“A little recognition for a job well done means a lot to children with ADHD.”
“Stop doing that.”
These are some of the many phrases a child with ADHD, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, may hear throughout the day as they navigate school and home life. Due to the inattentiveness and lack of impulse control that ADHD causes, these children may hear nothing but corrections and complaints all day.
What’s often missing is constructive praise. The constant critiques on their behavior—which they often can’t fully control—can be very discouraging, and some may internalize these critiques and start to believe they are a “bad” kid.
Constructive praise, on the other hand, can help remind the child with ADHD of the things they are good at. It can help them feel less discouraged, and it can motivate them to keep working hard despite their challenging ADHD symptoms.
“A little recognition for a job well done means a lot to children with ADHD,” says Preeti Parikh, MD, chief medical officer at HealthiNation and pediatrician at Mount Sinai Hospital.
Here are tips to incorporate constructive praise effectively for your child with ADHD:
Don’t overdo it. Praising every little thing they do can cause the praise to lose its value, and your child might even start to sense that you’re not being sincere.
Give praise immediately. Praise that’s given in the moment—or as soon as possible—tends to be more effective at encouraging the child to repeat the good behavior. “You don’t wait 24 hours later and then say, ‘Oh, by the way, last night, you did a great job of putting the dishes away,’” says Dr. Parikh.
Provide a variety of praise. Children notice more than you might give them credit for, and they’ll definitely notice if you repeat the same praise over and over again. It may start to feel insincere, or just lose its value.
Be specific with praise. While “good job” can be encouraging, include concrete details whenever possible. For example, praising your child for staying seated throughout all of dinner is more effective than just saying “you were good at dinner.” Specificity can also help you see the good aspects of your child’s behavior, as opposed to judging their total behavior as either “good” or “bad.”
Consider a token system for younger children. Some kids with ADHD respond very well to things like star charts, stickers, beans in a jar, or token boards. To use a token system effectively, define with your child what types of things will earn them a star or sticker. You can also pick one specific activity (like finishing a homework assignment) if you’re working on one goal at a time. When your kid earns enough tokens, they get awarded a special privilege—for example, a trip to the movie theater.
Sincere and constructive praise can have a real impact on how your child with ADHD views themselves, which can in turn affect their behavior. Children with ADHD need positivity just as much—if not more—than kids without it.
“As a parent myself, I know it’s always a little difficult to remember to praise your child, especially if you’re tired and frustrated,” says Dr. Parikh. “You’re not going to always be perfect, but just to keep it in the back of your mind and try to practice it as much as you can.”
Dr. Parikh, a board-certified pediatrician affiliated with The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, is HealthiNation's chief medical editor.
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Children with ADHD who may have not found the perfect treatment plan,
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or have not been diagnosed yet, may get a lot of criticisms
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and negative feedback both at school and at home,
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and this is where positive parenting comes into play,
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and why it's so important for children, especially with ADHD.
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There's a lot of talk now about positive parenting.
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This concept is about praising our children and recognizing
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when they do good things, and that the positive is outweighing the negative.
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The key to effective praise is not to overdo it or underdo it.
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Give them positive reinforcements right away.
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You don't wait 24 hours later and then say,
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"Oh, by the way, last night, you did a great job of putting the dishes away."
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Try to give it immediately.
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Your praise also should be varied.
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It shouldn't be the same thing every time.
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That can really help and make the praise more sincere.
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Tell them the specific action that made you proud of them.
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An example of a specific action praise is,
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"You did a great job putting the dishes away tonight."
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For some children, especially young children, on top of verbal phrase,
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having a token or a reward chart system is also really beneficial.
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They may enjoy getting stickers or tokens for accomplishing tasks,
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like brushing their teeth, taking a shower,
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getting in their pajamas, and going to bed on time.
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Those are tasks they'll be proud of, and it's a nice reinforcement
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by giving them a sticker or token to show your appreciation.
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I try to practice positive parenting also, but I have my hiccups,
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and so remember, give yourself a break.
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You're not gonna always be perfect, but just to keep it in the back of your mind
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and try to practice it as much as you can.
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ADHD parenting tips. Santa Monica, CA: HelpGuide. (Accessed on August 16, 2019 at https://www.helpguide.org/articles/add-adhd/when-your-child-has-attention-deficit-disorder-adhd.htm.)
Behavior therapy for children with ADHD. Itasca, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics, 2017. (Accessed on August 16, 2019 at https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/adhd/Pages/Behavior-Therapy-Parent-Training.aspx.)
Teaching children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: instructional strategies and practices. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, 2008. (Accessed on August 16, 2019 at https://www2.ed.gov/rschstat/research/pubs/adhd/adhd-teaching_pg4.html.)