ADHD or Lack of Discipline? Child Behaviors that Should be Taken Seriously & What to do About Them
A common myth around children with ADHD is that their symptoms are a result of bad parenting. But research shows that genetic and environmental risk factors are actually to blame.1 According to clinical psychologist and ADHD expert Russell A. Barkley, kids with ADHD have defects in the ability to self-regulate, leading to challenges with motivation, and poor impulse control.2 To outsiders, this might look like a lack of parental discipline when it really comes down to medically-proven executive dysfunction in the child’s brain.
Nonetheless, parenting a child with ADHD can be challenging, especially when it comes to discipline strategies. But it isn’t impossible. You may just need a different approach. Find out how to tell if your child has ADHD, why kids with ADHD act out, and explore some discipline strategies that actually work.
Common Signs of ADHD in Kids
Sometimes a child who was raised in a house where discipline was not enforced will exhibit symptoms that mimic ADHD. According to psychotherapist Sharron Frederick, LCSW, children who have little or no discipline are left to fend for themselves, which may result in injuries and a lack of boundaries.3 Similarly, ADHD may cause impulsivity in children, leading them to engage in risky and dangerous behavior, not because their parents left them to their own devices, but because they have trouble with self-restraint. This impulsivity can also lead an ADHD kid to say too much at inappropriate times, fail to see another person’s perspective, or act on feelings of anger and frustration, which are also classic examples of having poor boundaries.
Although many symptoms of ADHD are visible and easy to identify, there are some child behaviors that remain hidden from view. Beyond impulsive behavior, here are some symptoms a child with ADHD may exhibit:
Signs of ADHD in younger kids:
- Difficulty paying attention
- Trouble finishing tasks
- Not listening
- Fidgeting and squirming
- Being disruptive and loud
- Excessive talking and interrupting
- Difficulty following instructions or processing information
- Trouble waiting their turn
- Being prone to outbursts
Signs of ADHD in older kids and teens:
- Difficulty focusing on schoolwork
- Makes mistakes often
- Poor time management
- Trouble finishing tasks
- Avoidance of mentally taxing tasks
- Emotional sensitivity
- Trouble maintaining friendships
- Increased conflict with parents
Why do Kids with ADHD Act Out?
ADHD can also lead to acting out and emotional outbursts. Inattention can make it challenging for kids to tolerate repetitive or “boring” tasks that take too much time and too much focus. This may lead to frustration, which any other kid might bottle up or work through. But children with ADHD are often plagued with impulsivity, which means they’re more likely to scream, push someone, throw something, or have another similar outburst because they don’t know how else to manage their big feelings.
According to David Anderson, PhD, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, kids with ADHD also act out because of their history and the built up frustration of growing up with ADHD.4 After years of being told to sit still, stay on task, and stop doing this or that, children with ADHD may have had one too many negative interactions with their parents and teachers, leading to aggression and defiance. In fact, as many as 40 to 50 percent of kids with ADHD are also diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder (ODD).5
irritability and impulsivity.
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How to Help
Before exploring discipline strategies that can help your child with ADHD, it’s important for parents to educate themselves as much as possible on what ADHD is, what makes it worse, and what could potentially ease symptoms to make life easier for the whole family. Ensuring your child is getting enough sleep, eating healthy food, and limiting their screen time have all been proven to manage symptoms of ADHD. Working with your child’s teacher is another important way to ensure they’re getting the support they need at school. Another empowering act is to teach your child coping mechanisms for their stress, such as deep breathing practices and mindfulness techniques they can call on when emotions heighten.
Many children with ADHD take medication to reduce symptoms and increase focus and clarity. While prescription medication is typically the first line of treatment, these medications are associated with a number of side effects like nausea, weight loss, and insomnia, which is why we recommend prescription medication as a last resort. Starting with a gentler medication like Brillia can help to address symptoms of ADHD without harsh, synthetic chemicals or harmful side effects. Brillia’s active ingredient consists of antibodies to the S100B protein, which plays an important role in mood regulation, focus, and neuroplasticity. Brillia reduces ADHD and ADD symptoms at the source by targeting and attaching to the S100B protein and changing its shape so it cannot instigate symptoms altogether. This is achieved without affecting any other systems in the body or causing any harmful interactions with other medications or supplements your child may be taking.
Discipline Strategies that Work
It’s important for parents to accept the notion that traditional discipline strategies probably won’t work for your child with ADHD. Punishments may just be ignored. Raising your voice probably won’t even make them flinch. Here’s what actually works:
- Positive feedback: It may seem counterintuitive, but praise and rewards will probably get you farther than any length of grounding or time-outs. Because children with ADHD will have had many negative interactions about their behavior, hearing positive feedback will feel new and enticing. Research shows that praising behavior you want to encourage gets more results than bringing attention to things you want your child to stop doing.6
- Give clear instructions and plenty of reminders: It’s hard for kids with ADHD to do as they’re told and follow the rules if they didn’t listen to what they were told and they forgot all the rules. Giving clear instructions one at a time, maybe even with checklists, will help your child follow through on tasks. Your child may also need some reminders to keep them motivated and reduce distractions.
- Replace time outs with cool-down corners: Time outs are becoming antiquated. Cool-down corners are a kinder replacement. Unlike a time-out chair, which isolates the child and leaves them to fester in their anger, a cool-down corner is a calming retreat filled with tools to promote calmness (think glitter jars or fidget toys) where the parent is still within view and available for support. This is especially useful for younger kids.
- Use a reward system: Nothing motivates like winning a prize. Reward systems can be an effective way to help kids with ADHD stay on task and follow instructions, as long as you don’t make them wait too long for the reward. Use a visible rewards chart or hand out tokens for positive behavior, which they can save up and use for prizes.
Lastly, remind yourself that your child with ADHD lacks the self-control of other children their age. Try not to sweat the small stuff and don’t forget to celebrate the big stuff.
Find more resources on how to help your child with ADHD at the Brillia blog.
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