Her eyes dropped to her lap for only a brief moment, but it was enough. I knew I had crushed her spirit. I had spent the entire time at the dinner table criticizing her. “Take smaller bites.” “Don’t chew with your mouth open.” “Your bottom needs to be on the chair.” I wish I could say my attitude changed after that, but I was annoyed by her ADHD antics and simply wanted a peaceful dinner after a long day. I didn’t stop to recognize it was my intolerance which was creating an uncomfortable atmosphere for our whole family.
Child psychologists recommend using positive reinforcement at a ratio of 3 to 1 for every negative redirection you need to make with your child, whether or not they have ADHD. If that is overwhelming, don’t worry, I fail at this every day! The Bible also warns about overwhelming our children with negative feedback. Ephesians 6:4 says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (ESV) Throughout God’s Word, it’s clear that we are to discipline our children, but we are meant to do it in a way that builds them up rather than tearing them down. When our child struggles to meet the expectations of neurotypical children, it can be emotionally exhausting. But it’s much more exhausting for them and they need our encouragement and our help more than our criticism. Here are some practical tips that have worked for us (and you can apply these to yourself too).
Pray for and with your child. Ask God for patience, which is a fruit of the work of the Holy Spirit indwelling us (Galatians 5:22), and wisdom. James 1:5 says that when we ask God for wisdom He gives it to us generously without wagging a disapproving finger at us for needing to ask. He is the perfect Father, and He wants us to come to Him for help!
Set a goal or two together. Ask your child what they would like to work on and set a measurable and realistic goal for no more than a week at a time. Agree on a reward for success and a consequence for failure. If a child is continuing to fail to reach a goal, it may be a signal that you need to lower the bar and gradually increase the goal.
Set your child up for success. Children with ADHD do not have typical executive functioning. They need extra instruction and reminders, and as few distractions as possible. Take the time to coach them through achieving the goal.
Post reminders of the goal in a couple different locations around the house. A combination of pictures and written descriptions works best for my kids.
Celebrate accomplishments. It doesn’t have to be a trip to Disney World, and, in fact, simply knowing they pleased you will have a more lasting effect than some elaborate or expensive reward. Knowing your child’s Love Language (The 5 Love Languages), will help you pick incentives that will help motivate her.
Check yourself. When you feel the need to correct your child, ask yourself if it is necessary because it is the goal you are working on or it is harmful to them or others. If it’s not, take a deep breath, pray, and let it go. Change the surroundings if you can. For example, I can easily rearrange the table set up so that my ear isn’t right next to my daughter’s smacking lips and wiggly body at dinner.
When you do need to correct, do it in love and in a way that builds her up. Frame it as positively as you can, reminding her of the reason you need to correct the behavior and explaining the consequences clearly. Give her a hug and remind her that you are disciplining her because you love her and want what is best for her.
Parenting children with ADHD is hard. Right now, in the midst of a global pandemic, it’s harder than ever. Whatever your particular circumstances, know that you are not alone. We are in this together, and, more importantly, we serve a God who is faithful to give us wisdom when we ask.
The 5 Love Languages. “The 5 Love Languages.” Discover Your Love Language, Northfield Publishing, 2020, https://www.5lovelanguages.com/. Accessed 18 November 2020.
The content found on Flourishing Family Coaching’s website and blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding ADHD, anxiety, depression or any other medical conditions. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website or blog.