

3. using rewards

Many things we ask our children to do are boring and tedious. They’d much rather be playing their iPad or watching Netflix. Can we really blame them? We all want to do what we want to do. So when our kids aren’t quite ready to do things simply out of the goodness of their hearts, what should we do?

“A spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down”. Rewards are an effective way to motivate your child, incentivising their obedience. Rewards reinforce the behaviours that you want to see more of and are particularly helpful when certain behaviours don’t seem to have any immediate “payoff” (i.e., chores).

And don’t worry, rewards don’t always have to be material goods or financial in nature. Rewards can involve spending special time with a parent, staying up later, an outing somewhere, not needing to perform a chore, extra screen time. Rewards can be as creative as you make them.

What motivates your child?

Are there clear incentives for your child to do things they consider boring or tedious?

Try this at home – Sticker Chart / Reward System 

A reward system is all about creating a token currency that rewards behaviours you’d like to see more of. The reward system can be a sticker chart, poker chips or simply tally marks in a ledger.

You’ll need clear instructions as to what behaviours will be rewarded (i.e., completing chores, completing morning routine independently, speaking nicely to siblings), how much each behaviour will be rewarded (i.e., 1 sticker for putting away the dishes, 4 stickers for washing the car) and what rewards can be redeemed (i.e. not have to do one chore for 10 stickers, movie with mum for 20 stickers, stay up 30 minutes later for 30 stickers).

Penalties can be introduced after a couple of weeks (losing stickers/tokens for certain behaviours), but remember that the goal of a reward system is to reinforce behaviours through rewards, so make sure rewards still outweigh the penalties by quite a bit!

4. effective instructions

Kids with ADHD often struggle to listen to instructions. Sometimes they’re too distracted to fully take it all in, other times they can’t remember everything that you’ve said.

Here’s 5 steps for effective instruction giving

  1. Gain child’s attention: Don’t yell from another room. Speak face-to-face.
  2. Keep it short, clear & simple: Only give one or two steps at a time.
  3. State time: Give clear time-periods when you expect this done.
  4. Ask for confirmation: If unsure they were listening, ask them to repeat it back.
  5. Be respectful: Be kind. Matter-of-fact. If you’re interrupting, apologize.

If you’ve done all of this – and they still don’t follow through on what you’ve asked, you can know that it’s not because they haven’t heard you properly or remembered everything. In that case, they’ll have to face the consequences of their choice.

5. consistent consequences

Children need consistent consequences to learn valuable lessons about the world. Every choice has a consequence – and not all consequences feel good. From fair, consistent, straight-forward consequences, children learn the pain of their poor decisions and the importance of obedience and respect.

Unfortunately, as parents, kids know exactly what to do and what to say to weaken our will, make us feel like the worst parents in the world and tempt us to give in (or out of a child’s sheer tenacity of tantrums, tempt us to give-up!) But if we don’t follow through with the consequences we set, the problem is two-fold: 1) We’re rewarded with temporary peace (and more likely to give in next time), and 2) They’re rewarded for pushing back in whatever way they chose (ignoring, yelling, screaming, nagging, tantrums etc.), and are more likely to do it again next time. It’s a vicious cycle!

When you’re giving consequences, follow these three rules:

  • Consequences should be consistent – Follow through. Never make empty threats.
  • Consequences should be fair
  • Consequences should be immediate

Try this at home – Effective Delivery of Consequences

To avoid the constant warring (arguing, back-chat, whining etc.) and start to break the cycle, try this next time you give an instruction and your child disobeys:

  1. Give instruction: “John, I need you to pack away your toys now”
  2. Give instruction + State consequence for disobedience: “John, I need you to pack your toys away now. If you don’t you’ll lose them for the rest of today. Do you understand? It’s your choice”
  3. Enact consequence: “Ok John, you’ve made your choice. Because you didn’t put your toys away now like I asked you you’ll lose them for the rest of today. Hopefully next time you’ll make a better decision”

IMPORTANT: Keep in mind that when your child is used to getting what they want, when you first start to put your foot down, they may increase their attempts at getting their way. This is called “the extinction burst”. It means you’re on the right track! Stay consistent and keep persevering.


What next?

Did you learn something new from the above tips? Have a go at implementing the at home practice ideas and see what happens. If you would like more tips or assistance making the above strategies work effectively for your family please get in touch and book an appointment.

Chris gilbert

Psychologist, Baulkham Hills NSW

Chris has a particular interest in supporting individuals of all ages who are struggling with anxiety and depressive disorders. He creates a motivating and light hearted environment within which clients can develop the skills necessary for change. When treating young people Chris works together with their families to empower everyone involved with the skills needed to improve their lives.