Parenting a child with ADHD can be challenging and complex. But just as a child who struggles with reading can grasp how to decode words, children with ADHD can learn patience, communication, and solution-seeking skills to become more confident, independent, and capable.
ADHD is a developmental disorder of self-control – or what some professionals like to call the executive functions critical to planning, organizing, prioritizing, and executing complex tasks.
In a child with ADHD, the “executive” in the brain that is supposed to be organizing and controlling behavior, helping the child plan for the future, and follow through on those plans, is struggling. However, in many cases, the child is not suffering from a lack of skill or knowledge, so showing the child how to do something to correct her problems may not be of much help.
ADHD usually starts to appear around age 3 or 4 and does not go away with age (although the presentation may change). But as a parent, you can help your child overcome their daily challenges, channel their energy into positive arenas, and bring greater calm to your family.
In Taking Charge of ADHD, Russel Barkley offers effective guideline principles for parenting a child with ADHD.
1. Provide Immediate Feedback
When confronted with a job that your child finds tedious or unrewarding, try arranging positive feedback and consequences throughout the task.
Positive feedback can be given in the form of praise, as long as you state expressly and precisely what the child did that was positive. You could also use rewards such as extra privileges, or systems by which the child earns tokens or points toward privileges.
For example, if your child normally has problems sharing toys with a younger sibling, the most effective reinforcement of cooperative play would be for you to be on the alert of any instances of sharing and kindness shown by the child with ADHD and then give immediate praise when you spot it.
Similarly, when you're attempting to change negative behaviors, try providing quick rewards and feedback for good behavior and immediate consequences for when they misbehave.
For example, if your child refuses to share toys with the younger sibling, you can try telling the child exactly what he has just done wrong and why it is not acceptable; then you remove a privilege the child had access to that day or some earned tokens in a token program.
Whatever type of feedback you give, the more immediately it can be provided, the more effective it will be at changing future behavior.