Why Punishments Don’t Work (But What Works Better!)

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Kids do well if they can, but lacking skills to better, they have meltdowns. Why punishments don’t work (hint: they don't teach problem-solving skills!)  www.thedistractedmom.com/why-punishments-dont-work/

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Anyone with an ADHD child can relate to this story:


Last weekend, I took the kids (I’ll call them Mimi and Man Cub) to the local bookshop in town. It’s a nice place for a hot cocoa, where you can look at robot kits and roam around for awhile. It makes for a nice morning out. I told the kids that we’d just look around.  (dun dun duuuuun!)

But then my son saw a first aid kit that he just had to have. It had tweezers and band aids and a mini-scissors in a small red tin with a white cross on it. I quietly reminded him of what I’d said about not buying anything, but I could see it was futile. Anticipating his reaction, his sister and I began heading for the exit as he started yelling.

“It’s not fair!”

“This is the WORST!”


These are the moments that are the most trying as a parent. They test your patience, they challenge your confidence, and they make you wonder if you’re possibly a total failure.

What kind of a kid hates their parent?!

Man Cub followed me into the street, screaming. He cried all the way to the car, and he stood outside the car for a few seconds, stomping his feet and repeating himself.

“It’s not fair! It’s not fair!”

His sister and I sat waiting for him to get inside the car. People on the street stared at the scene. It was awful. 

Internally, I was stomping my own feet, screaming, “What’s not fair is that I can’t even go to the bookstore on a Saturday morning without having to take part in terrorist negotiations with a spoiled seven-year-old! Get in the effing car you brat!”

 Externally, I sat stony-faced.


I reminded his sister to do the same.

 After a minute, he got in the car. He continued grumbling and whining while I drove home, which was thankfully only a few minutes away. When we got home, I told him he had to go to his room.

 “After you chill out, we can talk about it.”

 He refused, which is typical. I told him that he could sit in the car alone until he was ready to go to his room (which is upstairs in the house), but he would not be allowed to be downstairs with us until he did as he was asked. His sister and I went in.

What I’ve learned as a psych nurse:


My first job out of nursing school was at a psychiatric hospital.  I worked with an acute inpatient population, so I learned a lot about working with people in crisis.  A few things that I took away:

1. When people are really upset, they aren’t rational. This is not the time to lecture. You are wasting your time trying to teach a child a lesson or negotiate with them when they’re in a rage or in the middle of a crying jag.

2. An angry person is a force to be reckoned with. You will never convince someone not to be angry, and efforts to overpower them will make them far angrier.  Methods to physically restrain a child are only appropriate if they are  a real, physical danger to themselves or others.

3. To de-escalate, try removing the audience. People will calm down a lot quicker with no one to witness the drama because it’s both less embarrassing for them and it eliminates the positive feedback from the attention factor (if that is what they are after).


After 10 minutes, Man Cub came in the house a bit calmer and said we could talk. Doubting this, I asked if he was ready to discuss what happened at the store and why it was a problem. This renewed his anger and he started yelling again. I walked him up to his room as he reminded me how awful I am.

Deep breaths.-

I reminded myself that I always wanted to be a mother. I told him he needed to stay in his room for awhile until he could talk to me calmly and respectfully.

In our house, we have a rule.

We all have feelings and we can talk about our feelings openly, but we cannot scream at people or cry loudly downstairs in the living area. Our bedrooms are where we go if we are not in control. This goes for all of us, me included. So if I find myself losing my patience with the kids, I tell them that I need some time-out, and I go to my room. Sometimes parents need a time-out, too! This makes it less of a punishment and more of a reminder that we need to give ourselves time to calm down. It also creates boundaries.

The whole household should not be held hostage because of one person’s meltdown.

Man Cub called down to me three times over the course of an hour and a half, and the first two times he lost his temper when he tried to talk. That was my cue to tell him that I’d be back soon. I said it calmly and rubbed his back. This was not a punishment. I was waiting to process this with him when he was ready. The third time, he was.

Man Cub: “This is hard, Mama.”

Me: “I know, Baby.”

Many people consider the job done when their child has regained control, but I think that what follows is the most important part. This is when we can actually learn something.  Both of us.


Why ADHD Kids Have Meltdowns


Children with ADHD have a hard time sorting through their thoughts. The impulsivity that is a hallmark symptom  of ADHD means that they frequently act on their thoughts before they process them. Even afterward, it can be difficult for them to identify the feelings or put into words what was frustrating them, making problem-solving challenging.

Dr. Ross Greene, author of The Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children, created a method called collaborative and proactive solutions, based on the idea “kids do well if they can.” This is the common-sense but almost revolutionary concept that children want to do well, get along, and be loved. They are social beings, and if they have the skills necessary, they do not choose to be unhappy, angry, and to disappoint their parents!

Dr. Greene asserts that challenging behaviors occur when the demands being placed on a child exceed his capacity to respond adaptively due to lagging skills.

This means that Man Cub would maintain control of his temper if he was able, but he lacks the skills to identify his frustrations and problem solve quickly, so he gets overwhelmed and has a meltdown instead.

Why Punishments Don’t Work


In Lost at School, Ross Green says, “Imposed, logical consequences don’t teach lagging skills or help kids solve problems any better than natural consequences do.” That’s why the answer isn’t arbitrarily-imposed consequences like restrictions or corporal punishment. The solution isn’t to impose dominance over your child.

The key is to recognize your child’s unique set of lagging skills and to develop these skills… because punishing him doesn’t teach him those skills!



When a child has a problematic behavior, you have three options with which to respond.

You can: A. force him to do what you want, B. work on a solution together, or C. ignore the behavior. There are times when each of these options may be appropriate. You may choose to force a child to comply when you tell them to quit playing in the road, or you may ignore a low-priority behavior for the sake of ‘choosing your battles.’

Dr. Greene’s method outlines a way to work through Option B. It is useful in a variety of situations, from processing meltdowns to working through other problem areas like homework conflicts or if you identify a particular behavior you want to address (lying, stealing, hitting, etc).

Let’s see plan B, the method for solving problems collaboratively, in action.

Collaborative & Proactive Solutions


Step One: Empathy Step

Here we gather information about how the child sees the problem and show that we are invested in figuring it out together.

Me: “Hey Baby. I’m glad you’re calmer. Let’s talk about what happened earlier. You seemed really upset. Tell me what you were thinking and feeling at the store just before we had to leave.” (Be careful not to assume you know what the child was thinking or feeling, and don’t skip this step. Also, don’t use language that shames the child, because it makes them defensive.)

 Man Cub: “I wanted that first aid kit. I thought it would be really helpful if we were out hiking or something. I didn’t know why you wouldn’t just buy it for me. It wasn’t that much.”

Me: “Did you remember that I said we wouldn’t buy anything in the store?” 

Man Cub: “Yeah, but it seemed like a dumb rule and I just wanted it and I got really upset.”

Step Two: Define the Problem

Identify the concern or problem.

Me: “How did it make you feel when you were outside and people noticed your tantrum?” (In this case, I wanted Man Cub to identify the problematic behavior  himself.)

Man Cub: “Embarrassed.”

Me: “When you were a baby, people expected you to act like that, but now that you’re seven, they expect you to act differently. How do you think they expect you to act?”

Man Cub: (groaning)  “They think I should be more grown up. I wish I didn’t act like that.” (He looked really sad now.)

Me: “Honey, I know you don’t want to act like that. I felt badly for you even when it was happening, even though I was angry. I knew you must be upset with yourself, too. I’m sorry.” (I gave him a hug.)

 Step Three: Invitation Step

Solving problems collaboratively and brainstorming ideas together.

Me: “I wonder how we can help you to feel more in control of yourself next time we’re in a situation like that so you don’t feel embarrassed when you lose it.”

 Man Cub: “I wish I didn’t see that stupid first aid kit!”

Me: “Maybe it wasn’t a good idea to go to the bookstore if I knew I didn’t have money to spend. Or maybe I should have been clearer about why we couldn’t spend money today. It wasn’t just a rule I made up to be mean, Sweetie. I need to be careful with money right now because of my job change, and I’m trying to be responsible. Maybe if I explained that, you would have understood the rule more?”

Man Cub: “Maybe.” 

Me: “What about using the deep breathing and counting technique you learned with the therapist?”

Man Cub: “I always forget about that when I’m upset.”

Me: “Is there something that could help when you lose your cool, to remind you to try that? Like a secret signal? I could give you a code word!”

Man Cub: “That might work…”

Me: “How about ‘Check yo’ self?’”

Man Cub: (giggles) “I’ll try the breathing next time if you remind me.”

Me: “We can try that code word next time. And I’ll explain the rule better next time so you know it’s a firm rule with a good reason. If you feel better now, we can go down and make lunch now. Want some tuna?”

After that, Man Cub moved on with his day with a clean slate and the event was forgotten. The point was not to punish him, but to give him time to exercise self-soothing and calm down in private until he was ready process what happened, and then to work together on identifying what the problem was and how to avoid it in the future. The focus was on strengthening our relationship, not on asserting my dominance.

And I learned something, too, which was that next time, a better understanding of the reason for the rule would help him accept it. I don’t ascribe to the notion that children should always go along “because I said so.” I think children learn so much by asking the reasons for things, and I’m not above explaining why so they can understand how the world works.

Note that I still held firm to the expectation that I set. I did not give in and buy him anything when he begged at the store, and I did not go back later and get it, either. I stood by my rule, but I was kind and reasonable in discussing it and problem-solving with him once he was able to do so calmly and respectfully. I also modeled respectful behavior by maintaining my cool during and after his meltdown.

I encourage you to give collaborative and proactive solutions with your child.

Dr Greene’s book The Explosive Child is a very thorough resource on the subject, providing “specific, practical ways [parents] can recognize the signs of an impending explosion, defuse tension, and reduce frustration levels for the entire family.”

Dr. Greene’s nonprofit, Lives in the Balance, has a website with a lot of resources, including a one-page overview of this method. There is also information on identifying lagging skills and unsolved problems through use of an instrument called the Assessment of Lagging Skills and Unsolved Problems (ALSUP), and a guide for using the assessment can be found here.

A Plan B Cheatsheet can also be found on the site, outlining in more detail the steps of the collaborative problem-solving method I outlined in this post.

Books by Dr. Ross Greene

(Get Two Free Audiobooks with Audible)

Lost and Found: Helping Behaviorally Challenging Students (and, While You’re At It, All the Others)

The Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children

Lost at School: Why Our Kids with Behavioral Challenges are Falling Through the Cracks and How We Can Help Them

For further reading, check out my Recommended Books page. In particular,  Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason by Alfie Kohn.

Disclosure: Some of the links in the post above are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive a small commission that helps support the site. I only link to products or services that I use or am very familiar with and that I would personally recommend to my readers. Read my full disclosure policy here.

Works Cited

“Anger Management.” Anger Management. Web. 24 Apr. 2015. http://www.chadd.org/Understanding-ADHD/Parents-Caregivers-of-Children-with-ADHD/Behavior-and-Social-Skills/Anger-Management.aspx

Greene, Ross W. Lost at School: Why Our Kids with Behavioral Challenges Are Falling through the Cracks and How We Can Help Them. New York: Scribner, 2008. Print.

Photo: libertygrace0 (image altered)

About Carolyn

I'm Carolyn Mallon, RN, and I have ADHD. I'm also parenting at least one ADHD child, so it makes for quite an adventure! I don't have all the answers, but I certainly share the challenges of many ADHD parents! I started this blog as an exercise to help us improve our game at home and at school. Join us!

159 comments on “Why Punishments Don’t Work (But What Works Better!)

  1. Love your post, I relate in many ways! I too, am a mom with ADHD, and a 4 year old son who I suspect has it also. I think it is so hard sometimes, as a parent and especially as a person with ADHD, to keep our cool and talk things through , instead of immediately reacting with a punishment.

