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Caring for a child with ADHD

1) Find out as much as you can about ADHD. Medication may be prescribed following an assessment from the Children & Young Peoples Service (CYPS) which may help you child focus and be less impulsive.  Advice about medication is available from an ADHD specialist.

2) Set up routine – Children with ADHD tend to respond better to routines, because they have a better idea of what they are supposed to do. Changes to routine create distraction and uncertainty. So getting ready for school in the morning, or getting ready for bed at night, should proceed according to a fixed routine.

3) Get attention – When giving instructions, make sure that you have the child’s full attention.

  • Turn off the TV/radio/music
  • Use the child’s name
  • With young children, gently hold their hands in front and point their face towards yours
  • Approach older children from the front
  • Look them in the eye
  • Speak clearly, without shouting

4) Be positive – Tell them what to do, rather than what not to do. ‘Darren, please eat your chips’ is better than ‘Stop playing with your chips’.

5) Focus on strengths – Boost your child’s confidence by praising them and encouraging them in the things that they are good at.

6) Praise Try to ‘catch your child being good’. When they have completed a task or behaved well, say how pleased you are, and what exactly you’re pleased about.

For example: ‘Thank you for getting out of the car sensibly and going straight into the house without me having to remind you’.

The praise should be immediate, not hours or days later.

It is easy for children with ADHD to get into a vicious circle of criticism, which makes them feel bad about themselves, which makes them behave badly. The aim is to set up a virtuous circle of praise, which makes them feel good about themselves, which helps them to behave better.

7) Make clear rules and write them down, so that there’s no argument about what the rules are. Focus on areas of behaviour that are really important to you and others in the family, and don’t waste effort on less important ones.

8) Plan for peace – Organise things at home to cut out stress and confrontation. For example, if doing a big shop with your child is a nightmare, try to find another time to go shopping on your own in peace. If you’re dreading a long car journey, think about breaking it up into two or three shorter journeys with stops in between to do something else.

9) Reward – Set up a reward scheme. Your child earns points for good behaviour, and a certain number of points mean they get something they want, that has been agreed in advance.

You can use anything you like to keep track of the points – gold stars stuck on a card, plastic tokens put in a jar etc.

A reward scheme can work over the short term, e.g. 1 point for each 10 minutes good behaviour on a long car journey, and over the long term, e.g. 10 points for a week at school with all homework completed on time.

For example:

The child does something that you want, such as:

  • Keep their room tidy for a week
  • Get dressed in 10 minutes for 5 days in a row
  • Not interrupting mum when she’s on the phone for a week
  • Keep goals realistic and in achievable steps.

In return, the child gets something that they want, such as:

  • 15 minutes extra on a computer game / Xbox / Wii
  • Downloading a film or music
  • 30 minutes extra playing outside

10) Can’t and Won’t – The tricky thing about dealing with children with ADHD is knowing the difference between “can’t” and “won’t”. Talking out of turn, forgetting instructions, being disorganised, being easily distracted – these are part of ADHD. They can be worked on and improved, but they can’t be helped, and are not wilful naughtiness.

But any child, including those with ADHD, can also sometimes deliberately misbehave. As a parent, you are the person best placed to become the expert on telling the difference between “Can’t” and “Won’t”.