Parenting with Care: How to Discipline a Child with ADHD

How to Discipline a Child with ADHD
Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge

Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge

All parents want to understand and provide for their child's needs. If you have a kid with ADHD, it's necessary to implement effective discipline strategies that support their attention, mood, stress, and behavior. It’s important to explore the world of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and natural solutions that can help parents navigate the sometimes rocky terrain of disciplining a child with ADHD.

Understanding ADHD and its Impact on Behavior

Before delving into effective discipline strategies, having a solid understanding of ADHD and how it impacts a child's behavior is crucial. ADHD is more than just a short attention span or impulsivity. It's a complex neurological condition that affects millions of children in the United States (CDC, 2018).

ADHD can manifest in various ways, but some common behaviors include difficulty paying attention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Children with ADHD may struggle to sit still, follow instructions, complete tasks, and control their impulses. This can lead to challenges in school, at home, and in social settings.

Understanding that ADHD is not simply a result of bad behavior or stubborn, “doing it in purpose” behavior is the first step toward effective discipline. We should recognize that children with ADHD often have unique needs and require support tailored to their condition.

Importance of Consistent Discipline for Children with ADHD

Discipline is a fundamental aspect of parenting, and it plays an even more critical role when raising a child with ADHD. Consistent discipline helps provide structure and predictability, which can be particularly beneficial for them. When done right, it gives them a clear and predictable structure to support their behavior. 

Establishing a routine is crucial for younger children with ADHD, as they thrive in structured environments. Consistent discipline plays a pivotal role in creating a daily routine that supports their ability to focus and accomplish tasks, as well as become more connected to their environment.. 

Additionally, setting clear expectations is essential, as children with ADHD may encounter difficulties in grasping social cues and expectations. Through consistent discipline, parents can offer them a set of clear rules and guidelines to follow, promoting a sense of structure and predictability. 

Effective discipline goes beyond immediate behavior modification. It involves teaching valuable life skills like impulse control, time management, and problem-solving (Kühl et al., 2021). These skills serve as lifelong tools that empower children with ADHD to navigate the challenges they face with confidence and competence. Positive discipline techniques can also boost a child's self-esteem and confidence, making them more resilient in the face of challenges.

Addressing Common Challenges in Disciplining a Child with ADHD

When disciplining a child with ADHD, it's essential to be prepared for some challenges due to problems with not only impulse control but learning in general. Parents must approach these challenges with empathy and understanding. 

Children with ADHD frequently exhibit impulsive behavior, acting without fully considering the consequences of their actions. This impulsivity can sometimes result in disruptive behavior problems, emphasizing the need for tailored discipline approaches. 

Additionally, kids with ADHD often contend with short attention spans, making it a challenge to sustain focus on tasks or follow instructions for an extended duration. Effectively communicating expectations can be arduous in such situations, necessitating specialized strategies

Hyperactivity is another common manifestation of ADHD in some children, making it challenging for them to sit still or engage in quiet activities. The inconsistency of ADHD symptoms, which can fluctuate from day to day or even within the same day, further complicates the task of predicting and responding to a child's behavior. This volatility underscores the importance of adaptable and compassionate discipline methods for children with ADHD (Woodward et al., 1998).

Positive Discipline Techniques for Children with ADHD

Navigating the unique challenges of raising a child with ADHD can be a daunting task. However, positive discipline techniques can be a beacon of hope in this journey. These techniques focus on nurturing your child's growth, self-esteem, and good behavior in a supportive and constructive manner. Here are some highly effective positive discipline strategies tailored specifically for children with ADHD:

1. Use Positive Reinforcement


Use Positive Reinforcement

Instead of focusing solely on punishing bad behavior, make a conscious effort to praise your child for their positive behaviors. Positive reinforcement, such as verbal praise or a reward system, can motivate them to repeat those behaviors.

2. Set Clear Expectations and Rules

Establishing a structured framework of clear rules and expectations is paramount. Be consistent in enforcing these rules, and explain the consequences of not following them. Children with ADHD benefit from knowing what is expected of them. It provides a sense of security and predictability, as well as frees their brain from having to think about “the basics.”

