Your 10 Toughest ADHD Discipline Dilemmas Solved!


Discipline Dilemma #1: My child absolutely refuses to do as he is told. 

Your Solution: Sometimes families get into patterns where daily tasks (doing homework, getting ready for bed, etc.) turn into battles. The child eventually complies, but the conflict upsets and exhausts everyone. The best long-term solution for avoiding fights is to set up routines to help children get through daily tasks. For example, parents must establish and enforce regular study times. Be warned, it may take weeks until the child accepts and follows these routines. 

Discipline Dilemma #2: My child doesn’t care about consequences. 

Your Solution: Consequences work best when they’re imposed immediately following a broken rule. If you delay the consequence, you’re blunting their emotional impact on your child. Consequences should have realistic time limits: long enough to teach a lesson but short enough to give your child a chance to move on to positive things. Overly harsh consequences will encourage your child to resent your authority—and generate more anger.

Discipline Dilemma #3: I can’t believe anything my child tells me. 

Your Solution: For children with ADHD, lying is often a coping mechanism. A lie may be a way to cover up forgetfulness, to avoid criticism or punishment, or to avoid dealing with feelings of guilt and shame over repeated failures. Figure out the reasons behind your child’s chronic dishonesty. If he lies to avoid consequences, monitor him closely and discipline any act of deception. If he lies in order to cover up failure or shame, provide appropriate help so he can overcome these feelings. 

Discipline Dilemma #4: My child doesn’t take me seriously. 

Your Solution: There could be any number of reasons why a child fails to respect you. Are the rules clear? Put important rules in writing. Does the child consider them unfair? In that case, further discussion is needed. Ultimately, if you want your rules to be followed, you must enforce them consistently. If you make empty threats, you’re undermining your parental authority. 

Discipline Dilemma #5: My child overreacts to just about everything. 

Your Solution: Heightened emotionality is a characteristic of ADHD. For kids with the condition, failure doesn’t just discourage—it devastates. While most kids might protest a bit about being disciplined, kids with ADHD might react with intense indignation and anger. But keep in mind that chronic overreaction to discipline may not be the result of the disorder. Is your kid overreacting because she feels criticized? Unloved? Helpless? Overwhelmed? In some cases chronic anger may indicate childhood depression or bipolar disorder. 

Discipline Dilemma #6: My child won’t listen to me. 

Your Solution: If your child regularly tunes you out, do a self-check. Have you become too negative or critical? Has conversation turned into a series of lectures, instead of a give-and-take? No matter what your child’s age, try involving him in the process of establishing rules and the consequences for breaking them. A child who feels included in the making of rules will be more likely to respect them.

Discipline Dilemma #7: I’m like a broken record.  

Your Solution: Children with ADHD don’t respond to nagging. They either tune out, become distracted and forget what they are supposed to do, or respond defiantly. Getting kids to follow instructions without nagging is all about schedule. Routines can help keep kids on task and manage the frustration of transitioning from one activity to another. Have dinner at a set time every day, so kids know when it’s time to wind down. Set an alarm for specific times throughout the day to keep kids moving from task to task. Create a playlist for everyday tasks so that each song corresponds to an activity like getting dressed, making the bed, or brushing teeth. Over time, using set routines can build the transitioning skill.

Discipline Dilemma #8: My child doesn’t want to do anything except play video games. 

Your Solution: Don’t use video games as a reward. The restrictive access can make them too attractive to kids. Instead, they should be one of many normal, everyday activities like playing outside or reading a book. Try playing as a family so video games are not so isolating. You can also model moderation of screen time, and discuss it with your child. Use apps like Parental-Timelock or Kid Screen Time to monitor and set limits on video and computer game usage. If homework needs to be done on a computer, use a browser add-on like Leech Block to prevent social media and other online distractions. 

Discipline Dilemma #9: My child shoves and throws things, and ignores warnings to “keep your hands to yourself.” 

Your Solution: A child’s physical aggression can be extremely difficult to deal with—emotionally and physically. Sometimes kids get in a pattern in which they hit for negative attention. Avoid this at all costs by removing all sources of attention during an outburst. You can say, “That tone isn’t working for me. 

You can keep it up if you want, but then you’ll lose all of your privileges and you’re not going to like it.” Then, put your child in a safe room with no access to you or rewards. If it’s an older child, who you can’t physically put in time out, remove yourself from the vicinity. Learn safe holds to restrain your child during a violent outburst so he doesn’t hurt himself or others. Create a pattern that when your child swears or is aggressive, parents automatically get up and leave the room. In extreme cases, you might need outside help to reset the pattern of disruptive behavior in your home. If your child is still not seeing any improvement after two weeks, it might be time to start thinking about other options. Have your child evaluated for another mood disorder that could need additional, separate treatment. Work with a behavioral psychologist to figure out why the aggression and violent outburst are happening. Put your child in a residential treatment facility like a hospital or boarding school where they can receive therapy and treatment. Enroll your child in a behavioral day program like a special school. 

Discipline Dilemma #10: My child’s tantrums keep us homebound. 

Your Solution: Parents of defiant children can feel held hostage by their child’s bad behavior, unable to go out to dinner, the movies, or anywhere for fear that their ADHD child will throw a tantrum. When your child acts up in public, say no in a calm, matter-of-fact tone. Make it clear what “misbehaving” means when you’re in public, and set the consequences in advance. Plan how your child can react to potential letdowns before you go out. If a meltdown happens, remember you can choose your reaction. 

Don’t take it personally. Acknowledge your child’s disappointment, and suggest squeezing a ball to let out frustration. Stay calm and pull your child into an alternate activity with you, or give him a job to do like fetching straws if you’re at a restaurant. Try dropping down and doing five push-ups. Kids will be so stunned by the weird behavior, it will often stop a fit. Then say, “Do you want to do five with me? Because I can tell you need to do something.” All of these strategies demonstrate ways to calm down with movement, physical activity, and without an outburst.