15 Tips for Dealing with Your ADHD Child’s Challenging Behavior

December 6, 2013



1.   Kids with ADHD seek stimulation.  When your child’s behavior is pushing your buttons, avoid an explosive and emotional response…which is very stimulating.  If you react with a highly charged response, you will actually be rewarding and reinforcing your child’s misbehavior, and you can expect that the undesired behavior will continue to occur.


2.   Try your best (as difficult as it may be) to remain calm.  To help do so: Take a few deep breaths.  Relax your jaw. Uncross your arms and lower your voice.  If need be, take a break and leave the room to gain your composure.


3.   When delivering consequences (e.g., time-out, loss of privilege, fining) for the misbehaviors you need to address,  use a neutral, matter-of-fact voice with as few words as possible.


4.   Avoid nagging, scolding, lecturing, or threatening.


5.   Realize that you cannot control your child’s behavior. Change what you can control…yourself (your attitude, body language, words, tone and volume of voice, strategies you use, consistency and follow-through).  In doing so, it will have a direct, positive effect on your child’s behavior.


6.   Disengage from power struggles.  Do not take the bait.  Remember that you cannot be forced into an argument or power struggle.  You only enter into one if you choose to do so (it takes two).  Say calmly, for example, “I am not willing to argue about this now.  I will be free to discuss this later if you wish (and set a time to do so).”


7.   Affirm and acknowledge your child’s feelings (“I see you’re upset.”  “I understand that you are angry now.” “I can see why you would be frustrated”).


8.   Avoid “why” questions (e.g., “Why did you do that?”).  If your child is impulsive and lacks inhibition, there typically isn’t a “why” behind the behavior.


9.   Use “what” and “how” questions: “What are you supposed to be doing right now?”, “What is your plan to solve the problem?”, “What can I do to help you?”, “How would you like me to remind you?” ,“What would you like to see happen?”, “What do you think will be the consequence if you continue with this behavior?, “What are you risking by doing that?


10.   Send “I” messages.  (“I feel ____when you ____ because ____.”   “I want/need you to ___”).


11.   Provide choices:  “I can’t make you ___.  But your choices are either ___ or ___.”  You may want to give 3 choices ( A, B, or C) so your child feels he/she has more control.  For example:  A. “You do what I am asking right now.” B. “You choose not to do it and _____.” (negative consequence will occur).   C.   I set the timer for x minutes and you do it as soon as the timer goes off.”  “Your choice.”


12.    For those misbehaviors you need to address, it is important to respond and follow-through with whatever appropriate consequences you establish (e.g., loss of privilege, loss of points, time-out, loss of access to a favorite item or activity), and not be deterred by your child’s arguments,  crying, or promises that they won’t do that (behavior) again.  So, be sure the consequences you choose are realistic and enforceable.


13.  Remember that children with ADHD require much more frequent and stronger rewards for motivating them to change behavior (specific behaviors that are problematic and need improvement).  Incentive systems and behavioral programs that other children typically don’t need are likely necessary for your ADHD child.


14.   Above all…FOCUS ON THE POSITIVE!   Make a conscious effort to pay attention to, compliment, and reinforce your child when he/she is cooperative and behaving appropriately.  Noticing, praising, and recognizing your child at these times is very important.  Make sure you are giving your ADHD child far more positive feedback and attention (at least 4-5  times more) than negative.


15.   Be aware…Kids with ADHD receive  a much higher degree of criticism, reprimands, and negative feedback than other children typically do throughout the day – at home, school, and other settings.   This is very demoralizing and can be damaging to their self-esteem.  Focusing on creating an abundance of positive interactions and nurturing a loving, respectful relationship with your child is the most important thing to attend to as a parent.




The content of this blog is adapted from my books:   The ADHD Book of ListsHow to Reach & Teach Children with ADD/ADHD, 2nd edition, and The ADD/ADHD Checklist, 2nd edition


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