    • My son is 10 years old and is smart, but he is disruptive in class and will go several days “being pretty good” and then have a meltdown about not wanting to do his homework and not caring if he gets disciplined at school. When he finally does the homework it is not legible and it’s hurried. He says he likes waiting until the last minute. He has been taking Vyvanse for 2 years and it does help, but he still struggles with authority and arguing his point – being heard. He blames me or the teacher for his not finishing an assignment, but he finds everything else to do instead of his homework. He does swear a lot and battles with his 15 year old brother and sometimes his brother will hit him because he is sick of him calling him names. My 15 year old and my husband tend to “kid around together” at my 10 year olds expense and then he feels ganged up on. I don’t blame him. My husband has accepted his son’s ADHD, but still feels that if he was disciplined “better” then it wouldn’t be such a problem. The discipline my husband does is yelling and telling him to Shut the F**K up and to not to talk back (the arguing and defiance). My son winds up crying and slamming the doors and yelling until he calms down.

      I feel like a bad parent that I don’t have it all figured out and he’s in 5th grade. I guess I am in denial and figure that it will “work itself out” and that is not going to work anymore. I have focus issues myself and and work from home (graphic designer) and juggle so much (my elderly mother) and can’t seem to stick to a routine – I guess the routine is “treading water in chaos and in reactionary mode all the time”.

      Where do I start? My husband lost his job and is not doing a temporary job, so I’m stressed about money, insurance and life, so I tend to lose track of time and not focus myself. And heck, I’m trying to focus my son with ADHD. Am I a lost cause?

  2. Yes, it really is! When they were younger, I came up with “Mama’s timeout,” and it saved me! But there’s better lesson than to model the behavior we want to see. It works eventually! Thanks for stopping by! I’ll check out your blog!

    • I am having this same type of problem with my son at school. He has Autism AND ADHD. With his language delay and comprehension it’s hard to do what your saying, though this Sort of thing needs to be done with him. Do you have any experience with Autism? If so can you lead me to an colume or something I can use to help the school with my son. Basicly what he needs done is to “Tell him what he did and what he needs to do in the future” if someone hit him or did something he needs to know where their faults were and see that addressed as well. So he knows how to deal better in the future. thanks Rachel Humphrey

  3. I like this, but how does it affect a child when they’re older and have a meltdown at work. You don’t really get to have time to calm down in a fast paced work setting. Does this method teach them that there is no point to freaking out? Or that it is not acceptable? I have an older brother that was never really disciplined as a child. To this day at 32 years old he throws tantrums over things he cannot do or get. He also believes that the world “owes” him..my main question is what is the long term effect of dealing with it this way?

    • I agree! When does the kid learn to get in control quick instead of becoming the victim of his own disorder? We have this same problem with our 6 year old. He has been this way ever since he was a baby. To be honest, we did all of the exact same techniques described here for years including magic 1,2,3 and love and logic to no avail. Now that we live abroad we have gone back to the tested, tried and true spanking method. We combine magic 1,2,3 with the final consequence being a spanking if he doesn’t get himself in control and for the first time in years we have had a measure of peace in our household. Even out in public, if he looses control and doesn’t retain it by the count of 3 (read magic 1,2,3 for the exact process) we take him away and give him a spank (make it count). Also now that his behavior is so much more pleasant we are able to reward his good behavior so much mor often and he LOVES it. Life just keeps getting easier! I do not regret all of the books and classes and methods I have learned as these have given me better insight into what might be going on in his mind and have taught me volumes, but I do not believe them to be the end all be all solution to every kids issues. Note to parents who just don’t want to be bothered with a high maintenance child: I am not advocating abusing your child, children need training and love so they they can grow up to be well adjusted and feel loved. Don’t be lazy and just start whacking your kid.

      • I don’t understand this logic. If teaching skills to deal with emotions won’t help your child when he is an adult, how will spanking? You will not be there to spank him when he is 32.

        • Agree with Heather. If the calm, discussion on how to learn to calm yourself down doesn’t work at 32, how is spanking them? I’d much rather my children learn methods that can help them at those points in life, than doing something quickly out of fear.

  4. Long term, it teaches skills. That’s the point. Over time, a child can learn to utilize adaptive coping skills and alternatives to the problematic behavior. It’s not that different than Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which is what I would suggest for an adult who is having difficulty with his behavior in social or professional situations.
    In CBT, a therapist would help the patient identify thoughts and feelings that might be contributing to the problematic behaviors… like the idea that others to blame for their problems or that the world owes them. That idea needs to be challenged in order for a person to learn to take responsibility for their own actions and be accountable for how they react to their situation.
    The problem with punishment alone is that it doesn’t teach skills or help children learn alternatives to how they are acting… it only teaches them to fear the consequences. Once there is no parent there to hit them, they will still have low frustration tolerance and still have lagging skills…
    Carolyn recently posted…Why Punishments Don’t Work for ADHD Kids (But What Works Better!)My Profile

  5. I have a 7 year old with ADHD and our main problem right now is that he curses. He doesn’t do it at school or in public (most of the time). We have discussed that cursing is rude and disrespectful and but that hasn’t worked. Do you have any suggestions?

    • That’s a tough one. If he’s not doing it at school or in public, it means he understands it’s inappropriate and is able to control himself most of the time. My guess would be that when it *does* happen, it’s when he loses his temper? If so, I’d focus on the situations that are problematic and look at it as one of the symptoms of his loss of control that will hopefully go away if he’s able to learn skills to help him learn to cope better with frustration. CBT with a trained therapist could help a lot with practicing skills for that.

      Alternatively, if it’s just that he likes to use those words because he hears older kids or adults use them and he feels he can get away with it at home, I’d set up a rule and explain it and discuss it with him, come up with a reasonable system for helping him remember and for modification of the behavior, and stick to it. An example might be agreeing with him that since it’s the new household rule, anytime anyone uses a curse word, that person has to put a quarter in a jar or go to their room for 2 minutes time out. The key is to make it a *fair* way that everyone in the household is using to help you all keep in mind the new rule, so the adults and other kids should have the same expectations and consequences. It’s not about yelling or punishments, but you should follow through. Afterward, clean slate, no hard feelings. Try again.
      That would be *my* suggestion (keeping in mind that I’m a nurse and not a therapist).
      Carolyn recently posted…Falling Through the Cracks: My Guest Post at ADHD HomesteadMy Profile

      • Our rule is that you can say ANYTHING in the basement of our house. Kids mostly don’t but they know if they want to it is in the basement. Then at least they have an outlet if they feel the need / desire. Similarly there were BATHROOM words when they were younger (anatomy stuff mostly). At least once little one stormed into the bathroom and shouted PENIS! PENIS! PENIS! … but was following the rules and we were OK with that.

      • My ADHD son cursed too, but so did I. As my grandmother mused way back in the 1950s, the adults around me all cursed so why wouldn’t I.? What is your child hearing? My son told his therapist that he cursed when he felt rage and wanted to hit someone, usually another kid. The therapist advised him that hitting was never acceptable and finding a way to avoid it was good, now he could work on a substitute for cursing. He is 28 and he never did find that My substitute. LOL

    • I feel your pain I have a 9 yr old that is the same way the bad language is used at home . I wish I had a magic wond and could just make him stop.

  6. I have special needs myself i have contively delyayed and mentalily retarded iam almost 24 years old iam having problems with my emotions and stuff i have aniexty 2 :(( my feelings get hurt easily like alot

  7. I have a 10yr. old with ADHD, he has not been on meds. since June! Anger issues were one of the side affects, for him!! He can be very sweet & loving but, he can test you to your limits, to the breaking point!! He has a 5yr. old sister that he has taught things to her, that she nor he should even know!! He aggravates the living crap out of his sister and other adults! He doesn’t know when enough is enough!! I, having ADD myself, we clash a lot, therefore, lots of yelling!! I’m almost at the point of putting him back on meds., as well as myself!! Any advice??

    • I hesitate to give medical advice, but I would consider exploring other options for medications before giving up. My own son had to stop Adderall due to side effects that meant that stimulants might not be a good choice for him (a topic for another post, really), but we’re trying Intuniv now, one of the non-stimulant options. There is also Strattera as a non-stimulant, and depending on the symptoms, there may be other medication options that could be appropriate. I believe that if you find the right medication that controls symptoms without many side effects, and allows your child to have better self-control and focus. This allows them to work on developing skills and learning in school, and they can feel better about themselves instead of spending all their time reinforcing negative behavior and feeling like a delinquent.

      That being said, if medication isn’t an option due to personal choices or if side effects make them intolerable, I think skills training needs to be more proactive, and I would definitely get a good therapist to work him and the whole family to help yu learn to manage and respond to the behaviors. And I can’t recommend Dr. Greene’s book that I linked to above enough! It really explains oppositional behavior in an understandable way!

      (I would recommend that any child with ADHD see a therapist along with medication. It’s the recommended treatment approcah, and what we use.)
      Carolyn recently posted…Falling Through the Cracks: My Guest Post at ADHD HomesteadMy Profile

      • I personally would not recommend Strattera. I went from having mild problems with focus and attention to severe aggression and frustration towards myself and others, It was absolutely awful. Feeling homicidal is bad. Feeling suicidal is worse. Feeling both at the same time is a special kind of hell.

        • It’s important to talk to your physician about medication choices. They affect people differently, and it depends on comorbidities and also sometimes just bad luck!
          I’ve taken Strattera without any bad side effects, but I also didn’t find it nearly as effective as stimulants. My son just started Intuniv but he’s sleepy in the afternoons. We’ll wait to see if it goes away. It can be a long road of medication trials to get the right fit, but when you find something that works, it’s worth it!

          It’s about striking a balance between the benefits and any side effects. Certainly your side effects were deal breakers, though!
          Carolyn recently posted…Falling Through the Cracks: My Guest Post at ADHD HomesteadMy Profile

          • My sin is 10 yrs old. He has ADHD too. My son is on intuitive 1 mg he takes his in the evenings around 6 or so. It does help better when takin in the evening instead of mornings.

  8. I wished I would have known this many years ago. I have a 11 year old son with ADHD and it can be very challenging at time.

  9. Reading this article has really opened my eyes very wide. I have 3 children 2 or which have been formally diagnosed with ADHD 1 I can see the symptoms. It is very hard and extremely exhausting at time not know exactly how to face these challenges. This article has giving me a new way to deal with such obsticals, thank you. Hopefully this will help in our home.

  10. Thank you Carolyn, for the advice! We have tried intuniv as well, along with many others since he was 5! I’m hoping once we go back to put him on medication, it will work! Something new and bigger doses, maybe? We shall see!
    Thank you also for the book reference!!

  11. Your son might not have gotten the first aid kit, but he managed to ruin his sister’s day–while she still had to remain stony-faced in the midst of this public embarrassment. Then he held you all hostage with his screaming, with you rubbing his back and ultimately admitting it’s your fault for not explaining it more clearly.

    I am not trying to be unkind, but realistic.

    Science changes all the time these days.
    When the experts decide a few years from now that schools and therapists have been drugging children with no more evidence than that they act like your son at the bookstore, then somebody ((hopefully)) will say something.

    Imagine what Miranda (above) is describing for your own child.

