I Need to Know How to Discipline My Child with ADHD. Now.

Kids with ADHD can be difficult. Learn effective ways to discipline a child with ADHD. Plus get helpful ADHD discipline tips on HealthyPlace.

Knowing how to discipline a child with ADHD can be the difference in a calm home versus a chaotic one. Kids with ADHD can be frustrating and exhausting. Better said, the behavior of kids with ADHD can be frustrating and exhausting. When you know how to discipline your child with ADHD, you’ll enjoy a better relationship with them, and you’ll help them behave now and in the long run.

How to Discipline a Child with ADHD: Focus on the Behavior

On the inside, ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder and has to do with brain functioning. The inattention, difficulty focusing, working memory, and struggle to sustain effort long enough to complete a task are executive functioning issues.

From the outside, though, ADHD looks like a behavior disorder. It certainly involves misbehaviors: not listening, daydreaming, forgetfulness, irresponsibility, not finishing anything, disorganization, and other behaviors caused by executive functioning problems look like blatant defiance. Many kids with ADHD are hyperactive, overly talkative, and disruptive.  

Because ADHD involves undesirable behaviors, addressing and changing behaviors is at the heart of effective discipline. Talking to kids about their thoughts or emotions doesn’t work as a discipline strategy for ADHD. What does work is remaining focused on the child’s behavior in the moment.

The best way to discipline a child with ADHD is with behavior modification. This is a methodical approach to changing behaviors that, when used consistently, helps kids improve how they act. Use these principles of behavior modification to discipline your child:

  • Create a discipline plan that includes your goals for your child’s behaviors, important rules they must always follow, rewards they’ll earn for following the rules, and consequences they’ll face when they don’t follow the rules.
  • Keep the number of rules, rewards, and consequences to just a few to avoid overwhelming your child. Stick to what’s important. Add others when your child is doing well with these.
  • Make rules clear, and make sure your child understands them. Write them down and post them in prominent spots in your house.
  • Always follow through with the rewards and consequences. Consistency is key for behavior changes to happen.

Dos and Don’ts of Disciplining a Child with ADHD

These tips will help you apply behavior modification consistently.

To discipline your ADHD child right now, do:

  • Catch your child doing things right, and praise them for it.
  • Use time-outs, but not as punishments; if a moment is heated and your child is escalating, pause and let them take a reset break where they go to a comfortable place they have chosen just for this and use relaxation strategies to calm down on their own.
  • Start over fresh after the re-set break; redo whatever happened (if your child threw and broke a plate, clean it up together calmly. Do calmly follow through with the consequence, but then move forward.
  • Plan for success. If you’re going somewhere that could provoke a meltdown, talk about what strategies they can use to control their own behavior, and remind them of consequences and rewards.

For discipline efforts to work, don’t:

  • Yell
  • Blame your child for losing items, being disorganized, etc.
  • Talk too much in an attempt to drive home a point. A kid with ADHD can’t listen and focus.
  • Nitpick or expect perfection. All kids—and adults—make mistakes. Your child should be allowed to be human, too

To Discipline a Child with ADHD, Reduce the Need for Discipline

Your most valuable discipline tool is your relationship with your child. While behavior modification focuses on the specific misbehavior of a moment, the big picture is about creating and maintaining a positive relationship. As you consistently use behavior modification techniques, think about what your child needs in a given moment. The help your child needs is even more important than what the parents, family, or school do not need.

Other ways to prevent behavior problems:

  • Make sure your child has daily exercise, as this helps brain functions and controls aggression.
  • Develop your child’s interests. Engage them by taking them to a children’s museum; enrolling in a parent-child pottery, painting, or music class; visiting a zoo, or going camping. This will improve attention, concentration, and behavior.
  • Give your child intentional positive attention every day. Spend quality time together playing games, creating with clay, having a picnic, going for a walk and collecting leaves—anything your child enjoys.

When thinking about how to discipline your child with ADHD, remember these takeaways: It’s about changing their behavior with consistent rules, rewards, and consequences, and it’s about your relationship. When you use these principles, you’ll help your child control their behavior in the short-term, and your child will develop impulse-control, the ability to make good choices, and the skills needed to be well-adjusted in their life.

article references

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2019, August 24). I Need to Know How to Discipline My Child with ADHD. Now., HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 23 from

Last Updated: September 12, 2019

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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