Praising Your ADHD Child

adhd-treatmentI shout. I nag. I want him to change, but my child still won’t listen. What am I doing wrong?

For parents of children with ADHD, it’s a natural tendency to yell at unwanted behavior. Most often, kids tune you out. Other times, they rebel. They’re defiant. And no amount of reprimanding will fix the problem permanently.

So, what do you do?

As much as possible ignore the negative behavior, according to Shirley Wang in her article Tantrum Tamer: New Ways Parents Can Stop Bad Behavior. “Forget everything you may have read about coping with children’s temper tantrums,” she said. Yelling, punishment, nagging—for many, none of these measures will actually result in long-term behavior change, according to researchers at two academic institutions.

Praise the good behavior when it occurs. Ignore the bad.

Dr. Alan Kazdin, Yale psychology professor and head of the Yale Parenting Center, trains his clients in what he refers to as “parental management” techniques. Here are some of his suggestions:

  • Instead of time-out, have a “time-in” Parents who spend time with their child while being loving, respectful and attentive will foster a good relationship and develop trust, close attachment, affection and comfort and increase the possibility your child will listen to you in the future.
  • Use mirror neurons These are special cells in the brain that cause us to think and feel similar emotions and sensations when observing another’s behavior, as if we are engaging in the behavior ourselves. With these, children can effectively learn from your behaviors, just by observing you handling yourself calmly and with composure. Mirror neurons are proof we need to “practice what we preach.” So,  model the behaviors you want to see in your child.  “Modeling teaches your best and worst behaviors, the ones you’re most careful to practice and others you’re barely conscious of,” says Dr. Kadzin. He suggests playing a game where you imitate each other. Pretend that you (as your child) broke something, came home with a bad report card or committed some other offense and ask your child, playing you, to respond to the news as he thinks you would. Then, sit back and observe.
  • When in doubt, wait it out. “Even just waiting a few minutes can help, because intense emotions usually subside on their own fairly quickly,” said Robert Epstein, a research psychologist and author, former editor of Psychology Today and father of six children. Epstein, who developed the Epstein Parenting Competencies Inventory test of parenting skills, available at, also said a parent should never let anger guide his or her parenting. A single slap, insult or shriek can be traumatic for a child and also cause serious damage to their relationship.”

In conclusion, giving attention to undesired behaviors increases undesired behaviors, while giving attention to good behaviors increases good behaviors, says Dr. Kazdin.

“When it comes to nagging, reprimanding and other forms of punishment, the more you do it, the more likely you are not going to get the behavior you want.” A better way to get children to clean their room or do their homework, for example, is to model the behavior yourself, encourage it and praise it when you see your child doing it.”