    • I used to be on the same page as you! “ADHD is just what happens when parents dont want to parent their child”… until my son turned 3. He failed his 3 year exam not because he didnt know or wasnt capable but because he couldnt focus on the tasks that were given him. The pediatrician then started talking about medications… Personally I switched pediatricians. I have tried everything. The last 3 years has been trial and error to find what will work for him. Spanking him is a joke. He will tell me to spank him harder so i no longer spank him. Putting him in the corner or timeout is a joke and i usually where out before he does bc i have to physically restrain him there. Ultimately I have found that challenging his brain is the best result. When he gets so hyperactive that I notice he is no longer in control of himself we do worksheets. So as a kindergartener he does 2nd grade worksheets and reading at home. Although that has backfired with school. I have been fighting his school now because they want me to put him on medication. Because he is so far ahead of the rest of his class when the teacher is trying to get an answer from another child he gets bored with it and blurts the answer out. So they have shoved him into a corner to work alone. I feel that his previous school was able to figure out things that work for him (moved states) this school can too but his teacher has a one track mind and refuses to work with me at all. I have sent the worksheets that we do at home to school with him and requested that he be given those to work on as “busy work” but she wont let him do them. Academically they say he is soaring and well ahead of the rest of the class but cant control himself when it comes to blurting out answers and is taking the learning experience from other students. I have asked about skipping a grade and get the response “he has to learn to control himself first”. Next year I am sending him to a private school where each child has an iep and works and is placed based on their own iep. If that doesnt work then I will consider putting him on meds. But my point is ADHD is real! I have battled it and tried everything. At home we have found creative ways to work (music, exercise, worksheets etc), but if i see its going to hold back his education and i have exhausted all avenues I will put him on medication. If you havent lived it you cant speak on it.

      • This is so helpful. Our 4yo was just recently diagnosed with ADHD. We are trying to soak up as much information and learn as much as possible so we can help her be her best self. Academically, she’s way ahead of her peers. We too were told she couldn’t enter kindergarten early because she needs to learn how to control herself, but most of the time we feel she acts out because she’s bored. We’re just learning how to navigate ADHD and she’s still so young she has a difficult time articulating her feelings. Most of the time when asked about them or her reactions we get ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I don’t remember.’ And it doesn’t help that my core self likes/needs to have order and control. I’m learning a lot about myself for sure. I constantly feel like I’m failing her as a parent and the judgment we get from other parents is overwhelming, and we’re fearful of telling the teachers are her pre-school because we don’t want them to label her or blame everything on ADHD or start pushing medication to ease their frustration. Thank you for taking the time to share your experience.

      • Amanda, I have had a lot of issues with my son, similar to yours. My son has an IEP and diagnosed ADHD and Autism Spectrum. Have you had your son tested for Autism Spectrum? My son is also advanced or academically doing very well, although he has trouble comprehending what he reads or what is asked of him. My son is in a Special Education Class for emotional support to help him cope and understand what is expected of him with his behavior. I understand how frustrating things can be. My son is 8yrs old almost 9 and in the 3rd grade going into 4th grade. He’s had issues since he was 2yrs old. Then even more when he started kindergarten. He was singled out and his desk away from other students in 1st grade regular education. I was thankful that his school district had a Special Education Class, but I’m sure he’s picked up some bad behaviors in the class as well.

      • You likely have a gifted child. I would recommend, if it is affordable, a Montessori program for schooling. He is likely frustrated and under challenged. Also, if he is not getting adequate physical I would make sure he gets at least one hour a day of intense exercise. I say this from personal experience.

    • I agree completely, Vada.

      My stepson has ADHD, and while I do get that it’s a real disorder, I think it’s important that parents distinguish what is a result of ADHD and what is a result of a kid needing some assertive guidance.

      My stepson didn’t want to write down his homework assignments… ever. We can’t afford a special private school, and public school teachers are already over-burdened. They do not have time to email or call me with his homework assignments on a daily basis just because he doesn’t want to do homework. So he wrote lines every single day. We ignored him through tantrums, through hours of sobbing, through all manner of ultimately-vain attempts to get out of said lines. And once he realized that this was going to be his daily life until he started bringing home his assignments, he finally accepted his fate. He’s forgotten to write them down four times in the past two years. That’s a drastic improvement from literally never writing them down. The four times were a result of forgetfulness/ADHD stuff, and we did not punish him, just gave him a firm reminder that homework is a rule.

      Yes, I’m the wicked stepmother who doles out punishment. I tried it the Danny-Tanner-Full-House way, and that accomplished nothing. Even our special kids, with their special sets of abilities, are capable of doing wrong and deliberately disobeying.

      And like Vada pointed out, his poor sister! And why did he wind up receiving the apology? In what way was he entitled to an apology after spoiling a nice day for his mom and sister, and creating what was probably not a pleasant scene for other people out for a nice day? I am sad for the writer of this article, second guessing whether or not she should be able to just go enjoy the bookstore. My poor mistreated stepson would not dare throw a tantrum in a store… because he would not see a flickering, lit-up screen for at least a week if he did, and he’d write himself to sleep that night, as well. He is more than free to ask for things, more than free to voice an opinion or try to sway the answer a bit, but he is not free to disrespect everyone around him and create a dramatic scene. If he were to do that tomorrow, I would genuinely just stop and ask him if he was feeling all right, because it would be so out-of-character I’d be worried. But there was a time when it was par for the course.

      Discipline works, and for some kids, it is necessary in order to make viable adults of them.

    • I realize this is in response to an older comment…

      While I tend to withhold judgement, I did formerly think that all children like this were a result of poor parenting (some are), until my son came along. For years my husband and I shed tears (more me), stressed and had conversation upon conversation about what we could be doing wrong. Our sweet, polite and bright child just couldn’t sit still, focus, or control impulses. How could we have such a clash of personality traits? We felt judged by people such as yourself, and frustrated that we just couldn’t contain some of his negative behaviors.

      Once we better understood how his brain works, we learned new methods that have helped him immensely. Much of which is very similar to what this post describes. While I still struggle with yelling, we have seen a lot of success with speaking calming, removing him from the situation and heavily rewarding good behavior with hugs and explanations of why it was such a good choice. He still has a ways to go, but we are making progress.

      I do agree that at one point, all rambunctious boys were “ADHD”. While our gut led us this direction, we pushed it aside for that reason. As he’s grown older and the distinct behaviors remain, we’ve learned we weren’t so far off. The biggest thing a parent can do for their child is advocate for them and make informed decisions.

  12. His sister’s day would have been just as “ruined” if I’d chosen instead to either have a confrontation in the store or else bring him home and spank him. In reality, I think I handled it pretty well. The scene was cut short because we removed his audience (an argument in the store would have been way worse for everyone) and his sister was able to go home and relax and watch tv and read books and enjoy the rest of her day while I privately dealt with her brother upstairs until he was ready to rejoin the family.

    And I don’t believe that admitting I have anything to learn from the situation means I’m saying accepting blame. That’s silly. I think I can help him by setting up clearer expectations next time; why wouldn’t I want to make note of that since it would help? It helps kids to understand why rules are in place. It always helped me.

    I’m sure there are those who believe “spare the rod, spoil the child.” I have seen a lot of those children in the psychiatric hospital, because their families didn’t know what else to do. But they didn’t seem to benefit too much from being “disciplined” in that way… and yet when collaborative problem-solving is used consistently in a structured environment, they begin to develop those lagging skills and improve… without being physically disciplined, and even though the staff are compassionate and kind and willing to admit mistakes.

    So I’ll keep working with them on problem-solving and modeling the kind of respectful and peaceful behavior I expect from them, and you just keep thinking that parents can expect miracles from hitting or yelling.
    Carolyn recently posted…Falling Through the Cracks: My Guest Post at ADHD HomesteadMy Profile

    • Carolyn,
      I am very impressed with your story and am trying to reflect on it in a way that would help me in the classroom. You see, I teach in a school that has many children with FAS, which is behaviorally very much like ADD. I have one student i. Particular who I am reminded of by your story. I have a ‘cool down’ place for him and others in my classroom. Your story has grwat thoughts for what to do in the home. In terms of how I can serve a student like your son with a similar strategy, what would you do if your done refused to get in the car or refused to go to his room and instead bawled in the living room, making everyone miserable? Also, teachers can’t take a half hour for each meltdown away from all the other students to work one on one with a child. How would you handle the situation under those constraints? Thanks for the feedback!

      • Hi Becca,
        Yes, FAS does often present with similar behavioral challenges, and additionally, you are further limited by your role as an educator. The way I would handle it at home or as a psychiatric nurse would likely be inappropriate for your situation.
        Personally, if my son doesn’t go to his room, I do carry him there, and because he knows I’ll do this, it very rarely gets to that point. (At the hospital, a if a patient won’t go to their room, a Mental Health Worker will do the same thing under direction from an RN). But your students are likely to know there are boundaries about how far you can go with discipline, and to test those boundaries.
        I would have a meeting to determine what the plan should be if your student refuses to utilize cool down time. If a student is old enough, they might be asked to leave class to go to the nurses or counsellor’s office until they are able to rejoin class. I know that in the district near here, depending on the situation, some students are assigned a classroom aid to work with them 1:1 to the teacher is able to focus on the class. This is provided by IDEA according to their IEP.

        Based on the popularity of this post, I think some research and follow up posts are in order to discuss classroom and home techniques for more disruptive children! I’ll have to work on this ASAP!
        Carolyn recently posted…7 (AM) Tips to Get You Out the Door On TimeMy Profile

    • I agree with Vada and also you Carolyn. How you handled it for the most part. I wouldn’t leave him in the car. I’ve seen the extremes in a child and I’d be concerned he would damage the car or try to take off somewhere, so I would insist he come inside and go to his room. After he calmed down i would talk to him as you didHowever there would still be a consequence for his actions that day. You also make it sound easy. Often times the child will refuse to go in his room and grab a few things and walk out side. What do you suggest for those times? Keep in mind that physically restraining him is not an option as he is a teenager twice your size. Thrre are othrr issues anf his mom and school let him get away with it. He goes to a special school but refuses to do work and will not get a diploma because of this. He lives with his mom now after threats in detail to his school counselor as to how he was going to kill his father and I. Supposably he is on new meds now and is doing better he has visited twice since then. Last November. Has never apologize for any of his actions always blames others. He told his dad he wants to visit more and wants to talk to me but hasn’t the 2 chances he had in person. There is a lot going on in this situation but I have no interest in him being around at all. My own son who is now 25 and staying with us gives me enough challenge hes add at least and dyslexic and hard to keep jobs. Any suggestions for helping him?

      • Debbie, the behavior you’re describing sounds pretty serious. Making threats to kill someone and serious oppositional behavior that is extreme requires more intervention. It’s not that CPS can’t help, but you are right; it is not as easy as with my 45 pound seven year old! If I had a child who made threats to kill people and was large enough to hurt people, I would not reply on CPS alone. I would involve a psychiatrist and regular counseling as a requirement for continued support.
        Carolyn recently posted…7 (AM) Tips to Get You Out the Door On TimeMy Profile

    • Thank you for your kind and respectful approach in replying to Vada’s comments – My daughter (11) also has ADHD, and I found your blog post to be extremely helpful, as I nodded my head throughout – able to relate to what you’ve gone through, and feeling the same way. Unfortunately I’ve also encountered fellow parents (or those without children) who just assume they know whatever they would do would work FAR better – and I’ve gotten comments such as “You just aren’t strict enough with her, I’d NEVER allow that type of behavior.” – etc. They just don’t understand what it’s like day in, and day out, so until they’ve walked a mile in my shoes, I just thank them for their concern – while thinking to myself how nice it must be to have such rose colored glasses to look at the lives of others with.

      • Thanks for saying so. I have heard worse about my blog post over on Reddit. I know there are differences of opinion, but I respect others’ beliefs as long as they express them respectfully and don’t condone abuse.
        In another comment I said “It’s funny how people think that smacking a kid it being “tough” on them… really, I think that is the easy way out if you allow children to avoid taking inventory of emotional and relational consequences of their behavior.”
        I obviously have my own opinions. 🙂

        • “I obviously have my own opinions” – Right there with ya Mama 😉 Yes, we could spank, or scream, or try to exert our dominance over our children to kill their spirit and force them to comply – but that will only add to our frustration level, and damage our relationship with them in the process. It’s all about helping them to learn to reflect on why they act as they do, to help them to realize their behavior impacts others beyond themselves – done with understanding, compassion, and a willingness on our part as their parent to continue trying to find a way that works for everyone involved.

