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The Difficulties of Disciplining a Child with ADHD


This topic has been on my mind for several weeks now. Disciplining a child who has ADHD is no easy feat, and it’s one I’ve seen my sister struggle with for over five years. Her son has ADHD.

I remember a couple of years ago when my sister brought her kids to visit one time. Her son and my daughter are almost the exact same age so when they started to fight with each other, I thought they could be disciplined the same. I thought they’d be motivated by the same things and respond to my correction the same way.

Oh, how wrong I was.

For kids with ADHD, everything is different. Their motivations are different because what makes them feel rewarded is different. Because they have naturally lower dopamine levels in their brains, it takes a lot more to get them excited or make them feel rewarded than it does for most kids.

Whereas I can sit my daughter in time out for a couple minutes and know that will help her cool off, my sister can’t put her son in time out and expect the same results. For him, thirty seconds in time out means he’s already forgotten why he was put there in the first place, and he’s ready to move on.

Whereas I am able to reward my daughter with a sticker chart (that accumulatively builds up to earn prizes), my sister cannot do that with her son. A sticker for him is a piece of paper to wad up and throw away. And a chart that needs to be filled is just a constant reminder of how far away he is from being rewarded.

Whereas I can tell my daughter, “Great job! I’m so proud of you!” and know that she will respond with a feeling of satisfaction and validation, my sister cannot expect the same thing from her son. A pat on the back or word of encouragement for him will hardly even get his attention. It certainly won’t be enough to remind him that positive behavior is “worth it.”

After talking to my sister today, she said, “I think the only way positive behavior would be ‘worth it’ for Felix would be if he got a brand new toy every single day. And that’s just not realistic. Plus, it doesn’t address the underlying issues.”

So what was her advice? What are her sure-fire ways of getting positive reactions out of her son? How does she effectively discipline him?

She still hasn’t figured it out.

They’re still learning. They’ve tried a lot of different methods over the past five years, but none of them have been the perfect fit for him. Some of them work sometimes, but none of them work for very long.

She acknowledges that consistency is key for disciplining kids with ADHD (or any kid, for that matter), but that’s hard to accomplish when you’re constantly influx, trying to figure out what works best. We also both agree with positive reinforcement is great, but that’s hard too when the reinforcement for ADHD kids has to be so much bigger and better.

It’s a bit of a catch-22 really. There are no perfect methods (though some work admittedly better than others) and every child is different. What works for one kid won’t work for another.

Do you have any tried and true methods of disciplining your child(ren) with ADHD?

Any methods that work at least most of the time?

Any new ideas that most people don’t think of?

Give us all your ideas, friends! This is a place to come together and help one another out. Let’s be a community of encouragement and ideas.

The Difficulties of Disciplining a Child with ADHD

W. R. Cummings

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APA Reference
Cummings, W. (2016). The Difficulties of Disciplining a Child with ADHD. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 27, 2020, from


Last updated: 11 Mar 2016
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