Teens with ADHD: Keeping Emotions in Check when Disciplining Teens

Health Writer

Parenting teens, especially teens with ADHD, is like an emotional roller coaster. Too often, as parents, we react to our teens moods and anger with the same. When they accuse, we become defensive; when they yell, we yell back; when they are moody, we react with irritation. Or we may react based on our own feelings which have nothing to do with our child. It is hard to keep our own emotions in check and react calmly when we feel frustrated and upset. Parenting a teen with ADHD can become a war of wills, leaving parents feeling helpless.

Planning Ahead

It is impossible to plan for every possible situation your teen is going to be involved in; even so, you and your spouse can work together to come up with scenarios and plan your response. The following steps should help:

  • Choose a time when you can be alone. This may be after all your children are in bed or you may want to leave the house and sit somewhere quiet.

  • Discuss your expectations for your teen, for example: does your teen need to have a part-time job? What chores around the house is he expected to complete? Is he handing in his homework on a regular basis? What time does he need to be in the house at night and is that time different on the weekends? You and your spouse should talk about each expectation and be able to come up with a specific answer for each. Write down your expectations.

  • Decide on consequences and rewards for each expectation. For example, what will happen if your teen doesn't arrive home by curfew? Consequences should be specific and immediate. You also want to plan out rewards - if your teen is on time every day for the week, can he earn an extra hour out on the weekend? Make sure you include both rewards and consequences and write down each one. This way, no matter who is enforcing the rules, the rewards and consequences will be consistent.

  • Plan for the unexpected. Think about scenarios that may come up and plan how you and your spouse will react. For example, what will you do if your teen is caught shoplifting, using drugs, drinking, cheating on a test, etc. How will each be handled? Knowing ahead of time will help you and your spouse be "on the same page."

  • Agree to discuss any discipline measures not included in your list. There may be times your teen does something that you and your spouse haven't anticipated. Imagine you get a call from school that your teen cheated on a test. You and your spouse haven't discussed consequences for this. Rather than making up a consequence, tell your teen he must remain in his room until you and your spouse discuss what is to happen. This helps you both remain consistent and shows a united front. Your teen knows he can't manipulate one of you.

When you and your spouse are satisfied with your list of expectations, possible scenarios and measures to be taken - good and bad - you should share the list with your teen so he knows exactly what behaviors are expected and what will happen when he does, and doesn't, follow the rules.

For some rules you may be open to negotiation and should include your teen in the process of creating household rules. Often, teens are more apt to follow the rules when they have some say. However, you and your spouse should discuss the rules first to understand which ones you are willing to bend on and which are "set in stone."

The Difference Between Punishment and Discipline

Discipline is defined as "training that corrects." [1] Discipline is a learning process with the goal of teaching your teen the correct way to behave. Punishment is "a penalty for an offense." Punishments are often meant to be a deterrent, to be something that your teen wants to avoid and therefore doesn't commit the offending behavior. For children and teens with ADHD, discipline - especially when using consequences and rewards - is usually more effective.

Consequences are similar to punishments; however, it is the entire system, including knowing and understanding the expectations ahead of time, being rewarded for adhering to the expectations and having consequences for not following expectations, that works best for children and teens with ADHD.

Keeping Emotion in Check

As parents, most of us have "lost it" at some time with our children. We have yelled, screamed and entered into a battle of words or wills. Usually, this doesn't work - or it may work in the short-term but doesn't help in building a strong relationship with your teen and can end up backfiring in the long-run.

Keeping emotions under control when our teen has disobeyed us or done something that embarrasses us is hard. Using the method described here can help because you, and your spouse, will know exactly how to react when a situation comes up. It can help you to keep your emotions in check and work toward disciplining your teen rather than punishing him.


[1] Merriam Webster Dictionary online: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/discipline

[2] Merriam Webster Dictionary online: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/punishment