          • VERY well said! My son is 16 and has Aspergers/ADD. Counseling for 9 years straight for him and us. It has brought my 9 year relationship almost to an end with last night being very close. He pushes her to the brink on a daily basis and it’s to the point that when I’m gone to work he has to be somewhere else. I really love your outlook on things and am eager to try out a couple new ways to cope with the constant blowups/meltdowns. And it’s great to hear everyone’s replies because it all helps!! Best of luck everyone.

        • I love how you explained how spanking (in so many words) lets the child off the hook. That is an amazing perspective and I so agree.
          Btw, I’m Nana,
          A little background: mom (my daughter) and dad (separated before child was born) each have 50/50 physical and legal custody. So, both has full rights. Both have signed temporary guardianship (no legal judgment, agreement just between us) to me and my husband.

          My husband and I are in our 50’s and we have decided to take on our 7 year old grandson whose been diagnosed with ADHD w/behavior problems. His mom is on board with decisions we are making for the child but his father disagrees. He just doesn’t understand his child has a problem. Even though his child has been “kicked out” of every school in the local district and now attends an SED county school, and dad can’t handle his behavior either. (**me scratching head) The childs mom is ADHD, Bipolar diagnosed… His father is ADHD and I believe Bipolar not diagnosed.

          “if so and so wouldn’t have done this to him he wouldn’t do that” his behavior is others fault and not the child’s responsibility, nor is his fathers duty to correct and teach. Dad will agree at the moment but there is no follow through.

          We all (me, papa, mom & hopefully dad) are in counseling through behavioral health.I feel we got lucky with our clinician. She is young and fresh, but somewhat seasoned. We tried no medication that just didn’t work. His mind was constantly going 200 miles per hour. I spoke with mom and dad in regards to meds; mom agreed and eventually I had to just tell dad we were putting him on meds if the doc agreed. The doctor, with our completion of So, we now have our grandson on 10 mg’s of Focolin XR. It’s helping for a short period of time but we have to up the dosage; I’m not sure if the only dx. is ADHD. I have an idea there may be underlying conditions…
          Fortunately/unfortunately he has county medical coverage. While I appreciate him having coverage, the coverage is VERY limited. Which is Very frustrating. I would have loved to try the non-narcotic ADHD meds.
          I would love feedback on any advice you would have.



  13. What an incredibly helpful post. My 10 year old has struggled with ADD since 2nd grade. This is one of the first posts that help me to understand the best way to help her understand herself. Thank you!

  14. Ok I totally get how this works for meltdowns and tantrums but my ADD GT 5 yr old doesn’t have tantrums
    He has impulse issues
    He’s swings his lunch kit and accidentally hits someone even though he’s been told not to
    He hops around the room like a frog b/c he’s mad at some other kid etc
    He spit in a kids lunch today b/c they were playing a word game and the kid wouldn’t tell him “the big K word”?!
    When we talk to him about it he knows it’s wrong but still does crazy stuff
    Any thoughts??

    • Five-year-olds aren’t really old enough to work through this method in depth, though it can be used for impulse issues after the fact in older kids, if they can identify the different factors of the situation, but remember that Dr Greene says you have 3 different opotions, and for young kids, option A and option C are often right. Option A is to forcing them to comply (ie taking what they are hitting with away from them or holding their hands if they are hitting with hands) and C is ignoring behaviors (only appropriate if it’s low level stuff that you have decided isn’t worth addressing now). There is nothing wrong with time outs, though they can be tough with ADHD kids. My son won’t just sit on the stairs! He has to be brought to his room, where he has a fit, and the time doesn’t start until he calms down. The key is not to yell yourself and to just say that he can come out anytime after he has waited __ minutes, is calm and can observe the rules of the house. I don’t see this as punishment, if you do is without meanness and explain the reason (to keep people safe from hitting, etc).
      Carolyn recently posted…Falling Through the Cracks: My Guest Post at ADHD HomesteadMy Profile

    • Wow…does your description of your child take me back! Been there done that. Lots of years navigated with these type of issues. My son now an adult, had more accidents and reckless oops’ and over the top undesirable behaviors than I can tell you. (My experience with this is huge) What you describe can be sensory defensiveness. My son never did tantrum or meltdown, but could be in high gear for hours – unmanageable by anyone’s standards and drugs were of course suggested by everyone. With this disorder there are things you can do..and it will require it as a lifestyle. A once a week PT session won’t even touch this. You will be embarking upon a diet of slow controlled desensitizing AND teaching emotional intelligence. Both are necessary I can tell by what you tell me it is not at all what it looks like to others. This high level of sensory integration manifests in a severe ADHD way..but that is not what it is. IT is only the outward behavior. Okay. He needs physical boundary and weight therapy. You can do this at home. He needs a laundry basket and boxes to climb in to push his limbs against to teach his body that there is an “end” a wall..a boundary to hold onto for his body. He will become less “alarmed” about being in space,,,halls, (schools) large rooms, wide stairways. You will find that he feels likely more out of control in large open areas and in context to other stimuli of noise..it compounds the feeling of not being physically anchored. Imagine him as a floating in space and his mind freaking out and trying to find the floor with his mind and body to hold him down to be able to orient his psyche. He needs small spaces, less noise. He needs weighted jackets/blankets (look all this up) he needs to learn to move things of different weight from place to place slowly – this is why he is swinging the lunch bag. He is wildly physically out of control – right? He is trying to balance and move. He only knows fast right?..Because internally he is in panic survival. Make games out of all of this. This why he is like a dancing clown..frog..he is waaay out on the feeling anchored and it makes for insanity. Have him next to a wall..touching it all the way down a hallway. Try it- pass what works at home to teachers. I assume he has sleeping problems..as these things cause huge adrenal release,,cortisol ..look it up – the physiology involved here. It takes hours to calm down. Noise, the patterns on a floor, the seams on his jeans, the smell of the dryer sheets, the bark of a dog, the lights (overhead fast blink tube type) are overwhelming his sensory system and he is reacting to COPE. Learning to cope differently is what is needed. Now the emotional intelligence stuff…this comes from the same ilk of problems but different. He is not “reading” the emotions of others in order to mitigate his own actions. See how easily he can say what a person’s face means..experiment if he sees a difference in smiles and frowns. Eye contact problems? This is key..don’t force…slow. This whole scenario can be painful for your family he is not going to be popular..he doesn’t mean to be the bull in the china shop…he is probably pretty smart and likes the other kids but doesn’t get why they don’t like him. So..using a white board..magazines, glue stick and paper..whatever. Need to show sad faces,,,disapproving looks…then happy – re create what people’s faces looked like when they saw him spit in lunches..show open shock faces and over and over again say “people don’t like this..and if you do it again and again..they will start to not like you either. Now I am ALL for not shaming or making the behavior the “Child”.. I know ALL the techniques. But here is the rub..being sensitive to this…also..I found it was nothing less than necessary to be blunt and true as he did not get it. We did this for two years…before we started to break through. AND even then..he only “learned it”…did not internalize it till years later. But at least it started to help..take just the learn it part if you must. We lived through years of zero friends for my son. It was soooo hard. Lots of work. My son almost killed the class gerbil by running over it – he didn’t even see it.. which is crazy as whole class was in a circle and the gerbil in the middle…I was there. It was awful. They need to learn to focus, self calm and learn sound, sight smells and large spaces are okay,,they are safe. Stopping the fright or flight domino effect. Waste not a moment this is all stuff you can do at home and get him slowly exposed over and over to things that help his vestibular system balance and get grounded and improve his awareness of others and their feelings …a little at a time. Slow is key. Swings..rocking chairs – a small one where he can put his feet on the ground. Water…he might have a real tough time with learning to swim..as it recreates that panic and rush of no gravity no place to hold onto with the body…comfort in floating might take a long time. My son has worked hard to overcome this. He is out of college and finally is comfortable swimming. He is a successful wonderful human being. But it took 3 years of spec ed. in an EI classroom and me not working for 8 years to be home and work this stuff out, a day at a time. WE did it drug free,.as it was best. Kids with this sometimes are small as their bodies are burning calories at a high rate and are wiry and strong from the mega physical life they are driven to keep “making happen” to cope and the activity is a comfort – it takes years to turn this around. It is not – for some kids with this disorder a good idea to use meds..as the “behaviors” are a part of coping/helping them..quelling behavior with meds does not fix Sensory Integration. Be patient. I hope this will help. It helped me tons to understand it. Read Sensory Integration and the Child,..The out of Sync Child. Tons of info out there Good Luck!

  15. I have a 4 year old boy who we take to MANY appointments at Children’s Mercy. They are giving him a lame diagnosis and saying that it will more than likely turn into ADHD. Pretty sure he has it now. He also had Apraxia which is a speech disorder so he doesn’t talk very well at all which I know causes some frustration. He doesn’t listen much at all to me. I’m a single mom. Today after work I wanted to go to the grocery store to get stuff to make spaghetti. For some reason he thought walmart. I calmly said no and continued driving to the grocery store. We got there and I said can we go in here and be good? He screamed no and so I kept driving because I knew it would be bad at this point if i did take him in and said no. Then in a second he changed his mind. We drove past and he got even more mad. Unbuckled, and lunged for me to hurt. I leaned forward. He reached around and was punching my arm and trying to bite it. Today seemed the worst of it but his tantrums come on fast and powerful. And advice? Hope i get a reply. I’m lost on what to do.

    • Oh dear, I feel for you so much! It so SO hard to be a single mom, and your son sounds like handful. My own son is very reactive, so I get to where I hate announcing what’s for dinner because whatever it is, he’ll be upset!
      First, I would suggest that in the car he should be in a four-point harness. At that age, he’s still young enough to sit in a car seat, and if he’s prone to that behavior, it’s safer for both of you., and they are difficult to unbuckle (the big ones, anyway)
      Second, I would pick up Dr Greene’s book about the Explosive Child because it has great info, though much of it is geared toward older kids.
      Lastly, he is not too young for therapy, and I would get him in to see someone. My son started at 5, and even at that age, the therapist worked with him on calming techniques, etc and I saw him become less angry over time.
      Please come back to the blog! It is so hard to parent on your own, but you’re not alone!
      Carolyn recently posted…Falling Through the Cracks: My Guest Post at ADHD HomesteadMy Profile

  16. This is similar to what I did twenty years ago with my son, who was diagnoised with ADHD at 5years of age. I suspected my oldest daughter had it also, but her father refused to allow any testing to be done. Only difference is that I employed the rule with all my three of my kids since they could walk. I was single mom with limited income. When we went to the store be it grocery or other, we had a list and if wasn’t on the list we did not get it. If any one of them had an issue (ie. meltdown/ tantrum) we left the store, I would leave the cart by guest services and told them if I wasn’t back in 10 minutes, I was sorry but please put the items back. I would either go back in if kids calmed down or back by myself later. Pretty soon the stores knew me. One clerk even said she wished that more parents were like me. My kids learned early on there were consequences for their actions or behavior. EVERY TIME.
    They are all grown adults and on their own now. I am so proud of them all.
    I now have a grandchild with ADD and they are so quick to want to medicate her and just go on. My daughter is at her wits end. I have finally convinced her to get more help beyond the Pediatric Doctors. She employs the same rule that I did and for the most part it works but never at home.
    Thank you for giving me another tool to help her with “Peanut”.

  17. Thank you for sharing that story! I think “removing the audience” is key for any kind of tantrum! My son’s meltdowns last 30 minutes if he’s in the living room…. but 5 minutes in his room alone. Once I realised that, I started bringing him there, telling him calmly that we’d like to see him when he was able to re-join the family, and leaving him in his room.
    He tells me that at his father’s house they don’t don’t do it that way, and he wishes they would! He says he prefers being left alone to calm down!!
    Carolyn recently posted…10 Ways Adult ADHD Makes You Less CoolMy Profile

  18. Very helpful. My son has not been diagnosed due to my husband’s feelings about this subject. This incident perfectly describes my child. I often feel lost on handling situations with him. Thank you for the step by step and the why. I will use this!!!

    • Tammy, I had similar difficulty initially. My son’s father resisted assessment for a year or so. Denial can be a powerful force. I just sent him articles and let him take his time coming to the conclusion while the school kept sending home letters about the behavior problems. By the time we finally had him assessed, his father was ready to hear what had been obvious to me for two years, and he willing to give pharmacological treatment a go since we had tried therapy alone with little success for a year already… Good luck!
      Carolyn recently posted…7 (AM) Tips to Get You Out the Door On TimeMy Profile

  19. I have a 9 year old with ADHD and learning disabilities. We stopped has meds about a year ago and now use an approach similar to what you describe and it really has made a difference. We still have many battles but my approach to them has changed drastically. I appreciate you speaking about the reality and giving real advice that does work. My son now knows that he can take a cooling off period and asks for help when he’s ready to calm down and talk. Unless he does that, any attempt to calm him is futile. I keep telling myself his stubbornness will work to his advantage one day. 🙂 Until then, he’s learning strategies that I hope will help him as he gets older and gains more independence.

    • Thanks for stopping by and sharing that! I know this works better for my son, at least. At his father’s house, it a different story, with a more “interactive” approach to the tantrums (instead of removing the audience), and not only do they last much longer there, but he ups the ante there to levels he never reaches here. Kids need to be left to practice cooling off on their own. Once they are calm, you can “coach” them. Anyway, glad it’s working so well for you!
      Carolyn recently posted…7 (AM) Tips to Get You Out the Door On TimeMy Profile

  20. I loved this blog! I have a 14 yr old daughter with ADHD and hypomanic bipolar disorder and anxiety. I also have an 11 yr old son with ODD so our house is frequently a war zone. The advice in this blog is wonderful with tips I will begin using immediately.

  21. Hello, I am a 29 yr/old woman, with two children. I’m a Single mom, recently divorced (divorced about 2 yrs/ago). One of my children ( my oldest son “Mason” 9yrs/old ) was recently diagnosed with ADHD.
    I didn’t really understand ADHD until he was diagnosed. He now meets with a child psychiatrist and we’re attempting to arrange therapy services as well. While he had behavioral issues before the divorce, they appeared to worsen after the divorce.
    He can sometimes be aggressive with his classmates, as well as with his younger brother ( “Reign” 6yrs/old ).
    What I have recently noticed is that Mason argues with me because I don’t allow him to do certain things that his father allows him to do in his new home, his famous phrase “but daddy lets me do it!”. For example, Setting a strict bedtime with him has been a huge issue. He makes demands about foods, snacks, as well routines that I never implement here at home. Currently, I can’t afford anyone else to babysit him or his brother so they stay with his dad on my longer work days. There are also times when he has huge tantrums in public, especially when at the toy stores. I try to soothe him by rubbing his back or his head. On one occasion at local Toys R Us last week, he started screaming at the top of his lungs, “don’t touch me like that bitch!” I was so embarrassed, everyone turned around to look at me as if I was the worst mother ever. To make matters more complicated, his father suffers from PTSD. Yesterday I received a phone call from my ex mother-in-law, stating that it’s the third time she’s had to pick up Mason because of my ex’s inability to look after them when he’s having his PTSD episodes. While my children are usually not alone with their father (the new step-mom is generally present), my ex-husband claims that he is well enough to take care of Mason and Reign on his own, but now I know that’s not the case. Also,
    Currently I’ve been dating someone, with whom I find myself to be very compatible. However, Mason is having difficulty connecting with him. I feel like this man might be a good support for me and my children, but at the same time, I don’t know that my kids are ready to be fully introduced to this potential father figure. Ideas or suggestions?

    • J.,

      I’d start by having a meeting with Mason’s dad and a child psychologist. Explain what happened in the store, and work together to come up with a plan for consistency and respect between households. PTSD is a powerful condition, which fuels itself with the guilt and shame caused by the outbursts. Knowing that you are potentially traumatizing your loved ones with the repercussions of your own trauma makes you angry at yourself, and it’s easy for that anger to be turned outward on others, because you simply can’t control it. This creates a cycle that is very difficult to break. Recognizing this, try not to blame your ex (directly) for your son’s behavior, but to build an alliance with him for your children’s sake. And remember that the two conditions, PTSD and ADHD, are separate issues that, though they may complicate one another in your set of circumstances, really need to be seen and handled individually.

    • J:

      I would def look into family therapy in addition to individual therapy for your son. I think it would be helpful for you to have someone to work with on the interactions between you and to discuss exactly these kinds of things (how to incorporate someone new, etc). You can even have a session or two with you, Mason, and his father, to communicate about the expectations (bedtimes, rules, etc) between households as the previous commenter mentioned (good advice!). And you can decide on how to handle his behavior so it will be consistent across households as well. The therapist can give recommendations and you can be sure his father is on board.

      About the guy you’re dating: There are some good books on step-parenting and blending families… That being said, be careful not to rush into anything too ‘parental’ too soon with the new guy. Speaking from experience, your son will take longer to accept a new guy and if it’s rushed it will backfire and be harder to build a healthy relationship… and also, if you son does care for him and it doesn’t last, it can feel like yet another loss (similar to the divorce). Just tread carefully.

      I 100% recommend therapy, and also consider a single parent or ADHD or mental health support group to meet other adults for peer support to talk to who are familiar with what you’re going through. You shouldn’t have to feel like you’re dealing with this stuff alone!
      Carolyn recently posted…7 (AM) Tips to Get You Out the Door On TimeMy Profile

  22. First of all, I’d like to thank Jason on all of his insightful advice regarding PTSD. I spoke with a Clinician at my son’s school and it looks like you’re spot on in regards to the symptoms associated with this condition. Thank you Carolyn for your feedback and advice. Dave, I’ve tried spanking my son, but the last time I did was last week in the parking lot of a DQ and he didn’t respond well to it. It only made him more upset. In fact, he pulled my hair following the spanking. He now says he just wants to live with his dad because he believes his dad “leaves him alone”. So frustrating. Carolyn, how many months into the relationship should I begin having my new “friend” visit the house regularly? I’ve known him for three months. I feel it’d be wrong for me as a single mom to allow him to stay over or have frequent contact with the kids unless there were something more formal or established between us. I want to set a good example for my boys.
    Single moms who bring strange men into the home without adequate time and introductions
    Between family members (especially when children are involved) are frowned upon in our culture.

    • I can’t tell you what’s right or wrong, but I can tell you that for me, I choose not to have anyone stay overnight when my kids are home (or at least he’s not to leave earlier than the kids get up). The only time I would depart from this rule (and I have, for this reason) is if the relationship is headed toward marriage ie you’re moving in together or getting engaged for that reason. I am not religious, but I try to reduce the risk of my kids getting attacked to someone who will then disappear. I did this once and the relationship still didn’t work out and I felt badly. You can’t protect them from everything, but you should still try your best.
      Some guys I’ve dated have argued with me about this rule. I think if the guy can’t understand and respect this rule, they are not mature enough to be around my kids.
      Now, this is easier for me because my kids are home half-time. I fully admit that it might be different if my kids were home full time. A woman can get lonely.
      In terms of “visits,” I would allow him to come over once a week when your son is there and become a friendly face, maybe for movie nights or on neutral territory for outings to the park. Just make sure he doesn’t step into a parental role too soon, because it might backfire.
      Carolyn recently posted…Why ADHD Isn’t Caused By Poor Parenting (But How People Might Think So!)My Profile

  23. Thank you for sharing! My son just turned 5, and we have been going through all of this since he was 3! He is diagnosed ADHD, ODD, has speech delay, and has Autistic tendies. He started speech therapy at our local elementary school at 3, started therapy when he made 4. Its difficult to know when he will have an “episode” as we call it. He is such an emotional child, but at the same time, so outgoing. I can write for days end about his episodes, they happen everywhere…home, school, therapy, stores, in the car, restaurants etc. Its to where I now limit the number of times we all head out in the public to avoid potential episodes. He has been on Quillivant XR since September. I know I have a long, challenging journey with him. At least I know where I can get more information about parenting an ADHD child.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Kristy. It does sound like you have your hands full! ADHD is considered by many to be on a spectrum with Autism, and there are some similar behavioral challenges. I’ll try to write another post soon with more behavioral strategies. It can be tempting to avoid going out, but it’s so important to continue exposing your child to public situations so he learns to behave appropriately. I’ll work on those future posts for you. 🙂
      Carolyn recently posted…Why ADHD Isn’t Caused By Poor Parenting (But How People Might Think So!)My Profile

  24. This sounds very much like my own 7-year-old.

    My problem is that when I send him to his room to calm down, he ends up playing with his stuff and never thinks thru what happened.
    How do you keep the child from just forgetting the whole thing and just playing while they’re supposed to be calming down?

    • Hi Allison,
      I don’t worry about it if my son plays with his stuff. Children often play while they think. That’s why child therapists use play therapy, in fact. The point is just to get him to calm down and not be in a state of rage or tears, and once he’s calm (even if it’s from playing alone for ten minutes), you can use the CPS method with him. The next step is discussing the problem and why it’s a problem, what went wrong, why it happened, what could be done differently next time, how to make that happen, etc. Make him talk about it with you as a condition to move on with his day. Even if you don’t think it’s doing much, it’s helping him think through the problem solving process, and eventually he will be able to remember to use the solutions *before* the meltdown. He’s seven, so it’s a longer learning process, but it’s more educative than a spaking or a plain old time out.
      Carolyn recently posted…Why ADHD Isn’t Caused By Poor Parenting (But How People Might Think So!)My Profile

  25. Would this work for a teen boy with autism and intellectual disability? He has serious impulsivity issues sometimes and works himself into a meltdown in 5 seconds or less (or so it seems.)

    • Sue, it depends on the degree of intellectual disability, but it would certainly still be more effective at teaching skills than punishment alone. I’d give it a try. There are worksheets on Dr. Greene’s site using pictures for kids to point at to help them identify feelings and triggers to show how technique can be adapted for younger or developmentally challenged children who have language difficulties.

  26. Thanks for the article and references to the books you like. I have two boys recently diagnosed, the 10 yo with ADD and the 5 yo with ADHD and my husband has ADD. It is so frustrating and do many days I am at the end of my rope and done days dread taking them places. I have been using Conscious Discipline techniques, which seem similar to what you do. The problem-both boys hate it and get more agitated when I start talking in my calm voice or when I try to get them to do deep breathing. The 5 yo starts yelling more saying he hates it when I talk like that. Any ideas?

    • You know, part of why it takes awhile for my son to feel “ready” to process is because he doesn’t like it either. Why would he? It;s the part where he has to think hard about what he did and acknowledge how it affected others and how it makes him feel about himself, and that’s painful. It’s funny how people think that smacking a kid it being “tough” on them… really, I think that is the easy way out if you allow children to avoid taking inventory of emotional and relational consequences of their behavior.
      If your kids liked the process and it was easy, you probably wouldn’t be doing it right! I mean, they need to acknowledge how they are creating problems for themselves and they need to consider how they need to act differently to get different outcomes.
      But keep at it. Hard work gets results. They’ll thanks you later… maybe in 15 years!!!

