When Your Child is Diagnosed with ADHD: Relearning Behaviors

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • We often receive questions from parents whose children were recently diagnosed with ADHD. While the diagnosis can sometimes be a relief because it explains the unruly and frustrating behaviors they have been dealing with for a number of years, it is also a confusing time. Over the first couple of weeks, parents often see an improvement in their child's behaviors, frequently in school, but still deal with impulsive behaviors at home.


    Learned Patterns of Behavior


    Your child has "learned" how to act. His behaviors are a result of ADHD but also a result of his environment. This isn't to say that your parenting or your home environment has caused the ADHD, it hasn't - parenting skills, good or bad, don't cause ADHD. But at the same time, your child has learned how to act based on your actions. He may have consistently heard statements such as "Stop that" or "Just sit still."

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    As a parent of a child with ADHD, it is easy to fall into the habit of ignoring your child when he is acting right and to give attention when he is not. Imagine Tony, a very active, impulsive 5 year old boy. After hours of running around the house, he has finally settled down, playing on the floor with trucks. His parents spent those hours correcting him, telling him to stop running, stop jumping on the couch, stop picking on his sister. When they look into the family room and see him quietly playing, they sigh in relief and walk away, thinking they have a few minutes of quiet to get some of their chores done. They don't want to say anything and interrupt the moment; they don't want to chance ending the quiet.

    Without realizing it, Tony's parents are reinforcing the hyperactive, impulsive, unruly behavior. They gave Tony attention when he was giving in to his ADHD impulses and withheld attention when he was quietly playing. Tony is learning that he gets attention when he doesn't control his ADHD symptoms and gets ignored when he does.


    The Difference Between Home and School


    One of the most confusing aspects of a new ADHD diagnosis is the change in your child's behavior at school. Often, after a diagnosis, teachers see an immediate change in behavior. While this can sometimes be explained by medication being taken early in the day and lasting through the school day, there may be more to it than that. The school day is naturally more structured than the home environment and children have already learned that there is a difference in how they should act at home and in school.


    Teachers can more easily adapt to ADHD by instituting a few changes in the classroom. By adding in clear expectations, specific rules and paying attention to behaviors common in children with ADHD, positive changes can happen quickly. Teachers familiar with ADHD may begin to comment when your child sits still, pays attention or hands in his homework on time. His teacher may send home daily or weekly reports, making sure to point out the improvements in behavior.

    This consistent and immediate, positive feedback gives your child specific ways to change his behavior. He may suddenly enjoy having the teacher focus on what he is doing right and strive to do it again and again. He may want to have a good report sent home. You may have put specific rules and expectations in place - homework handed in on time, not getting up from his seat, paying attention when the teacher is talking. You have set the stage for your child to change certain behaviors and see and feel success.


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    Changing Behaviors at Home


    To help your child make positive changes at home, it is important for parents to change your patterns of behavior as well. Again, parenting skills do not cause ADHD; however, certain types of parenting skills can help your child learn how to act responsibly. Your parenting skills need to reinforce positive behaviors and help your child unlearn inappropriate behavior patterns. In other words, your behaviors, as well as your child's, need to adjust to the new situation: an ADHD diagnosis. Some ways parents can help their child:


    Create Structure and Consistency - Children with ADHD thrive in structured and consistent environments. It helps if they know exactly what is expected and what will happen when they misbehave. Start by writing down clear expectations for your child. List what behaviors are acceptable and which ones are not, including the "rewards" for acting right and the consequences for not following the rules. While you don't necessarily want your home life to follow a strict routine, there is nothing wrong with creating a flexible schedule, such as creating a morning schedule for getting ready for school, setting a specific time for homework, having dinner at the same time each night and following a specific bedtime routine.


    For more information Creating a Discipline Process at Home

    Offer Immediate, Positive Feedback - The catchphrase, "Catch your child doing something good" is a positive way of helping your child understand what is and isn't acceptable. Instead of yelling when your child is jumping on the couch, put more focus on noticing that your child is walking from room to room or playing nicely with his sister. While you can't always ignore the misbehaviors, you can calmly institute consequences while placing more emphasis on appropriate behaviors.


    For more information Focusing on the Positive: Behavior Management with ADHD

    Helping your child overcome and manage symptoms of ADHD takes work. Medications can help, but they don't cure ADHD or take away all the symptoms. Learning to deal with ADHD isn't just something your child needs to do; it is truly a family affair.


    This article was written based on my own personal experiences and through talking with many parents and medical professionals throughout the years.


Published On: April 30, 2012