Therapy can be important in treating ADHD, either alone or with medication. Many parents object to giving their children drugs before first trying other strategies. Others start with therapy and then progress to therapy plus medication, often when school becomes more complex and challenging. A good doctor will work with you to find the treatment strategy best suited for your family and your child. (Get help starting your search.)
Individual and family sessions with a psychiatrist, psychologist or other counselor specializing in ADHD can help children and families deal with the anger and frustration it can cause and create a more positive environment for working on coping strategies.
Medication can help a child focus, but behavioral techniques will give him (and you!) concrete methods to help change his behavior, often through charts that provide visual reminders and offer rewards for positive actions, like remembering books or standing quietly in line (For some sample free charts for every age group, go to the Association for Comprehensive Neurotherapy). Children, parents and teachers or caregivers can learn behavioral therapy techniques from psychiatrists, psychologists, or other counselors (sometimes called coaches) who specialize in ADHD.
Kids with ADHD don't always respond typically to common parenting techniques. If you ask them to set the table, and they don't do it, they may need a warning or two before you lower the boom. Parent training provides ADHD-specific strategies for discipline as well as teaching organization and problem-solving skills.
Some tips on parenting children with ADHD include:
Reinforce natural consequences of actions
Most children will learn from their mistakes, but ADHD children may not make the connection between actions and consequences the way parents expect. Most kids who, for example, swing from a second story banister and break an arm will know not to do it again. An ADHD child may come home from the ER, climb back up on the banister, cast and all, and break his other arm. ADHD children who push, shove and annoy other children can be puzzled when they don't have friends. Even if it seems obvious, parents should stress (in a positive and loving way) the cause and effect relationship between a child's behavior and results.
Use positive discipline
While with non-ADHD children parents often can simply correct misbehaviors, with ADHD kids it is better to focus on teaching and reinforcing good behavior rather than waiting for mistakes. For instance, don't just give a time out for pushing on the playground, give your child praise or a sticker for playing appropriately.
Be clear and consistent
This is a good idea with all children, but essential for those with ADHD, who can't intuit what parents want if it isn't spelled out clearly for them. Don't say "Play nice!" Instead tell your child "Do not hit or push. If you do, we'll have to leave the park." Don't say "Behave for Grandma" but instead "Only walking is allowed in Grandma's house" or "Last time at Grandma's you drew on the walls. She was sad and you had a timeout. Here is your paper. It is the only thing you are allowed to draw on."
Peer support can give families coping with ADHD encouragement, advice and information. Children and Adults with ADD (CHADD) lists local affiliates, many of which offer support groups, on its website, chadd.org.