3. Teach Your Child Self-Control

Impulse control is a challenging aspect for many children with ADHD. As part of positive discipline, guide your child in developing self-control techniques. Teach them practical strategies like taking deep breaths, counting to ten, or using mindfulness techniques to help manage impulsivity and emotional outbursts.

4. Implement Natural Consequences

Whenever possible, let natural consequences play out. For example, if your child forgets their homework, let them experience the consequence of not having it at school. This can be a valuable lesson in responsibility.

5. Focus on Specific Behaviors

Instead of making vague statements like “behave yourself,” specify the behavior you want to see. For example, “Please use your indoor voice” or “Remember to clean your room before playing video games.” Ideally, role-playing and modeling the behavior you want to see can really be helpful in shaping the desired behaviors. 

6. Practice Consistency


Practice Consistency

Stay consistent in your approach to discipline. Children with ADHD thrive in structured environments. Knowing what to expect helps them feel more secure. Consistency in enforcing family rules and expectations creates a stable foundation for their behavior.

How to Set Clear Expectations and Rules

Setting clear expectations and rules is a fundamental aspect of disciplining children with ADHD. This cornerstone not only provides structure but also creates a supportive framework for fostering positive behavior. To successfully establish this framework, consider the following strategies:

1. Involve Your Child

Engage your child in the process of setting expectations and rules. Doing so not only empowers them but also helps them understand the reasoning behind these guidelines. Encourage open discussions about what is expected of them in different situations. Ask them questions and allow them to voice their thoughts and concerns. 

2. Keep It Simple

Simplicity is key when crafting rules. Clear, concise rules are more easily understood and remembered by children with ADHD. Avoid overwhelming them with an extensive list of rules or wordy explanations. Instead, focus on a few crucial guidelines that address the most important aspects of their behavior that you want to shape. 

3. Use Affirmative Language

Frame rules in a constructive manner whenever possible. Instead of saying, “Don't interrupt others,” phrase it as, “Wait for your turn to speak.” Supportive language reinforces the desired behavior. It’s like reminding your child what they should do, rather than what they shouldn't.

4. Be Persistent

A persistent approach is vital in enforcing rules. Children with ADHD thrive in predictable environments, and they require persistence to succeed. Ensure that parents and caregivers are on the same page when it comes to enforcing rules and expectations.

Effective Communication Strategies for Disciplining a Child with ADHD

Using the right communication strategies is pivotal when disciplining a child with ADHD. First and foremost, maintaining eye contact during instructions or discussions is essential. It ensures that you have your child's attention and helps them focus on what you're saying, enhancing the effectiveness of your communication skills.

Always use simple and concise language to keep their attention and prevent confusion. Avoid lengthy explanations that might cause them to lose interest or understanding. When giving directions, be explicit and break tasks down into specific steps, making it easier for them to follow through. 

Encourage open communication by actively listening to your child's thoughts and feelings. Validate their emotions and create a safe space for expression. Amidst challenging behavior, maintaining a calm demeanor is paramount. While frustration may arise, staying calm is essential for modeling the behavior you wish to see in your child and fostering a positive and effective disciplinary environment.

How to Implement a Behavior Management Plan

To effectively discipline ADHD kids, it's often helpful to implement a behavior management plan. This plan outlines the key strategies and techniques you'll use to encourage positive behaviors and address undesirable behaviors. 

1. Identify Target Behaviors

Begin by identifying a specific behavior that you want to address. These should be manageable behaviors that can be changed or modified over time. It's essential to focus on behaviors that are significant and have a noticeable impact on your child's daily activities, school performance, or relationships.

2. Set Clear Goals

Determine what you aim to achieve with your behavior management plan. Clearly define your objectives, such as reducing impulsive outbursts, improving homework completion, or enhancing social interactions. Having well-defined goals helps you measure progress effectively.

3. Choose Appropriate Consequences

Based on the behaviors you're targeting, decide on appropriate consequences. Positive behaviors should be rewarded, while undesirable behaviors should have proportional consequences. Ensure that consequences are consistent and related to the behavior in question.

4. Create a Reward System

Implement a reward system to motivate and reinforce positive behaviors. This can include a sticker chart, a token system, or earning privileges or small rewards for meeting specific goals. Be consistent in delivering reinforcing rewards and celebrate your child's successes.

