When we discuss parenting, one of the most important things to clarify is the difference between discipline and punishment.
Discipline is proactive. It allows for kids to be in control of their behaviors and to make decisions by providing them with a clear framework of what is expected of them. Positive behaviors are rewarded, and negative behaviors are subject to a consequence that is related to the problem and results from that specific behavior. The goal of discipline is to teach children skills that they are able to consistently rely on in the future including: self-control and self-regulation.
Punishment is reactive and takes control from the child and puts it into the hands of the adult who then chooses what the outcome of their decision is. Punishments usually come in the form of taking away privileges or possessions, assigning unpleasant tasks or work, and sometimes corporal punishment which can increase aggression and other negative behaviors.
When it comes to disciplining a child with ADHD, one thing that definitely doesn’t work is losing your temper. For children without ADHD, who rarely get in trouble, an adult raising their voice may have an impact. For a child with ADHD this is rarely the case. When a child with ADHD misbehaves frequently, and gets yelled at for these behaviors, eventually they get used to frequent yelling and then tune it out. Same with punishment. If a child living with ADHD is in a perpetual state of punishment, the punishment they receive loses effect.
Positive attention for positive behaviors is much more effective than negative attention for negative behaviors. Positive attention not only feels good, but it helps to strengthen relationships, and helps children to be more open to instructions and limit setting.
Actively ignoring minor behaviors is one of the most effective ways to manage outbursts. It’s important to note that active ignoring should only be used with behaviors that are not dangerous ie. whining or crying. Aggressive or destructive behaviors should not be ignored as these types of behaviors increase risk of injury to the child and to others. Active ignoring involves removing attention away from a behavior your child is engaging in that is unacceptable. While you are ignoring this type of behavior, you are waiting for a positive behavior to occur and as soon as it does, you want to provide positive attention so your child learns that positive behaviors are what get you to engage, not negative behaviors. For younger children time-outs can be a very effective means of discipline if done correctly.
Children with ADHD have a very difficult time with delayed gratification. They have an extraordinarily hard time waiting their turn, they get bored easily, and because of that they need a system that takes this into account. A token economy system can be very helpful with managing behaviors. An effective token economy system should be fun. The goal is to help your child get excited about working toward rewards, and should help with intrinsic motivation.
Parenting is one of the most difficult responsibilities a person will ever have, and sometimes that journey can feel lonely. Joining a parent support group, engaging in individual or family therapy, exercise, meditation, eating healthy, and getting enough sleep can go a long way toward managing stress. It’s difficult to have the bandwidth to take care of others if you’re not taking care of yourself.
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