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The Informed Parent

Parenting the Child With ADHD

by Carolyn Warnemuende, M.S.
Published on Jul. 05, 2004

A recent Associated Press article titled “Behavior Medication is Drug of Choice for Children” reported that parent-spending on medications for attention deficit disorder and other behavior problems has, for the first time, edged out the cost of antibiotics and asthma medications for children.

Antibiotics still top the list of medications most commonly used for children; however, the study, conducted by Medco, the nation’s largest prescription benefit manager, reported some startling results. Data collected over the past three years has indicated a 49 percent rise in the use of attention disorder drugs for children under five years and a 23 percent increase in usage for all children. During the same time period families spent an increase of 369 percent in attention deficit drugs for children under the age of five.

With this kind of financial output parents want and hope to see results. The Informed Parent archives house several articles by Dr. John Samson and one by Dr. Peter Welty on the importance of proper diagnosis and treatment for attention deficit disorder with or without hyperactivity.

Professionals agree that the use of medication for attention deficit disorder solves only part of the problem. When properly prescribed and used, it optimizes the child’s ability to focus and to process information. It does not change learned behaviors that interfere with a child’s social or academic success. This requires learning a new, more appropriate set of skills.

The following in-home interventions assist parents in providing the physical, social, and emotional environment necessary to optimize success for their child with attention deficit disorder.

Structure The Home Environment

  • Keep meal time, bed time and homework time consistent.
  • Have a place for everything. Organize boxes, shelves, and racks for toys, clothes, school supplies.
  • Provide an agreeable space and time for completion of homework.
  • Use a timer. This little device can be used for nearly all activities children engage in, and helps them stay on track.

Wise Behavior Management

  • Keep standards for behavior uniform.
  • Reinforce positive behavior.
  • Use concrete reinforcers such as stars on a chart or pennies.
  • Ignore negative behavior unless it is a danger to self or others, or is destructive of property.
  • Have logical consequences such as “Know that if you do not choose to eat dinner with the family I will not be providing more food until breakfast.”
  • Use shaping techniques. Teach small steps toward the desired behavior and reward for success.
  • Brainstorm alternative behaviors with the child.
  • Role-play. Offer the child an opportunity to practice a behavior such as asking if he may join in a game.
  • Provide written behavior agreements.
  • Enforce time-out when necessary.

Effective Communication

  • Use words or phrases of encouragement like “Wow!” or “Look at that!” and keep your voice enthusiastic.
  • Avoid value judgments and praise such as “You are doing a good job,” or “What a bad decision you made.” Better to say, “I like the way you finished your homework,” or “What decision could you have made instead?”
  • Be specific in acknowledgment. Children need to know what you appreciate; i.e., “I like the way you came the first time I called you.”
  • Say what you want. Instead of “Go get ready for bed,” say “Go brush your teeth and put on your jammies.”
  • Keep in close communication with the school.

Some of these suggestions are self-explanatory. Others may leave you wondering about how to best implement them. Refer to the “Parenting Issues” and “Parenting” sections in The Informed Parent archives. You will find articles that address structuring the home, avoiding homework hassles, effective communication, and using effective behavior management strategies.

Parenting a child with an attention deficit disorder is challenging. Frustration, anger, sadness, and fear are emotions that crop up more than you might wish. Share your concerns with the pediatrician. Learn and keep informed of the best parenting practices. Stay in contact with the school. Above all, accept your child. His life is not easy for him. Know that he wants to be successful. He will find negative success by being a poor student or being socially inadequate if not provided the opportunity to learn effective behaviors. You, other family members, his classroom teacher, the pediatrician, and other professionals working with him are the guides who assist him in becoming a positively successful human being.

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