Discipline and ADHD – can the two go together?

Psychologist, Emily Coen

Before parents with kids with ADHD stress out…..the answer is YES! Of course kids with ADHD can also respond to discipline and boundaries! They just may need a slightly different set of strategies that really fit their needs. Kids with ADHD may have difficulty sitting still, completing tasks, managing impulses, and following directions. The strategies below can be helpful in assisting your child with ADHD to follow the rules.

  1. Set limits: 
  • Be firm, fair and consistent. 
  • Start by establishing just a few specific rules, expectations and consequences for their behaviours.  
  • Follow through is important as children are great at identifying “soft spots” and learn how to get their own way.
  1. Release energy:
  • Children with ADHD often have excess energy. Allow your child to release this in an appropriate manner. Activities include trips to the playground, heavy work activities such as lifting and pushing, jumping on the trampoline, sensory games, or structured activities such as sports. 
  1. Managing attention problems: 
  • Establish a habit of working in short uninterrupted blocks of time to maintain attention and focus. 
  • Assist your child to stay on task by using visual reminders of tasks they need to complete. 
  • Give effective instructions. Start by gaining full attention, and avoid multiple step instructions with complicated language. Keep instructions and give one step at a time.
  1. Managing impulsivity. 
  • Come up with a private signal to remind your child it’s time to try and settle down. For example, use a hand as a stop sign to cue to the child to stop, breathe and think. 
  • Teach your child to go to a quiet spot to calm down when they are overstimulated or frustrated. Create a comfortable area and calmly guide the child there, not as punishment, but as a way to soothe themselves. They might need you to sit with them and help them regulate, this is OK! We call this “time in” with an adult who can support them, rather than the old-fashioned term of “time out” which is more of a punishment.
  • When talking to your child, bend down to their level and calmly explain their actions and consequences to their actions. 
  1. Praise 
  • Be proactive! Catch your child when they are displaying positive behaviours and praise them for it. Praising motivated children about what behaviours we are looking for, and providing frequent feedback, are really important.  
  • Establish a reward system for when your child is engaging in positive behaviours. 

6. Attention

  • Give your child 10 minutes of undivided attention. Learn about your child’s interests, their day at school, their friends. Check in on their feelings and allow them to ask questions. Giving your child attention in a proactive way can reduce attention-seeking behaviours.
  • If you’re finding it hard to fit this in, schedule it! Plan ahead, such as walking home from school once a week and chatting to your child on the way; or stopping for a milkshake before their after-school sports. It doesn’t matter how, where or when you do it – just plan it in!

Things to remember:

  • Stay calm. If you are angry or upset, do not deal with the situation on the spot. Or tag team with a partner or another family member who may be in a calmer state than you are! When you are calm, you are more able to communicate effectively with your child.
  • Do not take your child’s actions personally. It’s not about you! All kids struggle at times to regulate their emotions and behaviour, and it can sometimes be even harder for our kiddos with ADHD. Try and keep this in mind when your child pushes your buttons and remember: kids generally want to do the right thing, it’s just sometimes hard! (Just like it can be hard for all of us sometimes!)
Emily is a registered psychologist with a Master of Professional Psychology. Emily has experience working with children, adolescents and their families across home, clinic, and educational settings. Emily has a special interest in working with autism spectrum disorder, developmental disorders, anxiety, behaviour management, and emotion regulation difficulties. Emily is passionate about working with children and their families in a flexible and creative manner, to best support their goals. Previously, Emily has worked as an ABA therapist and supervisor, allowing her to develop strong relationships with children and their support networks.
Emily works predominantly within the Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy frameworks. Emily is an accredited Tuning into Kids facilitator and Cool Kids Anxiety Program facilitator. 
Outside of work, Emily enjoys spending time with her family, reading a good book, playing netball, and cheering on the Geelong Cats.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *