Most people think that the reason ADHD children and teens don’t follow rules is because they’re all mavericks and don’t like authority. This is only partially true.
Rules are guides, not controls
ADHD kids don’t hate rules. In fact, they would love to be cooperative. Getting along with your parents feels good. The fact that it may be a struggle does not mean that they’re trying to thwart your efforts. Many parents assume that the point of rules is to have kids behave the way the parents want them to, and so they assume that the rules aren’t working if the kids aren’t obeying. This is actually control, and control creates power struggles. Rules aren’t about controlling kids; rules are guides to behavior. Kids can still refuse to obey or follow the rules/expectations. The trick is to have your consequences built in (In my world, consequences are not punishments; they’re more like results, as in “If you do X, Y happens.” Cause and Effect.
ADHD kids do not like hypocrisy and random parenting
In my practice, the most common mistake I see are parents creating random rules. These can be in-the-moment declarations that burst forth from our frustration or anger, like “That’s it! No more computer use during the week!” Or they may be random in the sense that they just don’t fit your kids or your family. They’re good ideas but not good rules. “Come down for dinner without my prompting you” would be ideal and it would save you time. But will it actually work?
Also, there are rules that we create for our kids but we don’t follow them ourselves. To ADHD kids, this is hypocritical and they will dig their heels in. They’ll fight back or shut down. For example, one family had the rule that kids couldn’t yell in the house but when it was dinner time or chore time, the mom always yelled up the stairs to get her children’s attention. I kept telling her to go upstairs instead of yelling, but she refused. What her ADHD children see is that mom is stubborn and controlling and so they become stubborn and resist being controlled.
Are you yelling at or demotivating your ADHD child?
Yelling is a huge DEmotivator. I mean, think about it – did someone yelling at you or nagging you ever inspire you to greatness? Kids HATE yelling and nagging. It demoralizes them. Kids want to please their parents and knowing that you’re disappointed is painful for them.
Here are some other demotivators:
- Criticism, insults, put-downs, teasing, sarcasm
- Anxiety or fear
- Depression or sadness
- Physical pain
- Previous negative experience
Here’s how to tap into ADHD motivation
Remember this: if you want cooperative ADHD kids and teens, you need to create scenarios that promote love, approval, comfort, freedom, and power. Being told what to do and then being yelled at because we didn’t do it is uncomfortable and kids will feel powerless and unloved.
When you create behavior expectations, make sure that you check in with your children. You can actually see stress and sadness in their faces if a new rule is too hard for their developmental level. ADHD kids are late-bloomers, as you know, and so they may need help or support with rules. One of my clients gets help from his mother when emptying the dishwasher. Obviously he has the ability to do it. It’s not a hard task, but for some reason, this particular task stresses him out. Instead of arguing, day after day, she helps him.
It’s not that big a deal and, trust me, you won’t be helping him empty the dishwasher forever!
If your kids are having trouble, ask them, “What would make this more interesting/fun/easy/comfortable?” Then watch their minds engage and grow!
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