By David Gannon
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Your child has been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. What do you do now? You knew your son or daughter was a parenting challenge at times and certainly seemed to be struggling in school, but now there is a name for it. Medications do seem to help improve the attention and concentration, but there are still many concerns and behaviors that you have to deal with every day.
Before the diagnosis, you may have been thinking you were just a bad parent. Now you understand that your child has a neurological condition that makes it very difficult to focus, pay attention, follow directions and control impulses. Nevertheless, it is still a challenge for you and your child. No child wants to feel out of control and experience failure that can accompany this condition.
There are some consistent markers for ADHD, but every child will manifest ADHD in different ways. Sometimes when your child acts out or seems to ignore the rules or directions it feels personal. You have told your child what to do or what NOT to do a “million” times and he still doesn’t listen! Maybe you think he is just trying to make you angry on purpose. If he is a teen, you have to wonder how much is asserting his independence and how much is ADHD. In your frustration it is very difficult to keep from getting angry and yelling at your child. In fact he may be breaking so many rules and not listening so often that you could find yourself yelling and correcting him all day and every day. This sets up a family of constant conflict, drama and anger, and causes the child and parent to feel they can’t do anything right.
It is important to understand that your ADHD child is not trying to give you a hard time. Life would be a lot smoother if he could listen better, get homework done, make friends easily and be a good athlete. But things that come easily for other children are always a struggle for him. The self-esteem of ADHD children is fragile anyway, and being frequently confronted and corrected for his behavior just reduces self-esteem even further.
Now that you know that you are not a bad parent and your son isn’t a bad child, you can go back to the drawing board and decide how you can teach, coach and love your child with ADHD. If there are two parents in the home, it is important that both parents work together as a team. The first part of helping an ADHD child is teaching the desired behavior. Parents of ADHD children assume that the child knows exactly what is expected when often they do not. Be specific and detailed about what needs to happen and choose only two or three behaviors until they are mastered.
Secondly, use praise and rewards to get the correct behavior started. It is powerful when you can catch your child doing something right. It does wonders for his confidence and motivates him to repeat the correct behavior. Rewards should be privileges that your child will work for such as more time on a game or small items. To be effective, they should occur as close in time to when the correct behavior occurs as possible. Praise should be specific to the behavior. This helps increase the chances that the behavior will be repeated. Avoid anger, yelling and confrontations. Don’t get into debates and arguments - you are the adult. Instead use consequences that are clear and immediate with the goal of teaching new behavior. Consequences should be fair and appropriate to the behavior you are trying to teach. Consequences that naturally or logically follow a behavior are most effective. Use the opportunity to teach “cause and effect” when consequences are over.
Finally don’t forget to talk to your child to show that you understand his struggles with ADHD. Teach him to talk to you about his frustration and ask for your help and advice when he needs it. Become your child’s partner in managing his condition and he is likely to learn how to be a successful in managing life himself.
David Gannon, Ph.D., Psychological and Family Consultants, Canton, Ohio.
HealthStyle: Raising an ADHD child
By David Gannon