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My Child Just Doesn’t Listen! And More Frustrating Discipline Problems

Your child is funny, charming, and spontaneous — but sometimes, the traits that make you love her so much conspire to drive you (and everyone else) up the wall. Here, Dr. Peter Jaska shares solutions to five of the most common behavior problems for impulsive kids with ADHD, including not listening, lying, and outright disrespect.


Every child occasionally resists the rules and demands placed upon him. Kids who have attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) tend to resist more than others.

To rein in rebellious, impulsive children without creating a power struggle or driving themselves crazy, parents must be patient, persistent, and creative in responding to resistance.

At your wit’s end because your child doesn’t listen? Here are five common discipline problems faced by parents of children with ADHD — and solutions for each of them.

1. “My child absolutely refuses to do as he is told.”

Sometimes parents and kids get into a pattern in which daily tasks (doing homework, getting ready for bed) provoke battles. In most cases, the child eventually complies, but the conflict leaves everyone upset.

The best long-term solution? Setting up routines. For example, parents must establish and enforce — calmly but firmly — regular study times for each child.

It may take weeks, or even months, until the child with ADHD accepts these routines and follows them consistently. No matter how long it takes, don’t give up. And don’t let yourself be drawn into needless conflict with your child. When tempers flare, the parent must remain calm and maintain control of the situation.

2. “My kid doesn’t care about consequences.”

Whether it’s withholding TV privileges, or refusing to let your child attend a party, consequences are most effective when they’re imposed as soon as possible after an infraction. If you delay the imposition of consequences, you’re blunting their emotional impact.

Sometimes consequences that were once effective stop being effective after they’ve been used for a while. As with many other things involving ADHD, repetition leads to boredom. Devise a variety of consequences and vary them from time to time.

Consequences should have time limits: long enough to teach a lesson but short enough to give the child a chance to move on to more positive things. The punishment should fit the crime. Overly harsh consequences will encourage your child to resent your rules and your authority — and will generate more anger and rebelliousness.

3. “I can’t believe anything my child tells me.”

All children lie sometimes. The lying may be mild (“No, I didn’t take my sister’s CD”) or it could be a cover-up for chronic problems (“No, the teacher didn’t give us any homework today”). Lying is especially worrisome when it involves issues of health and safety (“Empty beer cans in the basement? What empty beer cans?”).

For children with ADHD, lying is often a coping mechanism, albeit a counterproductive one. A lie may be a way to cover up forgetfulness, to avoid criticism or punishment, or to avoid dealing with feelings of guilt and shame over repeated failures.

The first step in dealing with chronic dishonesty is to find the reasons that underlie it. If your child lies to avoid consequences for irresponsible behavior, for example, you must monitor those behaviors more closely and discipline any act of deception. If he lies in order to cover up failure and shame, encourage your child to be honest — and provide appropriate help so that your child can overcome whatever he’s struggling with.

4. “My child doesn’t take me seriously.”

Why doesn’t your child show respect for you or your rules? Are the rules clear to the child? Important rules should be put in writing.

Does the child not accept the rules because she considers them unfair? In that case, the child’s objections and the parent’s reasons for the rules need further discussion.

If you want your child to respect the rules, enforce them consistently. That means not “forgetting about” the rules or occasionally suspending them because you feel guilty or because your child (or spouse) pressures you to do so. If you bluff or make empty threats, you’re sacrificing your credibility and weakening your authority as a parent.

5. “My child overreacts to nearly everything.”

Heightened emotionality is a characteristic of ADHD. For kids with attention deficit disorder, failure doesn’t merely discourage, it devastates. While most children protest a bit about being disciplined, kids with ADHD often react with intense indignation and anger. Disciplining an overreactive child is risky, if it may trigger World War III.

Chronic overreaction to discipline — particularly when intense feelings of anger or frustration are involved — may not be due to ADHD alone. Is the child overreacting because she feels criticized? Unloved? Inadequate? Helpless? Overwhelmed? Are your expectations too high?

6. “My kid won’t listen to me!”

Is there a parent anywhere who has not tried to have a serious conversation with a child — only to be met with indifference (“Who are you and why are you bothering me with this stuff?”)? If such a conversation involves discipline, your message isn’t getting through.

If your child tunes you out on a regular basis, do a self-check. Have you become too negative or critical? Do you focus too much on problems and not enough on solutions? Have your conversations become lectures, instead of give-and-take? Does the child feel left out of the decision-making process?

No matter what your child’s age, you can involve him in the process of establishing rules and consequences for breaking them. A child who is included in setting the family rules is more likely to respect them.


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