Parenting Advice: How To Help Children Experiencing ADHD Symptoms

Medically reviewed by April Justice
Updated February 22, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

As the parent or guardian of a child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), you may already know your child may present with unique problem behaviors and needs. While most kids experience inattentiveness and hyperactivity at times, many kids with ADHD may act out, often losing their temper, refusing to follow rules or listen to authority figures. In fact, some of the most common disorders that cooccur in younger children with ADHD are oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) and conduct disorder. 

Finding the balance between compassion for their mental health condition and the need to maintain rules and structure in your home can be difficult. However, with the correct support and education, your child can have the best possible experience. Read on to learn about how therapy can help your child develop coping skills, and various scientifically supported strategies you can use to better relate to your child. 

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Are you parenting a child living with ADHD?

Three Steps For Supporting A Child With ADHD

Step 1: Educate Yourself About The Disorder

When your child receives an ADHD diagnosis, your first step might be to educate yourself about their condition. Your healthcare provider or a mental health professional can recommend some appropriate literature to help you understand how ADHD can affect your child’s physical, emotional and mental development. The more you know about ADHD and how it may present in your child, the more equipped you may feel to help them when they encounter obstacles. For example, oftentimes children with ADHD misbehave as a result of impulsiveness or inattention (core symptoms of ADHD) and not because they are merely being rebellious. Parents may be able to manage their child’s behavioral issues by helping their children manage symptoms of ADHD. 

Step 2: Ask Your Healthcare Provider If ADHD Medication Is A Good Fit

Many parents report medication making a positive difference for their children’s symptomatic manifestation. You may consider speaking to your child’s pediatrician or therapist to learn if medication is a viable option for your child, possibly discussing options for which adverse behaviors you’d like to target first. 

Recent research indicates that many parents may hesitate to pursue medication for their children, despite substantial evidence that supports its efficacy and safety. In the referenced study, parents self-reported feelings of guilt that their child required medication, as well as significant family pressure and concerns about the risks of treatment. These were listed as the primary reasons for not seeking medication. 

If you have concerns, feel free to vocalize them to your physician or therapist. They can offer solutions and cognitive reframing techniques to help you and your child get the most out of medication, if that’s deemed the correct choice for your family’s specific needs. 

Step 3: Understand Why They’re Lashing Out

Before reacting to your child’s anger, aggression or defiance, you may consider taking a moment to try to understand why they’re lashing out. For example, some children and adolescents with ADHD may start skipping school after experiencing certain struggles, such as bullying, bad grades, or even unfair treatment in the classroom. 

While there may be reasons that ADHD makes kids more prone to disruptive behavior, that does not make their behavior acceptable. When talking to your child about their behavior, consider directing criticism at the behavior, not the child themselves. Once you understand the situations and emotions that can be likely to trigger ADHD behaviors, you can try lifestyle changes to avoid or better manage outbursts when possible. 

While symptomatic manifestations can vary by child, some of the most common triggers that are reported include: 

  • Boredom

  • Stress

  • Resistance to changing activities

  • Poor sleep

  • Overstimulating environments

  • Adverse reactions to certain foods or additives

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Nine Parenting Tips For Navigating ADHD Symptoms In Children

Tip 1: Understanding The Possible Tie Between ADHD And Inaccuracies 

While there is no current proven correlation between ADHD and lying as a symptom, many people with ADHD may resort to dishonesty if they feel pressure to think fast or want to cover up an impulsive action. Remember that poor communication skills and inattentiveness can lead to misunderstandings or inaccuracies that may not be intentional. Your child may not be omitting information on purpose. They may genuinely have forgotten or consider it unimportant.

Tip 2: Avoid Overreaction And Keep Disciplinary Actions Fair

Parenting a child with ADHD can be exhausting, and it can be helpful to remember that they likely aren’t causing you stress on purpose. They are generally naturally curious, impulsive and adventurous. You may try to take that into account when reacting to your child’s behavior to give them the fairest and most empathetic experience possible. 

Because children living with ADHD may misbehave, punishment can quickly lose its effectiveness as a deterrent. To address this, you may take care that they don’t internalize the behavioral corrections to mean something is wrong with them. Instead, you might try focusing on positive discipline methods to correct behaviors. Children with ADHD also benefit from more structure, as well as clear guidelines regarding the type of behavior you expect. 

