Kids with ADHD may have every intention of respecting a rule, said Elaine Taylor-Klaus, CPCC, ACC, an educator and parenting coach. But they may break it — often “by accident than on purpose.”
Taylor-Klaus makes a key distinction between “naughty” and “neurological” (having difficulty following a rule because of ADHD symptoms).
But, naturally, as a parent, you might be overwhelmed about how to navigate rule setting. Below, you’ll find five strategies to help.
1. Have reasonable expectations.
Because kids with ADHD tend to lag behind their peers developmentally, it’s important to create rules that are based on realistic expectations, said Taylor-Klaus, co-founder of ImpactADHD.com, an online support resource that trains parents on how to effectively manage kids with ADHD and other “complex” needs.
This includes considering both the child’s age and their ability, she said. “For example, not getting up from the table for 30 minutes during dinner might be a reasonable expectation for a 14-year-old without ADHD, but it still may be a lot to ask of a 14-year-old with ADHD.”
2. Include your kids in the process.
Your kids will be more likely to follow your rules if they feel the rules are reasonable, and they’re included in the process, said Cindy Goldrich, Ed.M., ACAC, an ADHD parent coach, mental health counselor, teacher trainer and founder of PTSCoaching. Talk to your kids about the reasons for your rules, and ask for their input, she said.
Make your reasons objective (i.e., not about you). For instance, instead of “don’t scream in the car because I can’t stand it when you scream,” say “don’t scream in the car because it’s dangerous and could cause an accident,” Taylor-Klaus said.
But avoid getting into a negotiation about whether the reason is legitimate, she said.
Taylor-Klaus is a big proponent of family meetings. “If I tell [my kids] ‘everyone downstairs 15 minutes earlier’ without giving them a say in that decision, I’m going to have a mutiny — or non-compliance.”
Instead, they discuss the issue at their family meeting and everyone takes part in the planning and solutions process. (She also prefers the word “agreements” to “rules.”)
Goldrich also underscored the importance of writing down the rules, and being clear with your kids about the potential consequences.
3. Limit rules.
Trying to enforce too many rules simultaneously just confuses and overwhelms everyone, said Diane Dempster, MHSA, CPC, ACC, a parent coach and co-founder of ImpactADHD.
Plus, “Kids with ADHD tend to push against rules just because they’re rules,” Taylor-Klaus said. They tend to resist structure because it feels confining.
Reserve rules for what’s really important, such as safety, and general rules, such as “we don’t hurt anyone on purpose” or “follow adults’ directions,” she said.
Taylor-Klaus has rules around not messing around doors (“too dangerous and likely to get fingers crushed”) and confidentiality.
“[M]y kids know they can tell me anything, and if health or safety is a factor (like if they’re concerned about a friend), confidentiality goes out the window and we’re going to keep people safe first and foremost.”
“Believe it or not, that actually makes them feel safe, and increases the likelihood that they’ll talk to me about ‘stuff.’”
Also, implement one or two rules at a time, until they become a habit (even if you’re setting a larger list of house rules), Dempster said.
4. Let rules be the “bad guy.”
“Use rules to establish clear expectations, boundaries and consequences, and if they get broken — which you can expect they will sometimes — don’t gloat or point fingers,” Taylor-Klaus said.
Rather, let rules be the bad guy. Dempster shared this example: “If you have a rule that that your child has to get off the computer with one warning, and the consequence of not doing it is no screen time the next night … say ‘Wow, I wish you could use the computer tonight, but the rule says you can’t. I’m so sorry!’”
5. Be supportive.
“Allow your child to make mistakes without making the child wrong for it,” Taylor-Klaus said. Support your child in learning from their mistakes and doing better in the future, she added.
When you’re enforcing a rule, she also stressed the importance of having compassion. “[R]emember, your relationship with your child will (hopefully) last a lot longer than your house rules.”