  27. I have 3 responses to my daughters ADHD behaviors…

    When she’s upset but not angry/screaming I’m calm, comforting but honest

    When she’s starting to get upset but hasn’t lost it yet I talk her through things I’m firm and tough loving – I am not a hostage – my daughter tells her little sister to “suck it up buttercup” and “you get what you get and you don’t get upset” so we use those terms with her and she generally calms down maybe because she relates to the words better since she uses them we tried the flexible straw and breakable Popsicle stick but it didn’t connect for her

    When she’s temper tantruming and screaming I send her to her room till she can pull herself together – if she won’t listen I will move her

    Our biggest issue is her instigating younger sister who has to butt in or comment and always makes it worse

    Mostly we have 1/2 of the fits we use to have thanks to our new system – chores, homework etc have to be done before games, toys, TV, iPads, or going outside – you can read or take care of your responsibilities – reading is so calming for her – otherwise she ‘earns’ her privileges and all the kids have the same rule so it’s ‘fair’ and seeing her little sister with something is very motivational to earn it too on bad days!

    I couldn’t handle your long drawn out resolutions personally but I’m glad it works for you!

    • Honestly, it sounds like I do what you do, except that I use this process when he has the meltdowns and we need to discuss it afterward. If he doesn’t have a meltdown, I also just use a calm voice and resist feeding into it. If he’s upset and not yelling or anything, I try to help but if won’t accept help, I tell him, “I tried to help you, but I don’t know what else I can do for you, so I’m going to go back to what I was doing. Let me know if there’s anything you really need,” and then I ignore it. Often, he chills out without the attention. I think a lot of mistakes are made when people are too much of interventionists when their kids are upset. If they reject the help, you have to leave it alone, you know? Be kind, but don’t buy into it.

  28. Carolyn, I love this article. I, too, am a mom with a seriously over active mind. I have a few kids that inherited this, unfortunately. The one I have struggled with the longest is my almost 16 year old. Is there any advice you could give me for dealing with everyday struggles including homework, lying, deceitfulness, addictions, etc. I love your “steps” for my younger children and some of this could work for my teen but any other words of wisdom? I have been looking for classes Offered for parents of teens w ADHD. No luck. Thanks you. Keep up your blogs!

    • Ps. I beat myself up everyday for the ways my husband and I have handled these situations for the last 15 years and feel like we are responsible for his low self esteem, etc. I wish I could’ve found stuff like this in my parenting much earlier. So I hope your articles reach many parents who have suffered with their children from the start.

    • Hi Shelley. You know, we used this technique often in the hospital for older kids and teens. We’d use actual worksheets and sit down with a teen and talk about a problem behavior and problem solve collaboratively with them, like team members. I’m not saying they always wanted to do the work, but they would grudgingly participate. It’s a practice that (like any other practice), when done over and over again, teaches them to think more consciously about the choices they are making and how it leads directly to the consequences and outcomes. Read Dr. Greene’s book and check out his website. I think you’ll find some useful information that would apply.

  29. I’m a middle school teacher, and our behavior specialists use CPS with high-needs kids. They LOVE it and feel that it’s the most effective process they’ve ever seen for helping kids build skills.

    I also have a very high-energy almost 6-year-old son, whom we suspect may at some point be diagnosed with ADHD. My husband and I do similar work with him, although we also enforce consequences in addition to the problem-solving.

    So here’s my question: if you don’t use consequences (or specialists call it “Plan A”) at all, what do you do if/when Man Cub chooses to ignore your “Check yo’ self” reminder the next time and has a meltdown again? It seems like, although I agree that MOST kids would learn and start using their coping strategies after CPS sessions like this, inevitably, SOME kids will think, “Gosh. Using those strategies is a lot of work. And blowing up feels really good right now. Plus, last time, I had to talk to my mom afterward, but I still got to play with all my Legos and go to my friend’s house that afternoon. So it wasn’t so bad, really.”

    Do you really NEVER enforce a consequence? If you do sometimes use consequences, would you mind providing an example? I’m trying really hard to wrap my head around both using CPS in a classroom with 30 twelve-year-olds at a time and just using it one-on-one with a high-needs student or my own child, so examples would help a lot! 🙂

    • Oops. “Our specialists,” not “or specialists.” Apparently, I need to proofread. 🙂

    • Oh, I use consequences, just no punitive punishments (like spankings). For example, the day of this meltdown, I say he was given a “clean slate” because he was allowed out of his room after we talked and there was no further discussion or irritation… but we did not go back out that day and he did not earn any screen time that day. In our house, screen time may be earned on weekends, but only if you have good behavior and do chores.
      If he refuses to eat his dinner, for example, I don’t sit and process. He is given the choice to eat what I made, to make himself a sandwich (he never does this), or to go to his room and skip dinner altogether. I do not make alternative meals, and I do not listen to him complain and yell about it (he can go to his room to yell about it alone and either stay there for the night or come down and eat the meal when he is calm). He eats 90% of the time. 10% of the time he goes to bed hungry and eats a big breakfast.
      I think option A is perfect for enforcing rules about violence (though you can process after) or getting a kid out of traffic or anything safety related. Option B is better for discussing ways a child needs to develop better self-control or improve communication.
      Carolyn recently posted…Why ADHD Isn’t Caused By Poor Parenting (But How People Might Think So!)My Profile

  30. This awesome blog is really awesome as well as diverting. I have picked helluva helpful advices out of this source. I ad love to come back again and again. Thanks a lot!

  31. I have to disagree. Punishments DO work if you have a child with ADHD. Traditional punishments don’t work. My son was diagnosed at the age of 6. He turned 31 today.

    His punishments were geared to things he could process whether upset or calm. The best thing was a reward system I set up with play money and a clear list of what each behavior earned him, such as getting his homework done before dinner. He could use the money to buy privileges, such as half an hour of uninterrupted video game play. If he misbehaved or did not complete a task he knew he was supposed to do, he had to pay for it out of his earnings. This system worked really well while he was in elementary school.

    • Well, the post isn’t about having no consequences. I have consequences and I use also use rewards in my home. My kids have to earn screen time, for example. (Other comments in this thread have discussed this more.) The post discusses an alternative to punitive punishments that are very common when children are unruly. Spankings don’t teach anything; that is my point.

  32. After reading the post and comments, I am struck by how many behaviors mentioned do not sound consistent with criterion for solely ADHD but rather conduct disorders as these encompass many of the issues related to one’s ability to self regulate. This differs from children who have a hard time quieting an active brain and body. I applaud parents and professionals who seek to find new and beneficial ways to manage these behaviors and assist their children with developing appropriate coping skills. I also know that parents should seek direction from health care providers specifically trained and skilled in these areas. Especially with school-age children, there should be a comprehensive approach to finding the most precise diagnosis as failure to identify cooccuring disorders can present further problems when making decisions about treatment options.

    Traditionally, in my experience, children with explosive anger who ruminate over a minor setback for an extended period of time are not exclusively dealing with ADHD.

    • Agreed. I think many parents with children who are looking for advice for kids who are truly violent or threatening need help for something more serious like a Conduct disorder. Many children with ADHD are at risk for Opposition Defiant disorder or Conduct disorder, which is more reason to get professional help if your child is behaving in truly unsafe ways or has criminal behavior. These kids need intervention so they don’t end up hurting anyone or ending up in jail as adults. It’s much easier to change behaviors as an adult, so treatment when they are young is critical.

  33. This was a very interesting read! Many aspects you touch on remind me of growing up with my little brother; he struggled with ADHD and Tourette’s syndrome. I think his situation resembled mostly what you discuss about the children not having that sense of control. His main problem was not having meltdowns in public, though. For the most part, when we were out, he was able to keep all of that in, and it was when we all came home that he would, in a sense, “unleash” his energy and pent up aggression. He also kept it hidden in school; I can’t tell you how many times he would come home and start ticking, physically with jerking movements and vocally (his thing was, if my parents asked him to do something, he would immediately repeat word-for-word their command, but put MY name on the end of it. i.e. “Go brush your teeth, John.” – and he repeats: “Go brush your teeth, Hannah!”) I should mention as well, every time he repeated the command with my name, he also had to tag onto it “so freakin SHUT UP Hannah!” This became practically every weekday afternoon in our household.

    But my brother had expressed he felt sad about having to say these ticks because they were so harsh toward me for no particular reason; he just couldn’t help it. And I really think his adhd went hand-in-hand with this, because he was a child whose mind was racing a mile a minute, and his reactions were so out of synch with his thoughts.

    I remember my parents desperately trying to figure out what to do for him, even going so far as to change his diet (less sugars, nothing with aspartame, etc) but that did little to nothing. My mother would reprimand him to no avail; she never used violence but it wasn’t long before her yelling and frustration became obsolete and my brother disregarded almost everything she said. He would always listen to my father, but it was hard for lectures and lessons to stick. He would make the same mistakes over and over and over (a problem I actually face myself; I’m almost positive I have some form of attention deficit). Sometimes I wonder, though, what parental techniques could have possibly worked for my little brother….his state of mind seemed so far out of reach, as if he was on a whole different level of thinking than everyone else.

    By the time he hit puberty he mellowed out a great deal. I still notice certain things though, when my mother asks him to do something, it’s almost permanently ingrained in him to refuse or combat the situation. If my mom would like him to put his shoes at the front door, he has to put them JUST far enough away from the door that he isn’t TECHNICALLY complying with what she asked. I’m not sure if this has anything to do with his adhd/Tourette’s, but it’s just the little things I notice. Also the fact that he really hasn’t taken much interest whatsoever in dating or things of that nature; his friends have started becoming interested in girls and are starting to have less time for him when he wants to go skateboarding and the like…and he doesn’t seem to relate. But that may simply be that he just isn’t ready for that yet.

    I thoroughly enjoyed your article, and it really made me take a look back in time at what my family situation was like growing up! Kinda made me see the differences in approaches to parenting, even though I’m not a parent, hehe. Thank you!

    • Thanks for stopping by! It sounds like your family had quite the challenge! Tourette’s is a complicated illness, and difficult for people to understand. I hope to write a bit in the future on tic disorders, since the co-occur to much with ADHD. Thanks again. I’m really glad you like the post.

  34. You have some really good articles and I feel I would be a good asset. I’d absolutely love to write some articles for your blog in exchange for a link back to mine. Please send me an email if interested. Regards!

    • There is a contact form on the site. If you have an idea for a specific guest post, please include it and I’ll get back to you!

    • Thank you!! I appreciate you stopping to take the time to tell me so! It’s a brand new blog, but I plan to post at least twice a week. It’s a subject I’m really passionate about. 🙂

      Please share the posts on FB and Pinterest if you like them; the more successful the blog is, the more time I can devote to it.

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  38. Thank you! I am new to all of this… my daughter just got diagnosed and I have yet to scratch the surface.

    • Well, please keep visiting! This is a brand new blog, but I plan to keep writing, so there will be lot of updates. If you sign up for the newsletter, you’ll get an update once every few weeks. 🙂

  39. I never comment on stuff, but I just wanted to say: As a former ADHD Man Cub, now a 28-year-old ADHD Man, this warmed my heart for the beautiful alternative it presented to how my parents dealt with it, which often amounted to simply having their own temper tantrums until I was terrified into silence. I’ve been in therapy and on medication for a few years now, and I’ve found that learning decision-making and organization–as tricky as that can be– is small potatoes compared to all the lingering fear, self-consciousness, and anger. Learning that overwhelming feelings aren’t things we’re supposed to deal with entirely on our own, and that the whole world isn’t waiting to bite my head off, has been a huge challenge, but one that seems a little easier when I read something like this. Thank you! Your little man is very lucky!

