Parents of ADD/ADHD children tell me that one of their greatest frustrations is that their child repeatedly makes the same mistakes. Over and over. It almost seems like having poor outcomes has no effect on what a child does. Parents often impose negative consequences to try to change their child’s behavior, to no avail. Nothing seems to work.

Let’s think about the whole process. Imagine that you want your child to complete a two step process–hang up his coat and put away his backpack when he gets home.  Every day, the coat is on the floor and the backpack is not where it belongs. You have sent him back to correct it, interrupted him while he was engaged in a TV program, and lectured him endlessly about this behavior. It doesn’t change.

You expected that, after a consequence, your son would think , “I should have just hung it up when I came in,” and  “Tomorrow, I will do this when I get home.” The problem is that children with ADD/ADHD cannot think backwards in time (“I should have done it when I came in”) and cannot think forwards in time (“Tomorrow I will hang it up when I get home”). That’s the reason that consequences don’t change their behavior. It is not that your son/daughter wants to be disobedient. You are asking them to use a way of thinking that they cannot do.

Should parents just give up?  Absolutely not! You can get your son or daughter to learn these behavior routines. You just have to teach it in “real time.”  Here’s how to do it. Start outside the door and have your son/daughter practice hanging up coat and putting away the backpack.  This cannot be done verbally; your child actually has to perform the behaviors. The only consequence is that if s/he forgets to complete the two tasks, then you schedule more practice. This system can be used any time you want your child to complete several tasks in a row.  For example, it can be used to help with morning routines, packing backpacks, or getting ready in a classroom.

This process takes some time for parents. But, if you think about how much time and irritation you have put into such simple tasks, this actually might save you time! And, it helps you maintain a more positive relationship with your child. One other thing that happens for ADD/ADHD children is that once they have learned a sequence of behaviors, they tend to remember it. You won’t have to teach it again.

The important things to remember:

  • Children with ADD/ADHD cannot correct their behavior by thinking about what they should have done, or by thinking about what they will do.
  • The way to handle this is to teach the behaviors you want—not by talking about them but by having his/her body actually do it. Repeat it until they consistently get it right.
  • The only consequence is practicing the behaviors again.

This blog post describes the ideas and opinions of its author and does not provide professional, psychological, or therapeutic advice. Any anecdotes and examples presented in this blog post are based on the experiences of real people, but names, identifying information ,and nonessential facts have been changed throughout to protect their privacy.