8 Discipline Strategies for Kids With ADHD

Kids with ADHD often require a slightly different approach to discipline. A few simple changes to your parenting strategies could give your child the tools he needs to manage his behavior more effectively.

By definition, kids with ADHD may have trouble sitting still, completing tasks, managing impulses, and following directions. These discipline strategies, however, can be instrumental in helping kids with ADHD follow the rules.


Provide Positive Attention

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Parenting a child with ADHD can be exhausting. Their never-ending supply of energy and desire to talk constantly can tire even the most patient parent.

Consequently, it can be difficult to find time and energy to play with a hyperactive child. However, providing a child with ADHD positive attention is a good investment.

Positive playtime reduces attention-seeking behavior. And it will make your consequences more effective.

No matter how difficult your child’s behavior has been, set aside one on one time with your child every day. Giving your child just 15 minutes of positive attention is one of the simplest yet most effective ways to reduce behavior problems.


Give Effective Instructions

Kids with short attention spans need extra help following directions. Quite often, they don't hear the instructions correctly in the first place. There are several things you can do to make your instructions more effective.

Gain your child’s full attention before giving directions. Turn off the television, establish eye contact and place a hand on your child’s shoulder before saying, “Please clean your room.”

Avoid chain commands like, “Put on your socks, clean your room, and then take out the trash,” will likely get lost in translation. A child with ADHD is likely to put on his socks and then on the way to his room, he’ll find something else to do rather than clean it.

Give one instruction at a time. And ask your child to repeat back to you what he heard to make sure he fully understands.


Praise Your Child's Effort

Catch your child being good and point it out. Praise motivates children with ADHD to behave and frequent feedback is important.

Make your praise specific. Instead of saying, “Nice job,” say, “Great job putting your dish in the sink right when I asked you to.” Praise kids for following directions, playing quietly and sitting still and you'll encourage your child to keep it up.


Use Time-Out When Necessary

Time-out can be a good way to help kids with ADHD calm their bodies and their brains. Time-out doesn’t need to be a harsh punishment. Instead, it can be a great life skill that can be useful in many situations.

Teach your child to go to a quiet spot to calm down when he's overstimulated or frustrated. Eventually, he will learn to place himself in time-out before he gets into trouble.


Ignore Mild Misbehaviors

Kids with ADHD often exhibit attention-seeking behavior. Giving them attention, even when it's negative, encourages those behaviors to continue.

Ignoring mild misbehaviors teaches them that obnoxious behavior won't get them desired results. Ignore whining, complaining, loud noises and attempts to interrupt you and eventually, your child will stop.


Establish a Reward System

Reward systems can be a great way to help kids with ADHD stay on track. Establish a few target behaviors, such as staying at the table during a meal or using gentle touches with a pet.

Children with ADHD often get bored with traditional reward systems that require them to wait too long to earn a reward. Create a token economy system that helps your child earn tokens throughout the day. Then, allow tokens to be exchanged for bigger rewards, like electronics time or a chance to play a favorite game together.


Allow for Natural Consequences

When disciplining a child with ADHD, pick your battles wisely. You don’t want your child to feel as though he can’t do anything right or that he is constantly getting into trouble. Allowing some behaviors to slide can help you keep your sanity as well.

Sometimes, allowing for natural consequences makes more sense rather than trying to convince a child to make a better choice. For example, if your child insists he doesn’t need to take a break from playing to eat lunch, allow him to skip lunch.

The natural consequence is that he will likely be hungry later and he'll have to wait until dinner. Eventually, he'll learn to eat lunch on time.


Work With Your Child's Teacher

When parents work together with a child's teacher, it increases the chances that a child will be successful in school. Some children need modifications to their school work, such as being allowed extra time on tests, to be successful.

Behavior modifications may be necessary as well. Forcing a child with ADHD to stay in for recess may worsen behavior problems. So it's important to work together to create a behavior management plan that will support your child's efforts to manage his symptoms.

A behavior management plan that carries between home and school can be helpful. A child may receive points or tokens from his teacher that can be exchanged for privileges at home such as watching TV or using a computer.

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Article Sources
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  1. Pfiffner LJ, Haack LM. Behavior management for school-aged children with ADHD. Child Adolesc Psychiatr Clin N Am. 2014;23(4):731-46. doi:10.1016/j.chc.2014.05.014

  2. Behavior Therapy for Children with ADHD. healthychildren.org. American Academy of Pediatrics

  3. ADHD in the Classroom: Helping Children Succeed in School. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Additional Reading
  • Pfiffner LJ, Haack LM. Behavior Management for School-Aged Children with ADHD. Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America. 2014;23(4):731-746.

  • Ryan-Krause P. Preschoolers With ADHD and Disruptive Behavior Disorder. The Journal for Nurse Practitioners. 2017;13(4):284-290.