Behavior & Discipline

Answers to the Discipline Questions You Were Too Exhausted to Ask

Enforce consequences immediately. Never waver from the rules. Recognize the good moments. And more ADHD discipline help from parenting guru Peter Jaska, Ph.D.

A defiant adhd child whose parents need discipline help.
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Secrets of Better Discipline

All kids resist rules sometimes, but children who have ADHD tend to put up more of a fight. To rein in rebellious, impulsive ADHD behavior without creating a power struggle, parents must be infinitely patient, persistent, and creative in responding to rapidly changing situations. Here are six common problems — and discipline strategies — shared by parents of children with ADHD.

ADHD discipline help for when your child just looks up, and ignores everything you say.
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My child absolutely refuses to do as she is told.

Sometimes families get into patterns where daily tasks (doing homework, getting ready for bed, etc.) turn into battles. The child eventually complies, but the conflict upsets and exhausts everyone. The best long-term solution for avoiding fights is to set up routines to help children get through daily tasks. For example, parents must establish and enforce regular study times. Be warned, it may take weeks until the child accepts and follows these routines.

A boy with ADHD draws on the wall. His parents need some discipline help!
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My child doesn't care about consequences.

Consequences work best when they’re imposed immediately following a broken rule. If you delay the consequence, you're blunting their emotional impact on your child. Consequences should have realistic time limits: long enough to teach a lesson but short enough to give your child a chance to move on to positive things. Overly harsh consequences will encourage your child to resent your authority — and generate more anger.

[Positive Charge: How to Reinforce Good Behavior]

A child with ADHD crosses her fingers behind her back as she tells a lie.
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I can't believe anything my child tells me.

For children with ADHD, lying is often a coping mechanism. A lie may be a way to cover up forgetfulness, to avoid criticism or punishment, or to avoid dealing with feelings of guilt and shame over repeated failures. Figure out the reasons behind your child’s chronic dishonesty. If she lies to avoid consequences, monitor her closely and discipline any act of deception. If she lies in order to cover up failure or shame, provide appropriate help so she can overcome these feelings.

A boy with ADHD looks dejected while his ADHD father disciplines him.
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My child doesn't take me seriously.

There could be any number of reasons why a child fails to respect you. Are the rules clear? Put important rules in writing. Does the child consider them unfair? In that case, further discussion is needed. Ultimately, if you want your rules to be followed, you must enforce them consistently. If you make empty threats, you're undermining your parental authority.

A child with ADHD overreacts to her parents' discipline.
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My child overreacts to just about everything.

Heightened emotionality is a characteristic of ADHD. For kids with the condition, failure doesn't just discourage — it devastates. While most kids might protest a bit about being disciplined, kids with ADHD might react with intense indignation and anger. But keep in mind that chronic overreaction to discipline may not be the result of the disorder. Is your kid overreacting because she feels criticized? Unloved? Helpless? Overwhelmed? In some cases chronic anger may indicate a childhood mood disorder or bipolar disorder.

A child with ADHD covers his ears when his parents try to discipline him.
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My child won't listen to me.

If your child regularly tunes you out, do a self-check. Have you become too negative or critical? Has conversation turned into a series of lectures, instead of a give-and-take? No matter what your child's age, try involving him in the process of establishing rules and the consequences for breaking them. A child who feels included in the making of rules will be more likely to respect them.

[Never Punish a Child for Behavior Outside His Control]

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  1. Thanks for summary, but one big thing is missing in my opinion: No one has the right to punish violation of discipline unless he provides the conditions for keeping discipline. I think it is often forgotten, that usually the biggest problems with discipline has those parents, which can not prepare or could not learn prepare the conditions for discipline themselves.

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