7 discipline tips when your child has ADHD

By Gail Belsky

Kids with ADHD can have a hard time listening, remembering, following rules, and resisting temptation. Not surprisingly, they tend to get into trouble a lot. But how do you discipline kids with ADHD who struggle with the skills they need to behave? What discipline strategies are helpful for kids with ADHD?

Having ADHD doesn’t excuse bad behavior, but it can explain why it happens. Here are tips and things to keep in mind when it comes to disciplining kids with ADHD.

1. Remember the challenges of ADHD.

Kids with ADHD usually don’t mean to misbehave. The symptoms of ADHD make it harder for them to control their behavior and learn from mistakes. Having empathy and remembering your child’s challenges can help you discipline in a positive way.

2. Give a clear warning.

ADHD can make it difficult for kids to stop what they’re doing and switch gears. Give your child a chance to correct behavior before you discipline. You can say, “I’ve told you twice to set the table, but you’re still watching the movie. If you don’t turn it off now, you’ll lose TV privileges.”

3. Avoid disciplining with anger.

Kids with ADHD have trouble managing emotions and can easily get caught up in strong feelings. So, it’s important to stay calm when you discipline and keep the focus on correcting the behavior. In fact, research shows that cutting back on yelling and harsh punishment can make a big difference in how kids with ADHD behave.

4. Take your time.

Unless your child’s behavior is creating a dangerous situation, there’s no reason to rush straight into discipline mode. You may decide that the natural consequences of your child’s behavior will have greater impact than consequences that come from you.

5. Use logical consequences.

Kids with ADHD often have trouble thinking about consequences. Help make logical connections when you discipline. Let’s say your child plays with something that’s off limits and accidentally breaks it. The consequence might be losing TV time to fix the item or missing allowance to help pay to replace it. 

6. Be ready to try different approaches.

Discipline strategies that work for other kids may not work for your child with ADHD. You may need to try a few approaches before you find the best ones. For example, if time-outs aren’t helpful, you might try giving your child a chore instead. Or having your child write or draw an apology. If taking away a privilege doesn’t work, you could try a “reward” for a positive change in behavior.

7. Be patient.

Your child with ADHD may show the same behavior or make the same mistake over and over, even with discipline. That’s part of ADHD. Set firm rules and expectations. And make sure your discipline is consistent and predictable.

Learn more: See a chart that explains the difference between discipline and punishment.

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    About the author

    About the author

    Gail Belsky is executive editor at Understood. She has written and edited for major media outlets, specializing in parenting, health, and career content.

    Reviewed by

    Reviewed by

    Ellen Braaten, PhD is the director of LEAP at Massachusetts General Hospital.