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment, Dave. I trust that my son will grow up to appreciate the care I’m taking to be respectful and teach him as best I can. When he’s in a good mood, he is the sweetest, most affectionate boy. He’s really quite sensitive, which didn’t come across in this story. It’s part of the reason he gets so upset when he embarrasses himself because he wishes he had better self-control… he’s getting there. 🙂 I hope you’ll stop back by the blog in the future. Thanks for commenting. It meant a lot to read your comment.
      Carolyn recently posted…3 Proven Strategies for Developing Social Skills: Help Your Child Become a Better FriendMy Profile

      • I will! It’s great to see more writing emerging about ADHD and parenting. (Also, not being a parent myself, I didn’t mean to sound too hard on mine, who were fantastic in many ways and did the best they knew how.) But I think it definitely comes through in this story that your son is very sweet and good-natured at his best. “This is hard, Mama” really got to me.

  40. It is amazing to read about your experience! I have 3 children and I ran a home daycare for 13 years. I cannot claim that I used all of the methods you mentioned, but I did come to realize that raising children almost never requires any form of punishment. Children need guidance and opportunities to practice appropriate behaviors. My youngest is thought to have ADHD, he is a very high energy boy who has difficulty staying focused and on task. Instead of punishment, I simply give him reminders of what he was expected to do and I give him opportunities to practice. I remember people rolling their eyes or whispering that I could not control my son because I was “too soft” (I don’t do corporal punishment…EVER). He may not have been what they believed was a “good child” because he rarely sat still and he asked a lot of questions. I was happy that he wasn’t aggressive and that his questions suggested a curiosity that displayed a growing intelligence. I think much of the problem with our “active” children is that they are misunderstood. The natural tendencies of some children are perceived as “bad behavior” from others when in fact it is simply immature impulse control. With the right guidance, these children have a chance to become positive members of society. Sadly in the wrong hands, these children learn to feel nothing but shame and frustration..which is unforgiveable in my opinion. I will admit that I have noticed that other adults are likely to react more positively to my child if they see my positive reaction first. It seems that if the parents show disdain, then society also follows suit. Another reason to be your child’s fiercest advocate! Thank you for sharing!

    • Thanks for sharing your experience. I agree that people can be intolerant of the behavior of children. It is not expected for young children to be still and quiet and defer always to their parents. Sure, it can be trained if you desire that enough, but I value independence and creativity and freedom of thought in my children more than 100% total obedience. I am happy to work a bit harder to teach them as we go, knowing they will grow up to be strong willed free thinkers who understand themselves better than if every undesirable behavior had been beaten out of them!

  41. Hi, I loved the article and I totally agree that fighting on who is the lowdest or strongest only harms. But I have an objection in this entire story. I am an ADD adult, my Dad was also an ADHD and so in our home we had great understanding and support in all the creative creazy things ADHD people do. They were never violent on me and this was really good. But… they wanted to discuss in details our fights. This is something that I hated. They would tell me again and again “do you want to discuss about it right now?” No. why should I? These kind of discussions (probably the way you do them is different) but what I had realised was that those discussions always ended when I was humiliatingly forced to say “I understand. I am sorry for misbehaving. YOU ARE RIGHT” and I had to say this because if I didn’t, they would say that we would discuss about it later (when I would be more reasonable), and they would bring the subject again, and again, and again sometimes for DAYS! And it was nothing really serious, as the situation that you mention: he wanted something, he shouted, ok. My kids shout. all kids shout. I am not sure if I am making my point clear here. You see I am not a native english speaker, so, I hope I made myself understood… I just felt the little guy. you can’t imagine how many “discussions” I have had since I could talk and communicate. Although I am already 38 years old my mom still does it, she picks something from my behavior towards her that she doesn’t like and she comes to “discuss” it 3 or 4 hours later through the phone, or next time we meet which might be a couple of days later. I don’t bellieve she wants to “discuss” she just wants to hear that she has right.

    • There is a difference between exploring the situation together and alternatives and what you describe, which is more about berating a child and forcing them to say they were wrong and totally at fault. When I talk to my children, I expect them to take responsibility for their behavior, but I am also able to hear suggestions from them about how I can help them differently (by being clearer about expectations, etc).
      For example, if your parents used this method, they should have been able to hear your feedback that it would help you to have more space to calm down and a calmer discussion without feeling like you were being ganged up on. Ideally, they would “hear” this and find a way to do it differently if that was part of the problem…
      Carolyn recently posted…3 Proven Strategies for Developing Social Skills: Help Your Child Become a Better FriendMy Profile

      • Thanks for the feedback. I understand the difference now. I will work this strategy with my children as well, I bellieve the way you put it, it will help them be more responsible and it actually raises their self esteem and confidence instead of pushing their ego on the floor as I had – because of my personal experience – thought in the beginning. Cheers.

  42. It’s really a great and useful piece of info. I am happy that you simply shared this helpful info with us. Please stay us up to date like this. Thanks for sharing.

  43. hi, in dealing with the same problem with my 4 year old!! When situations change, or he doesn’t get his way, it’s the end of the world! I am a sped teacher and when is your own child it’s different! He always needs reassurance in what we will be doing!! In trying my best to work with him! It’s affecting everyone, and especially him. I’m getting him tested in our school district where we just moved. Back in Chicago he didn’t qualify! I’m not taking no for an answer! It’s affecting his learning, coping and just everyday life! Makes it more difficult when he only wants to do the things he wants! He is such a love, smart funny little boy and I just want to help him!!! Thank you for this great post!!

  44. Carolyn, I am very glad that I found this post on a friend’s Facebook. My oldest is on the Autism spectrum spectrum with ADHD and her brother has no diagnosis (others don’t feel that ADHD is a possibility ), but he does demonstrate impulse control issues. He is repentant of misbehaving and absolutely despair over the consequences, but it doesn’t stop the behavior. Some of what you say in your post is helpful to us and I am glad to have the books as further resources to check out. The reason that I am able to process your information as helpful even though it differs from much of what I have learned from other sources is because I keep an open mind and refuse to reject information that doesn’t fit with previous information. I would like to respectfully and even lovingly as another mom ask you to do the same regarding a particular topic. Both in the article and in the comments section, you seem to equate discipline with “hitting” and “yelling”. Effective discipline is neither. I differ greatly from my extended family in knowing that “going all in” with discipline is not always the answer. In other words, if I warn that the consequence of not getting ready for school is that I will get rid of his favorite dvd, then I am setting high stakes. I learned the hard way, after my husband set that exact consequence for my son not getting ready for school, that in his panic over the possible loss of his favorite movie my son was incapable of making the right decision and avoiding the consequence. Instead, he cried and yelled angrily and was late for school after I pretty much dressed him and calmed him down enough for school at the same time. Then, our only choices were to not follow through (disaster) or get rid of something that had value to all three of us and that would honestly have been remembered by my son bitterly for years. I guess what I am saying is that not all discipline is created equal and our approach as parents doesn’t have to only be comprised of one strategy to be successful. I would at least kindly recommend that you consider your tone might come across as judgemental of any parent that chooses a path different than your own. I know that you wouldn’t want that as I am certain that your purpose here is to help, not judge. I will gladly follow your blog and learn what I can because as moms, we are all in this together. Anything less is at least a disservice to someone else’s children if not our own. Thanks!

  45. But what about a 17yo? She has become increasingly obstinate, ignoring requests or even demands that she do certain chores. It has become a battle of wills and I hate it. I’m just waiting for the day when she goes off to college, so her mom and I can have our lives back.

    • This technique is used for older teens all the time, and if fact works better when a kid is old enough to think through the cause and effect. The key is to approach is collaboratively and not with a “holier than thou” attitude (though teens seem to always feel their parents are acting this way!). Dr Green’s book is really the best resource, but his site may have more info that could give you some ideas.

  46. Great read! I have ADHD and I never was medicated as a teen. As an adult I am taking medications but for anxiety/depression. So I know the overwhelming feeling and I’ve learned to handle my ADHD. But I have a son who I know has it. The doctor finally agreed and doesn’t think I’m overreacting anymore because well…my son is 2. Yes I know he’s still young and a child etc. But he is definitely my match. No type of punishment has worked so far. And when I find one that may be working, he proves to me I was wrong. It’s overwhelming and I know that’s a reason I am medicated now lol. I guess I’m asking what you think I could do when he acts out? Spanking no longer works bc he laughs at you, always has. Time outs are a joke. I’m trying the nose in corner, it hurts his feelings more than anything but still doesn’t seem to work. He hits, squeezes you, if you are holding him during a tantrum he will choke you, he grasps his fists and shakes out of anger. It’s trying at times. Hopefully I will be able to get something to work soon though! He’s sure a handful lol

  47. Hmm it seems like your website ate my first comment (it was super long) so I guess I’ll just sum it
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  48. My middle child is almost five and I believe she has ADHD, just from my experience of being a first grade teacher. We usually send her to her room when she is having a tantrum so that she can calm down as well. We noticed very early on that until she is calm, she can’t talk with us and we can’t talk with her. I’m shocked that some people that have posted comments have implied that parents basically need to take control. Communicating calmly (when the child is calm), is what truly helps the child learn from his/her mistakes. It’s being able to have that communication with your child that makes the difference. That is what teaches children right from wrong, not just screaming and punishments. I thought your blog was great and would love any extra insight on helping these types of children in a school setting.

    • Sorry for the late reply! Thanks for stopping by to comment. I also had a gut feeling my son had ADHD a year or two before he was diagnosed. And definitely, having him go to his room to calm down “short circuited” his tantrums! Removing the audience is key. In the classroom, I have seen teachers take kids out of the class until they calm down. Without the kids there to watch, and with a more stoic and patient supervisor, kids will generally get it together quicker. You can be supportive without reinforcing it, you know? My son is usually embarrassed by his lack of control and would rather not be seen anyway!
      Carolyn recently posted…40 and 1/2 Totally Fantastic Summer Activities For KidsMy Profile

  49. Hi, I’ve got an almost 3 year old boy who has recently taken to hitting me or his grandparents when he doesn’t get his way. On top of that time-out and being told that is not okay, he keeps doing it. Or he will throw a colossal temper tantrum if he is not given what he wants. I’m at my wits end what to do.
    Does any one know how to help.

    • Sorry for the late reply. One of the interventions used by hospital staff is to hold a child’s hands when they hit. We remind them to use “safe hands” (an age appropriate reminder) and hold their hands together and use a calm voice and make eye contact. They are often doing it in a bid for attention when something isn’t going their way, so you’d hold their hands while you then calmly address the issue (a dispute about a toy or wanting to go somewhere or do something they can’t). Then you remind him of the consequences if he hits and follow through. (“If you hit anyone, we will go home now and we can’t stay at the park.”) It can take awhile to manage a behavior like this, but consistency is key. If he does not get a wild reaction, but he does get calm reminders and a physical reinforcement (the “safe hands”), and if when he hits it does mean that all the fun stops every time, he will learn that it does not achieve the desired effect.
      And of course, the trick is that when he tries to hit, you need to find out why he’s hitting and help him learn some way of expressing himself or troubleshooting the situation without hitting. That’s the way to replace the lagging developmental skill and problematic behavior with a more productive skill.
      I hope this idea helps. It’s never a quick fix as I’m sure you know, but he will learn. 🙂
      Carolyn recently posted…40 and 1/2 Totally Fantastic Summer Activities For KidsMy Profile

  50. Well done. And there’s more. This idea can be used for all children as all children are learning that their emotions are their first form of communication (a crying new born baby) and eventually learn how to express their upset and anger through words and communication. This is a skill parents can help their children learn.
    AND all behavior is purposeful. From a child’s point of view, his behavior is not HIS problem. His problem is that there is something he wants to meet one of his psychological needs driving his behaviors and he doesn’t know how to get what he wants responsibly and respectfully. A parent’s job is to teach our children how to get what they want responsibly and respectfully.
    Work with your child to learn how he can get the object of his desire responsibly and respectfully as you also help him learn to calm his emotional upsets. The combination is called parenting. And when done respectfully, responsibly and consistently you help your child become a responsible and respectful adult who can solve his own problems.

