Parenting

Tips for Giving Effective Consequences for Your Child with ADHD

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Children with ADHD tend to constantly be moving. They may have trouble focusing and sitting still. It can also be more difficult for them to process information. Because of this, children with ADHD don’t always recognize the consequences of their behaviors. 

In this article, I’ll describe the behaviors of children with ADHD and explain how to connect behavior and consequences. I’ll also provide effective consequences for children with ADHD. Keep in mind though that every child is different, and will need their own set of consequences based on their abilities.

Behaviors of Children with ADHD

A child with ADHD may display hyperactive, impulsive, and inattentive behaviors. A child should not be punished or have consequences for displaying these behaviors.

Inattention

A child who shows a pattern of inattention may often:

  • Fail to pay close attention to details or make careless mistakes in schoolwork
  • Have trouble staying focused on tasks or play
  • Appear not to listen, even when spoken to directly
  • Have difficulty following through on instructions and fail to finish schoolwork or chores
  • Have trouble organizing tasks and activities
  • Avoid or dislike tasks that require focused mental effort, such as homework
  • Lose items needed for tasks or activities, for example, toys, school assignments, pencils
  • Be easily distracted
  • Forget to do some daily activities, such as forgetting to do chores

Hyperactivity and impulsivity

A child who shows a pattern of hyperactive and impulsive symptoms may often:

  • Fidget with or tap his or her hands or feet, or squirm in the seat
  • Have difficulty staying seated in the classroom or in other situations
  • Be on the go, in constant motion
  • Run around or climb in situations when it's not appropriate
  • Have trouble playing or doing an activity quietly
  • Talk too much
  • Blurt out answers, interrupting the questioner
  • Have difficulty waiting for his or her turn
  • Interrupt or intrude on others' conversations, games, or activities

Why It Can Be Difficult for Children with ADHD to Consider Consequences

Children with ADHD tend to live in the moment and don’t take consequences into account when they are displaying a behavior. In order for a child to consider a consequence, they’d have to pause and think whether or not there would be a consequence for it and consider their emotions as well. 

A child with ADHD may seem that they have more difficulty “learning from past mistakes” because they are only living and reacting during the moment. To them, everything is happening at once, and they respond impulsively based on the immediate circumstances at hand.

Another factor that impacts this is working memory, as a child may have trouble remembering relevant information, such as potential consequences, to help them avoid making the same mistake or guide them to make the right decision.

There can also be a disconnect between internal language in individuals with ADHD, as their thoughts, or voices inside their heads may be delayed in development. 

Coexisting conditions

Many children with ADHD have coexisting conditions. While any condition can coexist with ADHD, some are more common than others. These disorders can impact behavior, mood, and receptibility to consequences. 

Some common coexisting conditions include:

  • Anxiety: Nearly 30 percent of children with ADHD experience anxiety. Anxiety causes excessive worrying about different aspects of life and can cause stress, lack of sleep, and edginess. 
  • Disruptive behavior disorders: About 40 percent of children with ADHD have oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). Symptoms of ODD include refusing to follow rules, being angry, not listening to directions, blaming others, and having a short temper.

Tips for Effective Consequences for Children with ADHD

When giving consequences for undesirable behavior, it’s important to keep an open mind and consider your child’s disability. 

Consider your child’s developmental level

While your child may be 10 years old, their developmental level could be years younger. Therefore, it’s important to keep in mind the appropriate consequences for their developmental age. 

For example, it might be completely inappropriate for a 10-year-old child to throw their food on the floor when they’re angry. However, if your child is developmentally 5 years old, you’d want to provide a consequence more suited for that age and their developmental expectations.

Pick your battles

Be selective over the behaviors you react to. Sometimes it can actually be better to ignore some mild inappropriate behaviors. 

Some of these mild behaviors could include whining, complaining, making loud noises, or them trying to interrupt you. Many of these behaviors are done in order to get attention, so sometimes it’s better to avoid engaging in them.

Additionally, if you need to provide consequences for every undesirable behavior that your child does, you might find yourself constantly disciplining them. Sometimes it’s helpful to instead direct your child to other behaviors. For example, if your child is whining you’d say in a calm voice, “I see you are upset. Please tell me in a calm voice what you are upset about, instead of whining.” 

Use timeouts correctly and sparingly

Timeouts can be used as an effective consequence to curb negative behaviors and can lead to stronger relationships, better emotion regulation, and consistency. However, overusing timeouts or using them incorrectly can cause your child to feel isolated and the consequence can lack emotional regulation. 

Try these tips for giving effective timeouts:

  • Make them as short as possible (some advise on 1 minute per their age, while others say 3 minutes maximum)
  • Communicate to the child what behavior(s) will result in a time out
  • Don’t use them for every small behavior, but rather for larger more serious behaviors (e.g., aggression)
  • Use them consistently; for example, if you are trying to curb a certain behavior, use it each time the behavior occurs
  • Provide an opportunity to repair their behavior when they return from time out
  • After the time-out, focus on praising the first positive thing you notice that your child does

Avoid consequences for behaviors outside the child’s control

Children with ADHD can have difficulty regulating their emotions and behaviors. Therefore, it’s important that you don’t punish your child for behaviors that they can’t control. Punishing them could lead to feelings of guilt, and shame, and can develop into frustration and defiance.

Giving consequences for these behaviors will not be effective for a child with ADHD, and they will likely keep behaving in that way regardless of the severity of the consequence. 

Try to understand your child’s behaviors

Instead of giving consequences for undesirable or negative behaviors, try understanding them.

You may find that your child’s problematic behaviors fall into two categories:

  • Chronic behaviors: Behaviors that occur at the same time and in situations (such as refusing to brush their teeth or throwing a tantrum when leaving the park).
  • Impulsive behaviors: Behaviors that occur at the spur of the moment (such as sudden tantrums or aggressive behavior without a clear reason).

In the moment, it may not be clear to you why your child engaged in these behaviors. However, many times the reason falls under one of these causes:

  • They were unsure how to ask for help
  • They didn’t completely understand the task and desirable outcome
  • They needed transition time to prepare for a change of activity
  • The task was too difficult for them
  • They were unable to control themselves
  • There were too many steps and became overwhelmed
  • They felt ashamed of their behavior 

Understanding your child’s behaviors may help you to decide on an appropriate consequence if any at all.

Takeaway

As you can see, effective consequences for a child with ADHD involve thoughtful considerations for the parent. A child with ADHD can have trouble with self-control, and act in an impulsive manner. This is why it’s important to pick your battles, consider your child’s developmental age, and look to understand why your child behaved a certain way before punishing them.