Fact Sheets : Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)- Parent Strategies

Parents play an important role as advocates on behalf of the child. It's often the parents who must explore and coordinate the various services and programs that are available for their child. It may also be up to them to educate relatives, teachers and peers about the child's condition. Here are some tips/facts that may be helpful to parents of children with ADHD:

  • Try to maintain a structured home environment. A predictable routine of activities should be established, and the child should be warned in advance of any changes. This will give him/her time to mentally prepare, so that changes in routine aren't too disruptive or stressful.
  • A consistent and positive approach to discipline is helpful. Be clear and simple with your rules. This may mean writing up a list of house rules and responsibilities, and posting it in a place where the child will see it frequently - such as in his bedroom, or on the fridge door.
  • To help with organizational skills, and reduce a tendency to misplace things, specific locations for possessions in the home should be assigned. Your child may need frequent reminders to put items away after using them.
  • When giving instructions, parents can focus the child's attention by gently holding his/her face so that he can see their lips while being addressed. They should then ask the child to immediately repeat the directions. This will help the child to remember and follow instructions.
  • Rules, feedback and consequences must be consistently applied both at home and away from home. Feedback or consequences should immediately follow the child's actions, and it should be made clear what was done or done wrong. Parents should try to focus more on encouraging positive behaviour rather than punishing negative behaviour.
  • Physical affection, praise and encouragement of the child's efforts will help build self-esteem, while motivating him/her to be well-behaved. Since ADHD children often seem to need more concrete goals and rewards than other children, parents may need to develop a system of (non-materialistic)rewards. This may be in the form of reward stickers, or a point system in which the child accumulates points that are translated into extra privileges or treats.
  • If persistent attempts to modify the child's behaviour through positive reinforcement fail, parents may need to use alternative tactics. If they are using a point system to reward good behaviour, they might choose to subtract points. The child may have to work harder in order to earn extra privileges or treats or may temporarily lose some privileges. Parents should make it clear why the child is being reprimanded in this way.

Time Out

If the child becomes very emotionally or physically wound up, parents may send him to a designated "time-out" location in the house. This should not be a place of punishment, but one where the child can calm down and reflect. There are times when reprimanding the child for misconduct may be inappropriate or impractical. In such situations, parents might find it more effective and less disruptive to simply redirect the child's attention to something else.

Public Places

Disruptive or difficult behaviour by the child can sometimes occur in public places, such as at the grocery store, in church or at a restaurant. Such situations can cause parents a great deal of stress and embarrassment, and it can be difficult to respond effectively in these circumstances. But many problem situations can be controlled quickly - or prevented altogether - if potential difficulties are identified in advance.

Parents can then prepare for such situations with a pre-arranged plan of action. This plan should be shared with the child just prior to entering the situation. Once the situation has been entered, parents should immediately begin to give frequent feedback on how the child is doing. Rewards or reprimands should be swiftly provided. By planning ahead and responding quickly according to plans, parents can often defuse what could otherwise become an unpleasant situation.

With effort, compassion, patience and consistency parents will greatly help the ADHD child

Strategies work best if parents maintain a patient, compassionate and positive approach. This means that the child should not be judged too harshly, and unrealistic expectations of him should be set aside. Parents should resist expressions of anger, frustration, or resentment - which can promote a confrontational attitude and poor self-esteem in the child. They should try to bear in mind that the child can't always help his/her behaviour, and be willing to forgive his/her mistakes. Parents may find it helps them remain calm in difficult situations if they avoid taking it personally, and psychologically distance themselves from their child's misbehaviour. Family counselling is also valuable in helping parents and other family members cope with the considerable frustration and tension that the ADHD child's behaviour may produce in the home.