How to Discipline a Child with ADHD: Top 9 Tips

Julia Ovcharenko, CEO of Numo
January 12, 2024

Do you suspect or know that your kid has ADHD? Well, let me disprove some myths real fast: ADHD kids aren’t these unruly balls of energy you cannot expect to control

We ADHDers just perceive the world differently, and our brain is just a bit different. But that doesn’t mean there’s no rhyme or reason to how we roll! 

So, if you need help figuring out the best way to discipline a child with ADHD, you’re in the right place.

Let’s dig in! 

[Consistent routine] 1. Establishing a consistent routine

A routine offers a safe environment as a child knows what to expect from each part of the day. It removes confusion and stress from the situation and makes it easier for a child to focus. 

Establish a routine for waking up, meals, homework, playtime, and bedtime. Stick to this schedule diligently, as the predictability can significantly reduce anxiety and resistance.

While consistency is key, plans can often change. Explain any adjustments in advance, if possible, and be patient if these changes upset your kid. 

[Be direct & literal] 2. Be direct and literal in your requests

Even adults with ADHD can sometimes fall into a state of ADHD paralysis when faced with abstractions such as “clean your room.” So, if you see your child not responding to this request as you’d like, don’t freak out or assume disobedience. 

Instead, try being more granular: 

  1. Put all your toys in the toybox.
  2. Make your bed.
  3. Fold your clean laundry.

You get the idea. Also, try not to stack too many “commands” simultaneously, as a child might forget some of them before even finishing the first few.

[Positive reinforcement] 3. Use positive reinforcement

Research suggests that children with ADHD are more vigilant if they are constantly fed positive reinforcement.

In short, more praise = behaving child. But like in the previous tip, be more specific with your praise! Don’t just say “well done!” Well done what? 

If you ask your kid to make their bed and they do so immediately and without pouting or getting too distracted, then say that explicitly. 

It’s almost like a game. ADHDers are on the lifelong hunt for more dopamines, so there’s nothing wrong with playing into these tendencies. If your kid starts associating following your requests with good vibes, there’ll be less friction. 

[Clear expectations] 4. Set clear expectations

But we all know that theory is not like practice; no strategies are foolproof. 

So, what to do when discipline fails and the child acts naughty?  

Well, you need to be explicit and logical. Tell your kid that they won’t get to play any video games until they do their homework to help establish direct cause and effect. 

It’s like with positive reinforcement but in reverse. 

[Don't be too harsh] 5. Don’t be too harsh

Remember - ADHD isn’t something that an adult can always control, let alone a child. Sometimes, if your child misbehaves, it’s not because they want to; it’s because it’s impossible for them to do otherwise. 

And whatever you do, don’t yell! Not only because it’s the wrong thing to do but because Mr.Science - again - tells you that it’s a bad idea, as it makes ADHD children less behaved. 

[Let them learn] 6. Allow them to figure things out

People learn best when they’re allowed to reach conclusions by themselves. I don’t know why, really. Maybe if you reach a conclusion yourself, you kinda “own” it, so you feel more compelled to follow it.

What does that mean? Well, it depends on the level of transgression. Are they refusing to come down to dinner because they’re too busy doing whatever? Put the food away! Next time, they’ll be a lot more prudent with their timing. 

If it’s something more serious (maybe they have broken something or lost their phone), put them in a time-out. In this case, a time-out should be a calm space away from overstimulation where they can think hard about their mistakes. 

[Professional help] 7. Seek professional guidance

There is a reason some professionals can dedicate their entire careers to studying ADHD…stuff be complicated, yo.

So, there’s no shame in asking for help! 

Where to look?

  • Behavioral therapists: Consult with behavioral therapists specializing in ADHD to develop effective discipline strategies.
  • Educational workshops: Attend workshops and training sessions to learn new techniques and strategies for managing ADHD.
  • Support groups: Fellow battle-hardened parents of ADHDers can be one of the best sources of advice on the subject you can get. And speaking of that, our Numo app houses the ADHD community exactly like that! So, check it out when you have time. 

[Educate others] 8. Educate others

It takes a village and all that. As much as some parents would want that, your kid won’t always exist in the bubble of your household, so it’d be best if the other people in your kid’s life knew what to expect.

  • Inform teachers: Educate teachers and school staff about your child’s ADHD and share effective techniques on how to discipline a child with ADHD in the classroom. Explain to them that your child might need a different approach for effective learning. 
  • Family and friends: Share information with family and friends to ensure consistency in discipline and to foster understanding and support.

[Self-care] 9. Don’t forget self-care

Despite everything, raising a child with ADHD can be hard and mentally draining sometimes. So, don’t push yourself too hard!

Remember to take regular breaks for some valuable “me-time,” and don’t bottle up your feelings; share your frustrations with a counselor or a trusted friend.

It’s for your own good and your child’s benefit! If you’re mentally and physically exhausted, it’d be easier to snap at your child and exercise poor judgment. 

[Conclusion] Conclusion

ADHD can be a confusing and stressful mess for people living with it. Understanding it from the outside can be a challenge and a half. 

Yet, with the right attitude, patience, and proper education, raising a kid with ADHD can be a pleasant and rewarding experience. 

[Sources] Sources

1. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology. Reinforcement Enhances Vigilance Among Children With ADHD: Comparisons to Typically Developing Children and to the Effects of Methylphenidate
2. Clinical Psychological Science. Improvements in Negative Parenting Mediate Changes in Children’s Autonomic Responding Following a Preschool Intervention for ADHD.

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