How To Discipline A Child With ADHD While Avoiding Feelings Of Guilt

By Daniel Amen, M.D.

The symptoms associated with attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder can put even the best parenting skills to the test.
Children and teenagers with ADHD don’t listen, or at least don’t seem to listen. They often fail to complete tasks, whether it’s a school assignment or a household chore. They can be impulsive, hitting a sibling or classmate when they feel frustrated, or failing to wait their turn when playing a game.
As a spotlight is put on the condition during October, which is ADHD Awareness Month, it’s worth noting that the disorder has an impact on the parents as well as the offspring.
Irritated by repeated undesirable behaviors, mothers and fathers may lash out, dealing more harshly with infractions than they should. Later, feeling guilty because of their overreaction, the parents may allow the child to get away with other misbehaviors.
Then tension builds again until once more the peeved parents explode and begin feeling guilty about their reactions all over again.
“It’s important to break that cycle of guilt when dealing with the ADHD child,” says Daniel Amen, M.D., a clinical neuroscientist and brain-imaging expert who also is the founder of Amen Clinics (, which treat patients at six locations around the country.
“The best way to do that is to deal with difficult behavior whenever it occurs and not allowing the tension to build up. Retraining difficult behavior patterns is an essential part of the treatment for ADD.”
Amen, author of “Healing ADD” and the New York Times bestseller “Change Your Brain, Change Your Life,” says there are steps parents can take that will help shape positive behavior in a child with ADD/ADHD and help the parent avoid those guilty feelings.
• Define the desired and undesirable behaviors. Before you can shape behavior, you need to be clear on what behaviors you want and don’t want, Amen says. A desirable behavior might be doing homework before going out to play. An undesirable behavior might be talking back to a parent.

• Establish how often negative or positive behavior occurs. Keep a log for anywhere from a week to a month to track how many times a behavior occurs. Having a baseline will allow you to know whether your interventions are having an effect.

• Communicate rules and expectations clearly. When children know what is expected of them, they are much more likely to do it. Too often, Amen says, parents believe children should know how to act without the rules being clearly communicated.

• Reward desired behavior. Once clear expectations are given, it’s essential to reward the behavior that meets expectations. Rewards can be such things as verbal praise, a hug, a small present, a trip to the library or park, and even money.

• Administer clear, unemotional consequences for negative behavior. Be in control of your emotions, don’t nag or belittle the child, and use logical consequences. For example, if a child refuses to put away his or her toys, the toys could be taken away for a few days.
Having a good relationship with the child is perhaps the most important factor, Amen says.
“With a good parent-child relationship, almost any form of discipline will work,” he says. “With a poor parent-child relationship, any form of discipline will probably fail. Relationships require two things: time and a willingness to listen.”
About Daniel Amen, M.D.
Daniel Amen, M.D., ( is a clinical neuroscientist and brain imaging expert who heads Amen Clinics, which are located in Orange County, Calif., Atlanta, San Francisco, New York City, Washington, D.C., and the Seattle area. He has written numerous books, including “Healing ADD” and “Change Your Brain, Change Your Life.” Dr. Amen also has appeared as a guest on such TV shows as “The View” and was a consultant for the movie “Concussion.”

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