Sometimes it may feel that way, but raising a child with ADHD to be a well-behaved child is not impossible. You just need to develop strategies for developing positive behaviors, while curbing negative ones.
Teach Social Cues
Helping raise a child with ADHD who is well-behaved starts early on. Children with ADHD often struggle with picking up on cues that would be automatic to most other children. Not recognizing signs can lead to behavior problems, so the better your child can navigate situations at home and school, the better behaved they will be.
For example, ADHD children may not automatically pick up on the fact that you are upset with them. So, it's important to begin by teaching your child with ADHD to always make eye contact when they are speaking to people, or they are being spoken to. Even though, your child may not understand if you are happy or upset at them, eye contact is a good start. Then you can ask them if they know how you feel. If they don't know, you want to be very explicit and explain to them 'I am happy because…' or 'I am upset with you because…'
Model Behaviors for Your Child
You also have to model the behaviors you want your child to imitate because they will need help learning to recognize non-verbal cues. For example, if you want your child with ADHD to pay more attention, you have to start by paying more attention to them. If you see them start to look away in a conversation, gently remind them to look at you. Model this yourself by maintaining eye contact when speaking to the child, so you're not yelling at them across the room. When you're out in public, use people as examples to help teach your child about body language. For example, if you see someone slouching over their phone while out at a restaurant, ask your child to explain how the person feels. Explaining yourself will help make them more aware of how people communicate their emotions through body language.
Set Clear Expectations
When working on behavior with your ADHD child, you want to set clear expectations in terms of what is acceptable or unacceptable behavior. Start by establishing that adults, including you, are authority figures by telling them rather than asking them. Your tone should clearly indicate that you are in charge, and this is not a request. Asking opens the door to defiance, which is a common issue parents struggle with. Phrasing your requests as commands help close the door on the opportunity for your child to say 'no'.
Another strategy involves setting up a token system to reward your child for positive behaviors. You aren't paying your child for their positive behaviors, but rather finding creative ways to reinforce the behaviors you want to see in your child. Using tokens is a way for your child to earn privileges for things they like to do. For example, they could earn tokens toward television or video game time, if that's what motivates them. If they were to earn a significant number of tokens, you might reward them with a trip to the movies or amusement park.
You don't, however, just ignore the negative behaviors. You also want to set clear consequences for behaviors. If there are a set of behaviors you are working with your child to improve, set clear consequences for each behavior. For example, if your child is prone to defiance, establish a consistent consequence suitable to their age. You can even create a visual chart if you need to help reinforce rewards and consequences with your child's behavior.
Develop Strategies to Prevent Behavior Issues
The best strategy to having a well-behaved child with ADHD is developing strategies to prevent behavior issues. Get to know your child's triggers, or situations when they tend to act out. The first step is setting clear routines at home for mornings, afternoons, and evenings. For ADHD children, they need to know what to expect as often as possible. For example, in the morning have consistent times for waking up and a checklist of what your child needs to do, such as take a shower, brush teeth, and get dressed.
When you are outside of the home, you can prevent behavior issues by having a conversation with your child ahead of time about what they should expect wherever you are going. This will help alleviate anxiety and confusion for your child, that often leads to behavior issues in unusual situations. Remember, the ADHD child doesn't necessarily want to act out, it's just the way their brain reacts to certain situations.
For example, think about if you were taking them to a basketball game for the first time. Walk them through exactly what will happen each step along the way. Explain, for example, you will have to wait in line for your tickets to be scanned. You might also explain about the crowds and waiting in line for concessions. You might even make a plan so that there are no bathroom emergencies or other situations that could increase their anxiety level. If you were taking them somewhere where they needed to be quiet, such as the theater or an airplane, you would need to walk them through that as well. In situations where they would need to be quiet, you might need to talk with them and come up with a strategy such as a squeeze ball or another kind of fidget toy to use to help them release some of that energy.
Establish Clear Routines
Routines are very important to children, but especially an ADHD child. Their brain needs extra time to process input — but if they learn a set of routines, that reduces their anxiety levels of trying to remember what to do. So whether it is at home or school, routines can alleviate behavior problems that stem from an ADHD child feeling anxious or confused about what they need to do.
For younger children, you may want to make a visual chart with pictures to help them with understanding the routine. Routines are equally important in the evening, and when your children have activities that can be more challenging. You may need to make a chart with interchangeable magnets for different activities. The night before, after your child is ready for bed, you can set up the chart for the following evening. That way your child can see if they have soccer, know who is picking them up from school, and when they will eat dinner.
In other situations where you can't control the routine, you need a strategy to help prevent issues. For example, if your ADHD child struggles to sit through church, try bringing quiet activities that they can do to help keep them calm. Depending on their age, this may mean bringing crayons and a book to the church service. If they are older, perhaps set specific points in the service when your child can take a break and take a walk somewhere to burn off energy. Being proactive in this situation won't stop every behavior problem, but it will help you raise a well-behaved child who has learned strategies to cope in a variety of situations.