Edward Jacobs, Ph.D. & Associates

18 Tips for Parenting the ADHD Child


These tips are intended for general educational purposes only and are not intended as a substitute for professional advice for individual children and families which should only be obtained from a licensed professional with direct knowledge of the individual child and his/her circumstances.

1)       Never talk to the back of your child’s head.  Whenever you speak to your child, make sure he/she is looking directly at you and the TV is off and he/she is not engaged in other activities.  If your child looks away from you, tell your child to look at you before you continue talking.

2)       Tell your child specifically what behaviors you expect when transitioning into a new situation, such as starting dinner, starting homework, going into a supermarket or visiting a relative.  Every ten minutes, give your child verbal praise for specific behaviors, such as “You’re doing a great job keeping your hands off the items on the shelves,” or “I’m proud of you for using your words and keeping your hands to yourself.”

3)       When doing homework, get a sense of the maximum amount of time your child can pay attention to each type of assignment, such as math, and then make your child stop when that time period is up.  Take a short break, about two minutes, and resume working for the same amount of time.  If you make your child sit and work longer than the child’s attention span will allow, your child will get bored and it will be unproductive, resulting in your child associating homework with feelings of frustration and punishment.  This also teaches your child self-monitoring skills.

4)       When supervising homework, break the work down into small, manageable chunks.  For example, instead of giving your child a sheet of paper with 20 math problems on it, give your child two math problems to do, then check them for accuracy, and then give your child another two problems.

5)       If your child has a long-term school assignment, such as a book report or a research paper, break the project down into daily goals, so your child has a small but well-defined task to accomplish each day, leading up to the completion of the assignment.

6)       If your child has social skills problems or problems attending in group situations, plan to have your child involved in small, structured and adult supervised activities with a limited number of children.  These can be organized activities such as scouts or a team, or play dates and outings organized by you.

7)       It is usually preferable to base your behavior management system on rewarding positive behaviors that you want to see more of, rather than on punishing negative behaviors.

8)       When using punishments, limit the time the punishment is in effect to the day of the infraction, if possible.  Long-term punishments are not very effective, because the more time that there is between the behavior and the consequence, the less the consequence gets associated with the behavior, so maintaining a punishment for several days rarely works.  Furthermore, if your child’s behavior is good the day or days after the infraction, and the punishment is in place, the child is actually being punished for good behavior.  Short-lived but meaningful consequences usually are best.

9)        If there are two parents in the home, it is OK to disagree with your spouse over consequences.  It is best to do so in private and arrive at a mutually agreed upon solution. 

10)     Do not undermine your spouse’s authority by giving your child permission to do something your spouse has forbidden or by unilaterally cancelling a punishment.

11)      If your child commits two punishable infractions in one day, it is generally better to take two things away for that day rather than extend the punishment for another day.

12)      Be clear and specific about the behavior you expect.  “Behave yourself,” “Be good” or “Get ready,” are too vague.  “Use your words, not your hands,” or “Brush your teeth now,” are better.

13)      Use a Social Skills Report Card to improve social skills.  When your child is going to have a play period with a peer, and it is one that you will be present to observe, identify one or two behaviors that you want your child to improve, such as “Take turns,” “Agree to do things your friend wants to do,” or “Keep your hands to yourself.”  Immediately after the period, sit down with your child and give your child an index card and yourself an index card with the identified behavior(s) written on the top.  Each of you then writes a grade for that behavior, such as “A” “B” or “C” or something like “Poor” “Fair” “Good” or “Excellent.”  Then both of you can turn your cards over and discuss the specific behaviors that you observed, positive and negative, that resulted in your grades.  Over time, this can help your child start to see him/herself in the way you see your child, and start to appreciate the effect of his/her individual behaviors on your child’s social interactions, rather than just vague feelings of things being “good” or “not good.”

14)      When doing homework, alternate more preferred with less preferred assignments.  This will give your child a reward for completing work that your child does not like and also limit the amount of consecutive time spent on work that your child does not like.

