ADHD Or Just Bad Behavior?

This week’s guest columnist is Dr. Seth Koster, a Family Practice resident at the University Hospital and Clinics here in Lafayette.

Is your child ”bouncing off the walls” or “just won’t listen?”  Pediatricians and family physicians see lots of kids with behavior problems.  Parents or teachers often want to know if this is ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) or just bad behavior?

ADHD is a hot topic.  Some claim that ADHD is only bad behavior from ineffective parenting- “she just needs a good spanking!”‘  On the other extreme, some kids receive ADHD medication who don’t need it. Regardless if you believe ADHD is real, here are tips on helping kids act better.  Kids who don’t have ADHD respond to these tips; kids who do may respond less consistently, but will still be happier and better behaved.

Spanking?  Many ask, to spank or not to spank?  A bigger question is why are you spanking?  If you do spank your child, avoid doing this in anger.  Only spank for behavior that’s dangerous, like running into the street, not for something small. Explain why you’re punishing. He may not understand right away, but kids get more than you think and will eventually catch on.

More importantly, reward good behavior.  Positive reinforcement is MUCH more effective than punishment.  Saying things like “Thank you for being so quiet,” and “You did a good job picking up your room” is great behavior modification. Every kid (and adult!) likes praise, and kids will work to earn more.

Don’t be sarcastic, or make fun of your child.  Young children are sensitive, and cutting remarks and mean-spirited teasing hurt feelings.  Pre-teens and teens don’t like that either.  If you are unpleasant to your children, they will grow up thinking that it’s okay to be abused and to abuse others

Build family traditions.  Many households lack structure or traditions.  Do something together!  Go to a park or to church every Sunday, or have Friday night pizza as a family. Kids look forward to these things- it’s something to do with mom and dad. Also keep extended family in mind and make time for them.

Keep a home routine, or “rhythm.”  Chaotic homes make chaotic children.  Some kids who seem to have ADHD just aren’t used to having to sit still and follow along; they never learned how at home.  We know it’s especially important to have a routine home life for children with autism or ADHD, but every kid behaves better and is happier with structure.

Keep the same bedtimes.  Don’t let kids stay up later with phones or watching TV-that’s cheating!  Eat meals together at regular times. Give your children daily and weekly chores. Even kids as young as 5 years-old want to help, and should start picking up after themselves.  Be realistic though; the seven year old shouldn’t be shingling the roof.  5-6 year-olds can clean rooms, 8-9 year-olds can help with dishes and take out trash, and 13 year-olds can mow lawns and babysit younger siblings for short periods.

Expect your children to RESPECT others.  Respecting adults and peers is important. The Golden Rule, “Treat people as you want to be treated,” even very young children understand.  This is the South- we expect ”yes sir” and “no ma’am.”  Doing this will help your kids earn respect in turn. 

Set a good example by respecting others in speech and action.  Your child should never hear you curse.  If (or when?) you do mess up, be honest with your children and tell them you expect better from yourself, and them.

Don’t argue with your kids, or ask them “why” they did something.  If they misbehave, punish them appropriately and briefly explanation why they acted badly.  Asking them why makes it personal, as if they are bad inside and not just simply making a mistake.  If they argue with your reasoning, don’t engage them in the argument.  As Dr. Hamilton used to say to his kids, “This isn’t an argument, this is simply how you should act.”

The most challenging child can benefit from these tips. Try them out; if you don’t make progress with difficult behavior, you’re not alone!  Talk with your doctor or school counselor.  They can help you with behavior techniques, to help your kids be the best they can be.