College Behavior Management for Children with ADHD

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College kids with ADHD are creative, funny, and delicious. They are also hypersensitive, overly dramatic, often hyperactive and restless, forgetful, messy and impulsive. All of this is causing trouble. All of this requires discipline – not just rewards and punishments, but a learning process that leads to self-discipline.

Help your child recognize that good behavior and wise choices have natural rewards, while bad behavior and bad choices have unwanted consequences. So let him choose.

1. Ask for more, say less. When your exuberant college girl starts telling you about something hilarious that happened at school, you are elated because lately she has shared less with you. She punctuates her story by dribbling a basketball on the spot. Then, at the strike line, she simulates a jump shot that escapes her and the bullet crashes into a pile of dishes. “Sorry mum. I forgot,” she said. The rule is well known: do not play ball in the house.

In addition to deliberate bad behavior, children with ADHD often do things they don’t even realize they are doing, like touching things they weren’t supposed to touch or bouncing balls. They forget a lot. You understand that. The consequences you established still hold.

You might ask the ball bouncer, “What’s the rule?” Or point to the door. If something has been broken, you ask, “What are you going to do about it?” When she said sheepishly, “Clean up the pieces.” You say, “What else? The rule may be that she pays for the damage. Telling you the consequence makes a stronger impression than reminding him of it.

[Free Resource: 10 Middle School Challenges for Kids with ADHD]

2. Allow your child to be all-in. You see your son wants more freedom. What you might not recognize is that he is hoping to see a demonstration of your self-confidence. Giving her options, instead of making requests, shows your confidence. Accepting their choices also shows your confidence.

You can ask them if they want to come up with an additional and better consequence that you can accept or reject. He may surprise you with something acceptable that you both can live with. “Give it a try and see if it works,” you say, ending with a decision in which he had some freedom of choice and input.

3. Choose your battles. Let your child wear (almost) whatever they want, no matter how odd the jumpsuits are, for all but the most formal occasions. Let her experiment with her own body no matter how neon green her hair is; “To experiment” means not to do anything permanent without your permission. Although your positive form of discipline does not mean no rules, reasonable freedom to choose their own styles now helps to avoid rebellion later.

Sean had begged his father to take him to an arcade one weekend. In fact, his father was worried about the time his son spent playing computer games. He wished Sean had spent more time being physically active. So he offered the boy the choice: an afternoon at the arcade or a season of martial arts lessons, depending on the guy he liked. Sean checked several class types and locations on the computer and chose the classes over the arcade.

[Free Handout: 10 Ways to Neutralize Your Child’s Anger]

4. Show that you expect the best. Consider starting the middle school years or a new year by giving the child a freedom that she hasn’t had before but is likely to handle well.

Keisha, 13, was allowed to fly on her own for the first time to visit her grandparents. Letting her travel alone demonstrated her parents’ confidence in her. Her parents sent Keisha with adequate instructions and let her know that the safety net they had always provided was now available to airline staff. Children often live up to their parents’ positive expectations.

Afterward, both parents complimented Keisha on how she handled the new experience, but didn’t overdo it. May the experience of new freedom and the successful management of new responsibilities strengthen the desire to make wise decisions.

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