Tip 3: Praise Positive Behaviors

Researchers at the Child Mind Institute suggest that parents use positive attention to help correct behaviors more effectively than negative attention. Studies show that praising the behavior you want to encourage yields more results than calling negative attention to the behavior you wish to stop. Use specific language to praise their actions, helping them associate the positive feelings of praise with the behavior. 

Tip 4: Where Possible (And Safe), Ignore Minor Negative Behaviors

Research shows that children with ADHD with parents who are overly critical are at an increased risk of developing persistent ADHD symptoms. If your child is behaving in a way that is dangerous for themselves or others, they may need redirection to stay safe. However, if they are merely acting out to get your attention or because they are bored, you may try a practice called active ignoring—doing your best to ignore the bad behavior, and praising them when it stops. 

“By withdrawing your attention, you are sending the message that acting out is not the way for them to get what they want. You reinforce this message when, as soon as you see them calming themselves down or obeying an instruction, you do give them your attention,” said Katherine Martinelli, author of The Power Of Positive Attention.

Tip 5: Spend Time With Your Child And Model Good Behaviors

You are generally your child’s first role model. They might learn how to behave and interact with others primarily based on how you act and how their family members act. It can be important for caregivers to spend time with their children to develop a loving, nurturing relationship that prioritizes open communication and sets clear expectations for their child’s behavior. 

By setting clear expectations and rules for acceptable behaviors at an early age, children with ADHD may learn how to handle frustration in a healthier way. 

Tip 6: Help Your Child Build Emotional Literacy And Intelligence

Many parents may find that one of the most effective ways to help your child manage ADHD symptoms is to help them build their emotional literacy and intelligence. They may need your support and guidance as they learn healthy ways to express and process their feelings. However, it can be a worthwhile investment. 

Emotional intelligence can help children to recognize and understand their emotions, and how they can affect their behavior. Emotional literacy can then take the next step, potentially helping your child constructively express their feelings and needs to others.

Tip 7: Experiment With Coping Strategies

Working with a therapist can help you and your child develop a selection of coping strategies to manage ADHD behaviors. Finding effective coping strategies can involve ongoing experimentation to find what works. We’ve listed several common coping strategies below:  

Potential Coping Strategies

  • Redirection

  • Taking a break

  • Creating a routine and schedule

  • Sticking to a sleep schedule

  • Allowing opportunities to move physically

Tip 8: Provide Routine Opportunities For Physical Movement And Exercise

Hyperactivity can be a significant aspect of your child’s ADHD. They may feel a need to fidget or move due to an excess of energy. While planning your family routine, you may try to work in regular physical movement and exercise opportunities. If your child is struggling to focus on school, you might also consider speaking to teachers about movement breaks. 

Tip 9: Reach Out For Help

Navigating your child’s ADHD symptoms and behaviors can be incredibly difficult to do without help. There are services available to help you find ways for your child to live with their disorder and to help you support them as a parent or guardian. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends parent training and behavior management therapy for children with ADHD who are six years of age and under. Young kids need parental help when it comes to managing disruptive behaviors. Parent training teaches parents strategies to help their kids improve their behavior over time. A combination of behavior therapy and medication may often recommended for older children and adults. Pursuing a personalized course of treatment and leveraging what options are available to you can support your child in experiencing a higher quality of life. 

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Are you parenting a child living with ADHD?

How Can Online Therapy Support Parents Of Children And Adolescents With ADHD?

Therapy can be an effective tool for you as a parent and may help your child learn to manage their ADHD behaviors. If you’ve noticed an increase in your child’s behaviors or feel like you’re having trouble providing the support and guidance your child needs, you consider speaking with a therapist for help. Many people are turning to online therapy platforms like BetterHelp to receive therapy from the comfort and convenience of home or another safe space, with options to schedule appointments via phone, online chat or video call.

A recent study published in Frontiers in Psychology shows that online therapy is not only a helpful way to treat ADHD in children, but it may also be more effective than traditional in-office settings. The reduced cost, wait times, and convenience were also desirable factors for patients and parents of children living with ADHD. 

Takeaway

Managing your child’s ADHD-related behaviors can feel overwhelming, but it is possible. You can reference the strategies outlined in this article to potentially make it easier to identify methods that could help your child learn communication and coping skills. Online therapy can be a helpful resource to enhance the benefit that your child gets from this process. BetterHelp can connect you with a therapist in your area of need. 

Gain a better understanding of ADHD

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