Blog post updated on 17th March 2022.
Raising a child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can be very challenging at times. Here is some advice on how to support your child, how to set boundaries and positively discipline them, plus some other top tips.
ADHD is a condition that affects millions of children and often continues into adulthood. It includes a combination of difficulties sustaining attention, hyperactivity, and impulsive behaviour.
For more about ADHD.
Firstly, if you are worried that your child may have ADHD, take them to see their GP. Their GP may then refer the child to a specialist department that diagnoses ADHD in children. Once your child has a diagnosis of ADHD, they will be able to access specialist support from health care professionals and educational specialists will be able to help you understand your child’s needs.
It is important to ensure that everyone in your family understands ADHD and how your child experiences their symptoms to support your child. This can help break any misconceptions or even stigma and can normalise ADHD and maintain a balance of attention between family members. By addressing misconceptions, you can avoid your child being stereotyped, which could affect their self-esteem.
Instead of giving your child chain instructions such as, “put on your shoes, tidy your bedroom and then take out the rubbish,” give them one instruction at a time. The instructions can be written in a checklist format with individual tasks such as, “make the bed,” “put dirty clothes in the laundry basket,” and, “replace the books on the shelf.”
Discipline your child with purpose and warmth
Learn which discipline approaches are best for a child with ADHD. Your child’s health or educational support worker can coach you on ways to respond to your child’s behaviours. Children with ADHD might be more sensitive to criticism than non-ADHD children. Correcting your child’s behaviour is best done in a way that is encouraging and supportive rather than punishing.
Maintain boundaries around unacceptable behaviour
Violence and aggression are examples of behaviour that most parents would consider unacceptable. If your child exhibits these types of behaviour, follow through on consequences such as removing them from situations or environments that trigger this behaviour.
Provide positive attention
Parenting a child with ADHD can be exhausting. Their never-ending supply of energy and desire to talk constantly can tire even the most patient parent. Providing your child with positive attention is a good idea. Set aside 15 minutes of positive attention with your child every day. You and your child can use this time to play together for instance, and this time can reduce attention-seeking behaviour from your child.
Use time-out when necessary
Time-out can be a good way to help children calm down. Instead of using time-out as a punishment, create a comfortable and quiet area for your child. Calmly guide them to this area whenever they become frustrated or over-stimulated. Your child will eventually learn to go to this area on their own before their behaviour escalates.
Ignore mild misbehaviours
Children with ADHD often exhibit attention-seeking behaviour. Giving your child attention to negative behaviours may encourage them to continue. Ignoring behaviours, such as whining and loud noises, will eventually encourage your child to stop exhibiting them.
Establish a reward system
This can be a great way to help children with ADHD stay on track. Children with ADHD can become bored with traditional reward systems where they must wait a long time to earn a reward. A token economy system is a good idea for children with ADHD. Award tokens for positive behaviour such as staying at the table during a meal, handling a pet gently and putting toys away after playing with them. Allow tokens to be exchanged for bigger awards such as time to play a favourite board game together.
1. Work with your child’s teacher
This will increase your child’s chances of success. Children with ADHD may need reasonable adjustments at school, such as extra time to allow them to complete a test.
2. Believe in your child
Make a list of all the positive, unique, and valuable aspects of your child. Trust that your child can learn, change, mature and succeed. Reaffirm the trust of your child while you perform parts of your daily routine such as brushing your teeth or making yourself a coffee. Believing in your child can help you focus on them in a more positive light.
3. Practise self-care
This can help you to remain a positive role model and source of strength for your child. Seek support from your child’s doctors, therapists, and teachers as well as other parents of children with ADHD. Take breaks away from your child if you need to and allow other adult relatives, friends, or babysitters to look after them. Eat healthily, take regular exercise, and reduce stress. If you do fall ill, acknowledge it, and seek help.
4. Establish a structured routine and stick to it
Children with ADHD are more likely to succeed in completing tasks when they occur in predictable patterns and places. Create designated time slots for meals, homework, playtime, and bedtime. Use clocks and timers throughout the house including a large clock in your child’s bedroom. Simplify your child’s schedule. Set a good example for your child by being neat and organised yourself.
5. Encourage movement such as regular exercise
Organised sports and other physical activities can help your child use their energy in a positive way. The benefits of physical activity for children with ADHD include improved concentration, decreasing anxiety and depression, and brain growth. Find a sport that your child will enjoy and will suit their strengths. Team sports such as basketball and hockey that require constant motion are best for children with ADHD. Martial arts, such as tae kwon do, and yoga can also be beneficial for children with ADHD because they enhance mental control as they work out their bodies.
6. Establish strategies to help your child sleep effectively
Insufficient sleep can be highly detrimental for children with ADHD. Their difficulties with attention can lead to over-stimulation and trouble sleeping. Eliminating caffeine from your child’s diet can help improve their sleep pattern. Establishing a routine such as decreasing screen time and introducing quieter activities an hour before your child goes to bed can also help. Spending ten minutes cuddling with your child before they go to sleep builds a sense of love and security. The scent of lavender; calming sound effects or music on CD or downloaded or online playlists; and white noise, such as a static radio, can all calm your child before they fall asleep.
7. Teach your child how to make friends
Children with ADHD can often have difficulty with simple social interactions. They may have trouble understanding social cues, talk too much, interrupt frequently, or be looked upon as aggressive or “too intense”. Children with ADHD can also behave more immaturely than other children of their own age and can be easy targets for other children to tease them. Some positive aspects of children with ADHD that can make it easier for them to make friends include increased intelligence and creativity. Speak gently but honestly with your child about how you expect them to interact with others. Role-play various social scenarios with your child. Be careful to choose playmates who have similar physical skills and language skills for your child. Watch them closely while they play when they are young and have a zero-tolerance policy for hitting, pushing, and yelling.
Many children with ADHD utilise their unique abilities and grow up to be exceptional adults. Find out more about the common strengths of people with ADHD.