ADHD and Young Children: Unlocking the Secrets to Good Behavior
For the parents of a child with ADHD, everyday tasks turn into battles-from getting the child out the door in the morning to getting him to bed at night. My son was diagnosed with ADHD at age 6, so I remember what it was like to have a daily tug of war with an attention disordered child all too well. Parents look for help everywhere. They may read one book after another and hear a parade of behavioral experts speak who give them parenting tips that don't seem to work. The more books they read and experts they seek out, the worse their child's behavior seems to get.
"ADHD is a 'brain difference.' Your child's brain works differently than 95% of his peers. So 'one size fits all' parenting techniques won't necessarily fit your child."In my practice and in my work with my own son, I discovered a number of techniques and strategies that can help parents improve the behavior of a child with ADHD.
The time out is a classic example of a behavior modification tool that is often misused with children who have ADHD. Timeouts are often recommended to help children with ADHD learn to control impulsive behavior such as talking back, hitting or hyperactivity. However, standard application of this popular intervention may not work in the presence of ADHD.
Parents are usually told to apply 1 minute of timeout for each year of age, thus 6 minutes for a six year old. For a child this young with ADHD, this may be too much time. Psychologists suggest applying the 30% rule to kids with ADHD and learning disabilities, which means that social-emotional development for these kids may be 30% less than their peers. Thus, a 6 year old should be considered to react more like a 4 year old. Therefore, 4 minutes would be more appropriate.
Helpful tip: Don't nag! Help your child to correct errors and mistakes by showing or demonstrating what he should do rather than focusing on what he did wrong.
This may be difficult at first because it's usually the opposite of how parents tend to respond to behavior. It's our instinct to jump on irritating behaviors and try to correct them, simply to make them go away. But without knowing it, we are rewarding the inappropriate behavior because, with these children, any kind of attention is better than no attention at all. Even worse, when we ignore appropriate behavior, we don't reinforce it. So the child with ADHD doesn't learn that appropriate behavior often leads to positive attention. When you use selective attention, rewarded behavior will increase while ignored behavior will decrease. It's a parental 180-degree turnaround that can work wonders with a young child who has attention and hyperactivity problems. Helpful Tip: Inappropriate or irritating behavior should be ignored 100% of the time while appropriate behavior should be praised 70% to 80% of the time at first, and then to less than half the time as things improve. The goal is for the child to gradually be able to control their behavior on their own.
Many of the programs for kids that are on the market focus on improving only one skill. But they offer no magic cure. In my practice, I've had success using a broad spectrum of approaches (cognitive rehabilitation, behavior modification and relaxation therapy) that are integrated together with a newfound "I Can" attitude to produce results that lead to major improvements in behavior and learning achievement. When I work with kids and parents, I teach problem solving skills and social skills to improve motivation and self-esteem. By doing this, the child learns to put in the work to achieve the major skills he needs to master: improved attention, concentration, and functions including memory and self-control. As a result, the whole family benefits.
ADHD is a "brain difference." You child's brain works differently than 95% of his peers. So "one size fits all" parenting techniques won't necessarily fit your child. Your parenting strategies may need to be administered in smaller doses with more emphasis on rewards and on your child's strengths. I teach parents how to understand the unique traits and behaviors of their child and how to adapt "tried and true" approaches so they will work for their child. I also help parents to develop a positive approach that helps them to be able to develop patience and insight that will result in happier days for parent and child.
by by Dr. Robert Myers, Child Psychologist