15)      Have your child keep a chart of how many fights, arguments or disciplinary situations he/she gets into during a day by putting a hatch mark on a piece of paper divided into the days of the week.  Tell him/her that the goal is to have fewer incidents each day than the day before and, if there are more one day than the day before, not to worry, just to have the goal of having fewer the next day.  Do this without blaming the child for these incidents or telling your child what to do to decrease them.  Just having the child monitor the number of incidents with the goal of decreasing them often leads to a reduction in incidents.  This is the power of self-monitoring without blame.

16)       Praise often and liberally.  Your child needs this frequent reinforcement to increase the likelihood of good behavior continuing.  It is like food or fuel for the brain.  Children with ADHD often get a lot of attention for what they do wrong, but little attention for what they do right, which leads to an imbalance of negative to positive interactions, hurts the child’s self-esteem, and does not reinforce the behavior that we want to see in the child.  Train yourself to comment favorably, for example, when your child is sitting still, cooperating, listening or doing something good -- when your child is quietly doing what your child is supposed to be doing.  These are times that we don’t usually comment on a child’s behavior, but for a child with ADHD, this feedback is crucial.

17)        Since you can’t be in the classroom to whisper “Pay attention” to your child every ten minutes when your child zones out, you can provide a visual reminder.   Take one of those small, brightly colored circular stickers and have your child put it on his/her wrist, watchband or pencil or on a notebook that your child keeps on the desk at school all day as a signal to pay attention every time your child looks at it.  Change the color of the sticker every couple of days so the child does not habituate to it.

18)        Your child will retain information better if it is delivered in more than one sensory modality.  If there is material that has to be read, have your child draw a picture of it, too.  If math facts have to be memorized, use manipulative or physical objects like blocks or coins to reinforce the information.  If facts have to be studied in science or social studies, make up rhymes or songs to supplement the textbook or the child’s notes.
19)       It might be helpful to have a peer in your child's class with whom your child can exchange class notes in order to check on the accuracy, completeness and organization of your child's notes.

20)       Provide your child with opportunities for discussion and interactive learning, as well as visual cues and hands-on learning experiences, rather than primarily lecture-based instruction or help.

21)       Relate new information you are teaching your child to experiences he or she has had.

22)       Provide models of acceptable finished assignments for your child, such as examples of completed book reports, research papers and good exam answers, so your child will know what he or she is working toward and what acceptable work looks like.

23)       Help your child generate questions to clarify what he/she doesn't know or needs to know. You can make a chart with the following headings:  What I Know, What I Don't Know, What I Need to Know.

24)       Provide concrete examples and information when teaching new concepts.  Slowly build to the abstract level by making connections among concrete bits of information.

25)       Create graphic representations of information heard or read.  Flow charts, for example, can represent procedural concepts such as steps for a bill to become law and photosynthesis; tables can be used to compare and contrast concepts learned in the classroom.

26)        Promote the even use of effort and pacing. For example, to reduce the likelihood of a student rushing through a task, require him/her to plan for so many minutes, work for so many minutes, and review for so many minutes.

27)        Teach your child pre-reading strategies, such as reading the headings, subheadings and charts before reading the body of a text in order to get the organizational framework of the material before immersing him/herself in the details.  Teach your child to read material with questions in mind, such as, Who is the main character? or, What is the conflict in this passage?

28)        Use color highlighters to highlight where answers go or to emphasize important information to increase the stimulus value of a worksheet, thereby helping the brain remain activated.

29)        Figure out your child's optimal level of environmental stimulation for keeping his/her brain activated enough for doing homework.  Some children work better in a quiet, distraction free environment.  For other children, this lack of stimulation will create boredom and fidgetiness.  Such a child might actually work better in a busier part of the house or with soft background music playing.  Every child is different, so it is important to figure out which type of setting works best for your child.

30)        For checking written work, use a COPS checklist (Capitalization, Organization, Punctuation, Spelling).

31)        Teach your child to place five sticky notes in a selection of reading to aid in the recall of important facts as he/she reads.  Limiting the number of sticky notes helps the child focus on the most important details.


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