Five Tips for Disciplining Your Children at Family Functions

Health Writer

You arrive at your relative's house, ready to enjoy good food, catch up with those you haven't seen in a while and spend a few hours having fun. Maybe. After all, your child, the one with ADHD, the one you love with all your heart, is with you. If anything like my family get-togethers, the adults are ushered into one room, the children another. It could be a playroom, if there are young children in the house, or a room that has been designated the play room, and has been, child-proofed (at least non-ADHD child proofed.)

You sit down to chat with your cousin, but one ear is always listening for trouble. You know, as well-meaning and caring as your family is, when a disruption occurs in the kids room, there will be plenty of glances in your direction. Some will be sympathy glances, "Oh, poor dear, her child is just so difficult." There will be accusatory glances, "Oh, he is just so bad, why doesn't she discipline him?" No matter why, the message is clear, before they even know what the trouble is or who is involved, it is assumed your child is in the middle of it.

When it happens, when some disruption occurs, what do you do? Do you rush into the room, ready to pounce on your child? Do you ignore the noise or the crying because you want to shrink into a corner, knowing your relatives were right in their assumptions? Do you jump up, ready to be forceful and strong, just to show your relatives you do take parenting seriously?

The following are some tips to help you stay under control and in turn, help manage your child's behaviors.

Talk with your child about expectations before you arrive. You know what to expect, you have probably been at hundreds of these family gatherings. You know who will be there, what other children will be attending and how your child gets along in a group setting. You know what behaviors you expect to see. Let your child know ahead of time what behaviors are not acceptable and what the consequences will be.

Plan in advance how to handle misbehaviors. You may want to find a quiet area, such as the spare bedroom, and ask your host whether it would be okay to use that room should you need to take your child aside for a few minutes. This avoids a scene at the time of the misbehavior with you yelling at your child in the middle of the hallway, where everyone can see and hear.

Be consistent with discipline methods used at home. Your discipline should be the same whether you are at home, at the store or in someone else's home. If you use a time-out at home, use a time-out at your relative's home. This makes discipline a continual process rather than an ever-changing act.
Remember, discipline is meant to teach, not to punish. It is easy to get carried away when you become embarrassed about your child's behavior. You want to show everyone you are a strong parent. But discipline should be appropriate for the age of your child (for example, time-outs for younger children should only be a few minutes, for older children, time-out may be longer) and should not humiliate or demean your child.  
Be proactive. Rather than waiting for the disruption to occur, check in the children's room every half hour or so. If you see your child become extremely hyper or close to a meltdown, take him out of the room for a few minutes, not to discipline, but as a calming measure. Have a few short books or paper and pencils and sit quietly for 5 or 10 minutes. He may be overstimulated and taking a break can help him settle down and be ready to have fun again in a few minutes. If you check on your child and you see him behaving, let him know. Positive reinforcement is great for kids with ADHD. Let him know you appreciate how well he is behaving.

Your child will benefit from your advance planning. He will understand what is expected of him and how to behave. He knows what will happen if he misbehaves. You will be able to be more relaxed and enjoy the time with your relatives.