Positive parenting helps families build a child’s self-esteem and improve behavior by using detailed instructions, clear expectations, positive recognition, and rewards for accomplishments. It can help you achieve greater harmony at home, and using this approach may be especially important for parents raising a child with ADHD.
People with ADHD often have big emotions and can’t regulate them on their own. While that can be terribly frustrating and exhausting for us parents, it’s one of the most important time for us to step in to understand and validate what they are feeling. Unfortunately, we are sometimes the ones who escalate the issue by saying something like, “you’re overreacting”. We all know that those reactions to anyone is counterproductive!
Feelings matter and minimizing or dismissing their thoughts and feelings makes them feel like their ideas and/or problems don’t matter — like they don’t matter. Validating their thoughts and feelings, in turn, makes them feel understood and loved. Kids that feel loved naturally behave better because “bad” behavior is just their way of handling their problems—or not knowing how to handle them.
Studies find that when parents change their behavior and learn to parent more positively it can reset the family dynamic. Not only that, as harsh interactions decreased, their children demonstrated less abnormal heart activity and greater impulse control.
So while parenting a child/teen with ADHD is challenging, you can learn to discipline more effectively using validation and rewards. Validating a child’s feelings acknowledges that their emotions are understandable within their viewpoint, through the lens of ADHD. Consider these ideas that will help you to create a calmer and happier home life for you and your child.
Encouraging Positive Behavior:
Prevention is more effective than discipline. Create conditions that make it easier for your child to use their strengths and follow house rules.
- Understand ADHD. ADHD is not a one-size-fits-all diagnosis. Take the time and care to learn about your child’s strengths and weaknesses. Your child may be highly creative and energetic. On the other hand, they probably struggle with listening attentively and planning ahead. Or they may not have the hyperactive aspect at all—they may be slow, methodical and determined.
- Enjoy one-on-one time. Your child is less likely to act out if they feel secure and loved. Try to arrange at least one-half hour a day when you do something pleasant together. It could be your bedtime rituals or chatting and playing ball after school. If you can’t do 30 full minutes, then break it into 10-minute intervals. What matters is the connection and that they feel seen and heard.
- Offer rewards. Give your child an extra incentive to comply with your expectations. Offer praise or small gifts when they complete their homework and cooperate with their siblings. Or if they are older and manage to get up and out of the house in time every day one week, maybe they can stay up later or out later on the weekend. If they have trouble waiting a week or more to get their prize, let them earn points throughout the day.
- Be specific. Remembering multi-step instructions is often hard for someone with ADHD. Make it easier for your child to do what you want by spelling out each step involved. Instead of asking them to clean their room, ask them to pick their toys up off the floor and put their clothes in a laundry hamper. Instead of are you ready for school, try do you have your homework, lunch, and a sweater?
- Use visuals and sounds. Many children with ADHD understand images and sounds better than words. They are visual and often hands-on learners. Clarify your instructions with other cues. Set a timer that will buzz when homework time is up. Hang a poster in the bathroom with pictures of a child brushing their teeth and putting on pajamas. Get creative—and get them to use their imagination and creativity too.
Be Prepared for Lapses
Of course, things will still implode sometimes. Be prepared to respond in a way that works better than nagging or criticizing—this holds true no matter the age. In fact, it’s even more relevant for teens. Try to respond, not react. Try to have set consequences so it takes the emotion out of the moment. They didn’t do something to you—they broke a rule that is already established and agreed to. That helps dial down the emotional interaction for both of you.
- Focus on learning. Discipline means training rather than punishment. When your child slips up, show them what they need to do in order to succeed the next time. Take note of their issues and discuss this with teachers so you get the accommodations your child or teen needs.
- Limit time outs. Sitting completely still may be overwhelming for some children with ADHD. If you use time outs, keep them brief, and consider giving them credit if they manage to keep their mouths shut.
- Establish priorities. Trying to resolve too many issues at once can backfire. Deal with one subject at a time. Give your child a chance to fix one situation before you tackle the next.
- Stay calm. Children with ADHD may be even more sensitive than the average child when it comes to being influenced by a parent’s mood. If you can remain composed even when your child hits a classmate or keeps losing their glasses, you’ll be in a better position to work together towards lasting solutions.
Parenting a child with ADHD often requires more effort, patience, and understanding. But if you have a plan, understand their specific issues, validate their thoughts and emotions, and believe in them and their abilities, then it’s a win for the whole family.