5. Monitor Progress

Regularly assess your child's progress in adhering to the behavior management plan. Keep track of their positive and negative behaviors. Analyze their patterns and trends. Use this information to make informed adjustments to the plan as needed.

6. Seek Professional Help

If your child's ADHD behaviors are severe or persistent, consider seeking the guidance of a professional, such as a clinical psychologist. They can do a great job of providing valuable insights and support. 

The BrainBehaviorResetTM Program offers a holistic and comprehensive approach to empowering children with ADHD. By addressing the neurological aspects of ADHD, providing behavioral support, and promoting a healthy lifestyle, this program equips children with the tools they need to overcome challenges and reach their full potential. It is a testament to the evolving field of ADHD management, offering hope and effective solutions for children and family members facing the complexities of ADHD.

Disciplining a child with ADHD requires a unique approach that takes into account their specific needs and challenges. Understand the nature of ADHD and implement positive discipline techniques. That way, you can create a supportive environment that promotes positive change and strengthens the parent-child relationship. 

Remember that it's a journey, and progress may come in small steps. With empathy, consistency, and a hopeful outlook, you can help your child with ADHD develop the life skills they need to thrive in the world.

Parent Action Steps

☐ Understand that ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder, not just a behavioral issue.
☐ Foster open and honest communication with your child about their ADHD.
☐ Involve your child in setting clear expectations and rules.
☐ Establish consistent daily routines that provide structure and predictability for your child.
☐ Praise your child genuinely for their efforts and accomplishments.
☐ Monitor their progress and adjust the plan as needed to address evolving behaviors.
☐ Practice active listening by allowing your child to express their thoughts and emotions.
☐ Model self-control, emotional regulation, and problem-solving in your interactions.
☐ Celebrate your child's small victories and successes.
☐ Engage the entire family in the discipline process.
☐ Take this ADHD Quiz to know if your child has ADHD or something else. 
☐ Use the Solutions Matcher to get personalized treatment for your child


CDC. (2018, February 14). National Prevalence of ADHD and Treatment: New statistics for children and adolescents, 2016. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Kühl, E., Geeraerts, S. B., Deković, M., Schoemaker, K., Bunte, T., Espy, K. A., & Matthys, W. (2021). Trajectories of Executive Functions and ADHD Symptoms in Preschoolers and the Role of Negative Parental Discipline. Developmental Neuropsychology, 46(8), 555–573.

Woodward, L., Taylor, E., & Dowdney, L. (1998). The Parenting and Family Functioning of Children with Hyperactivity. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 39(2), 161–169.

Always remember… “Calm Brain, Happy Family™”

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to give health advice and it is recommended to consult with a physician before beginning any new wellness regime. *The effectiveness of diagnosis and treatment vary by patient and condition. Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge, LLC does not guarantee certain results.

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You can get her books for parents and professionals, including: It’s Gonna Be OK™: Proven Ways to Improve Your Child’s Mental Health, Teletherapy Toolkit™ and Brain Under Attack: A Resource For Parents and Caregivers of Children With PANS, PANDAS, and Autoimmune Encephalopathy.

If you are a business or organization that needs proactive guidance to support employee mental health or an organization looking for a brand representative, check out Dr. Roseann’s professional speaking page to see how we can work together.

Dr. Roseann is a Children’s Mental Health Expert and Therapist who has been featured in/on hundreds of  media outlets including, CBS, NBC, FOX News, PIX11 NYC, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Business Insider, USA Today, CNET, Marth Stewart, and PARENTS. FORBES called her, “A thought leader in children’s mental health.”

Dr. Roseann - Brain Behavior Reset Parent Toolkit

She is the founder and director of The Global Institute of Children’s Mental Health and Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge, LLC. Dr. Roseann is a Board Certified Neurofeedback (BCN) Practitioner, a Board Member of the Northeast Region Biofeedback Society (NRBS), Certified Integrative Mental Health Professional (CIMHP) and an Amen Clinic Certified Brain Health Coach.  She is also a member of The International Lyme Disease and Associated Disease Society (ILADS), The American Psychological Association (APA), Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), International OCD Foundation (IOCDF) International Society for Neurofeedback and Research (ISNR) and The Association of Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback (AAPB).

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