How to Discipline Kids With ADHD

If you have children with ADHD in your classroom, you’re not alone. Some 3 to 5 percent of all kindergarten through 12th-grade students have been diagnosed with some form of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). These children don’t misbehave deliberately; they have a neurological disorder that makes it difficult for them to concentrate and control their behavior.

Scot Butwell, in a Children’s Ministry Magazine article, gives these 5 tips for what do you do when a child with ADHD disrupts your classroom.

1. Acknowledge the child’s disorder. Teachers may make the mistake of attributing a child’s misbehavior to a bad attitude, says Dr. Grant Martin, a licensed psychologist in Seattle, Washington, and author of The Hyperactive Child. Martin says it’s important for teachers to recognize that ADHD is a neurological disorder that causes children to have difficulty focusing or creates an excessively high level of physical activity and impulsive behavior. Some children may have both of these characteristics.

2. Remind kids of clear rules and expectations. “Structure is so important for kids with ADHD because they’re so easily distracted by any little thing,” says Barb Tjornehoj, a teacher at Trinity Christian School in Omaha, Nebraska. “If they see a teacher allowing one student to talk, they will not hesitate to talk, too.”Tjornehoj suggests regularly reviewing rules before beginning a lesson because children with ADHD have a tendency to react in the moment and forget class rules. Consistency is also key, she says.

3. Give kids consequences for broken rules. “Children need to know that when they break class rules or behave inappropriately, they’ll be disciplined,” says Dr. Janice Acker, a clinical psychologist in Atlanta, Georgia, and former elementary school teacher for 20 years.With children who have ADHD, psychologists and teachers say immediate and incremental consequences work better than all-or-nothing losses. Losing a privilege for an activity that’ll occur in 10 minutes is much more effective and reasonable than telling a child he’ll lose a privilege for the rest of the year.

4. Learn kids’ patterns. Seeking to prevent behavior problems before they occur is one of the best strategies for working with children with ADHD, psychologists and teachers say.And all it takes is a little time to notice a child’s behavior patterns. Is there any behavior a child does every week in class? If so, think of ways to eliminate whatever triggers the behavior. Two kids with hyperactive tendencies sitting next to each other, for example, is a nightmare waiting to happen. Try seating these students either next to calmer students to provide behavior role models or near you where direct eye contact or a tap on their shoulders can redirect their attention.

To respond to a child’s recurring inappropriate behavior, Acker recommends a multisensory approach. “If a student has trouble remembering to raise her hand, a good strategy is to write the specific desired behavior on an index card and just hand the card to the child,” says Acker. “This works just as well as saying, ’Mary, you forgot to raise your hand again.’”

5. Provide positive feedback. Since children with ADHD often get told what they’re doing wrong, it’s  important to let them know what they’re doing right, says David Childs, a teacher at Cimarron School in Lancaster, California, who has worked with ADHD children for 10 years. “Children with ADHD don’t often get praised for good behavior, and they need praise like all kids,” says Childs. Find specific behavior to praise, suggests Childs, even simple behavior that might not seem extraordinary. A teacher might say, for example, “Bobby, I like the way you’ve been sitting still for five minutes.”

Look beyond behavior to see the whole child. Children with ADHD need to know that there’s someone who understands why they have trouble listening and sitting still.

Because they often get in trouble, children with ADHD often get labeled as troublemakers,” says Childs. “They often think their teacher is mad at them if they’re constantly disciplined or, in some cases, yelled at.”

That’s why it’s important for teachers to let children know they still love them even when they act  inappropriately! Do this by making a special effort to get to know a child. This will help the child not feel rejected if disciplined.  

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Christine Yount Jones
Christine Yount Jones is Content Director for Outreach Media Group. She has published several books and hundreds of articles about ministry in the last three decades. Before his death in 2003, Michael Yount and Christine had three children. Now, she and her husband, Ray Jones, together have five grown kids.