  51. Hello,

    I loved your article. I find it useful not only for ADHD related relationships, and parenting, but also I believe it has serious and powerful implications in the world of political, psychoanalytic, pedagogical, and punitive theory.

    My question is about the second step: “defining the problem.” Your narrative is great here, but I found myself still confused about this step. Can you (or anyone else) take a stab at clarifying the second step for me? Perhaps if there were some broader, or more clearly defined theoretical principles here, this step could seem more applicable to more situations than this (beautiful and moving) narrative.

    Maybe some further reading suggestions would also be helpful.

    Thank you!

    Austin Douillard

    BA Politics.

  52. Oops, you missed it again. You have defined the adult or parents problem but you have left out the child’s problem! When a parent/adult helps the child learn how to solve HER problem getting what she wants responsibly and respectfully, then the parent/adult has solve HIS problem. MOST parenting programs, help, advice adress the adult’s problem only. Please understand that the child has a problem too and needs help from parent/ adult to solve her problem responsibly and respectfully.

  53. This all sounds so nice, but you lost me at the part where you took him to his room to calm down. My kid is 4. I can never get to that point. She fights going to her room so hard that it becomes its own escalating problem, instead of calming down it makes everything worse. I have tried being the one to leave the scene instead of making her leave, and she just follows me (hitting, etc.) I am so sad and frustrated. Any advice? I DO want it to be a cooling-down period and not a punishment, but she doesn’t see it that way so it doesn’t seem to matter.

    • Sorry for the late reply. On occasion, I have had this issue, and I have had to remove myself. I have seen exactly this issue in the hospital with oppositional kids, and that’s what we do. We remove everyone (and even sometimes the furniture!) from the area and essentially create an area of seclusion for them until they have regained composure. During this time, one person is assigned as a contact person, but no one else, because an “audience” always makes the situation last longer. And if the one contact person feels that they aren’t ready to chill out, we leave them alone.

      In a house, this is obviously not as easy. Normally, I don’t have to deal with a child refusing to go to his room because my child isn’t terribly oppositional and he will usually go. On occasion, I have carried him there while he yells and fights me, but I don’t hit him. I put him in his room because it is the safe place for him to be to calm down, and because it is not fair for him to keep the rest of the family hostage downstairs while he has a tantrum.

      Once there, he has never tried to leave. If he did, I would hold the door closed. BUT -and this is important- IF I DID THAT I would stay outside his door and let him know I was there until he was able to agree to stay in the room on his own. This is because it would be very frightening to a child to be locked and abandoned in a room alone, and it is not safe. You cannot monitor them and if they are that worked up, you need to supervise at least by listening outside the door. But I would not engage them and I would not speak AT ALL except to let them know I was there.

      This is how I would handle a very oppositional child in the middle of a tantrum, but as soon as they were able to calm down and spend some time showing me they were in control, we would talk and I would show them there was no ill will. That’s when you can start the CPS.
      Carolyn recently posted…40 and 1/2 Totally Fantastic Summer Activities For KidsMy Profile

  54. Hi There,
    I really enjoyed reading this. I am an RN also. My son with ADHD is 9 years old. The one problem we have that no one has been able to help us with including his therapist (yet!) is having him go into his bedroom (or any room) by himself when he is upset. He can’t even do this when he is not upset. He does not like to be alone.

    We have never been successful at timeouts (though I know this isn’t a timeout, it involves staying alone). When I use to try and enforce it meant I would have to hold the door closed. Any ideas? I mean how do you force a child to do something they refuse to do? I also will go to my room if I am upset and if I really need a few minutes alone it can only be if someone else is in the house, my son won’t stay alone. It really puts a wrench in almost all behavior improvement plans when neither the child or parent can get a break from a very hard situation.

    Also, whenever I speak to my son like ““I wonder how we can help you .. “, he always responds with something like “do not speak that way, like you are a therapist or dr. I’m not talking about it anymore!” and he will refuse. it is so frustrating!

    Any help would be so appreciated 🙂

    • Hi Stacey! My son hates it when talk like that, too! lol When I say, “We need to talk about what happened earlier and discuss why it was a problem and how we can do it differently next time,” he screws up his face at me and sighs loudly. Other moms don’t make their kids do that! But other moms don’t take advantage of these events to process them and learn from them! And other moms aren’t nurses, so there you go! 🙂

      I’m going to paste a reply here only because your question is similar to another commenter that I just answered a moment ago, but I worry you won’t see it unless I answer you in your own thread:

      On occasion, I have had this issue with my son refusing to go to his room, and I have had to remove myself. I have seen exactly this issue in the hospital with oppositional kids, and that’s what we do. We remove everyone (and even sometimes the furniture!) from the area and essentially create an area of seclusion for them until they have regained composure. During this time, one person is assigned as a contact person, but no one else, because an “audience” always makes the situation last longer. And if the one contact person feels that they aren’t ready to chill out, we leave them alone.

      In a house, this is obviously not as easy. Normally, I don’t have to deal with a child refusing to go to his room because my child isn’t terribly oppositional and he will usually go. On occasion, I have carried him there while he yells and fights me, but I don’t hit him. I put him in his room because it is the safe place for him to be to calm down, and because it is not fair for him to keep the rest of the family hostage downstairs while he has a tantrum.

      Once there, he has never tried to leave. If he did, I would hold the door closed. BUT -and this is important- IF I DID THAT I would stay outside his door and let him know I was there until he was able to agree to stay in the room on his own. This is because it would be very frightening to a child to be locked and abandoned in a room alone, and it is not safe. You cannot monitor them and if they are that worked up, you need to supervise at least by listening outside the door. But I would not engage them and I would not speak AT ALL except to let them know I was there.

      This is how I would handle a very oppositional child in the middle of a tantrum, but as soon as they were able to calm down and spend some time showing me they were in control, we would talk and I would show them there was no ill will. That’s when you can start the CPS.

      So, Stacey, I don’t know how oppositional your child is, but I would forcibly bring my son to him room. I think that is better than corporal punishment, and if your child is reacting to being left alone, you could sit outside the room. In the hospital, we always sit outside the patient’s room in a chair while they are “secluded,” right? But don’t engage, and explain the rules ahead of time. “I will sit here as long as you understand that I am not here to talk to you about things now. You need to calm down and think about things, and when you are ready to talk calmly about what happened and I am also ready, that’s when we will talk.”

      Bring a book. Your child might scream and throw things, but pretend you are not there except to let him know you are if he asks. You can clean up (and process that part) later. The consequence of that should be losing any items the child damaged. Or, you child may appear to be playing, and you might think that it isn’t effective with you outside the room, but remember that kids often think and work things out in play.

      Good luck, and please let me know if this works for you. Each kid is different, so trust your gut, but also trust the process. 🙂
      Carolyn recently posted…40 and 1/2 Totally Fantastic Summer Activities For KidsMy Profile

      • Carolyn! You are so awesome. Thank you for getting back so quickly on my son who won’t go to his room. I can’t believe I didn’t find this blog sooner, but I guess it is pretty new. I was reading more last night and I also was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult, the inattention type. I was also somewhat oppositional like my son, but just never to this extent and not at such a young age! He was never diagnosed with ODD but I think surely he has that as well. This is a big problem at school. It is ironic I read this last night and was awoken early this morning with cries of him wanting to buy something for some supposed achievement he had of being in a school concert last week. He always tries to find some reason why he should be getting something. (I am the only one in the household who embraces minimalism)

        It is not possible to anymore to physically bring him anywhere without getting hurt myself and my son can try to pull open a door for an hour and he is so strong. I can’t basically play tug of war for an hour at least. I would have to leave the door open which I guess I will try but he sometimes gets physical with me which I can’t tolerate either. It is so difficult! I don’t believe in corporal punishment but it doesn’t/wouldn’t work anyway, the boy is unbreakable, believe me; it makes him stronger. I don’t think it works for any kid in the long run, but for this kid, doesn’t even work in short term; so I agree with you on NO corporal punishment.

        I am going to try your matter of fact approach to talking about it after. It doesn’t matter if you want to talk or not, that is what we are going to do basically. Lastly, what I find with him is that no consequence matter. I have been in that position with the store a million times and I always leave and don’t get him something, but it happens again and again and again.

        So happy to find a nurse. I work in a hospital also, on a Med/Surg floor we have a lot of geriatric patients (older people rock!) so this is my specialty/comfort zone at the present time. There is definitely a psych element in some patients as well as delirium and dementia but for the most part my take away for caring for my 9 year old (and his twin) is limited.

        • I would try it with the door open like you said. Just don’t engage and try to look unimpressed with his big production. 😛

          My son’s meltdowns have been lessened since we switched to Intuniv, too. I don’t know if you know about that med, but it’s a nonstimulant for ADHD that works particularly well for hyperactive and aggressive kids . It’s also good for ADHDers who get anxious or get tics with stimulants. I am actually trying it myself right now, too. 🙂 The big side effect is sleepiness for the first week or two, but it goes away and then there is just less impulsivity and aggression, both good things!

          Glad you found the blog. It is new, and I’m trying to really give it a go, so if you enjoy the blog, please help out by Pinning and Facebooking the posts often! 😀

          Carolyn recently posted…Privileged White Kid ProblemsMy Profile

          • Thanks Carolyn, I haven’t tried that with him. We only tried one medication so far that failed miserably. Metadate CD. It brought out agression and had a horrible rebound effect. The pediatrician referred us to a psychiatrist to help with medication since it is more complex than just ADHD. This medication sounds perfect though. I will certainly mention it when I get him to a new Dr. I was hoping that maybe this summer we wouldn’t need anything and we would start something new in the school year, but I’m not sure about that. We will see, school adds a lot of extra stress since sitting in a classroom where he is bored (he is also quite ahead of his grade level in aptitude) is very hard. I will certainly pin and post!! I was trying not to research the heck out of medications as my instinct is so I am very glad you mentioned this medication.

  55. A very thought provoking post thank you Carolyn. It is too easy just to say ADHD children are just naughty. It can’t be easy all the time parenting so keep up the great work. It is lucky you have the nursing background that must help greatly. Thank you for sharing your post with us at #AnythingGoes
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  56. Simply want to say your article is as amazing.
    The clarity in your post is just nice and i
    could assume you are an expert on this subject.

    Fine with your permission allow me to grab your feed to keep up to date with forthcoming
    post. Thanks a million and please keep up the gratifying work.
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  57. Really lovely post Carolyn. Always refreshing to read such positive solutions to living the ADHD lifestyle. We have a house full of them here 😉
    Warmest regards

  58. Hello,

    I would love to send you a review copy of ADHD and the Edison Gene by Thom Hartmann.

    This book:
    • Shows how artists, inventors, and innovators carry the gene necessary for the future survival of humanity
    • Explains why children with this gene are so often mislabeled in public schools as having a disorder
    • Offers concrete strategies for helping children reach their full potential

    Please send me you shipping address, if interested.


    • Hola Dra.!
      Loved your article! I am a psychologist in Acapulco, Mexico, and work with many children with both neurological and behavior issues. Your insight, especially about the lagging skills and the come to a solution together will be now part of my
      the counsel for my patients and those in charge of them.


  59. I can tell from your post that you are a very patient and understanding parent. I just don’t see how this approach will teach a 7 year old anything other than that it is okay to verbally abuse someone, not follow basic directions and lose their cool over basically nothing and there is no consequence. When is it too early to start teaching our kids to be responsible for their own actions and that there are consequences for those actions. I have 7 year old twins, and I love them endlessly and tell them so, but I also don’t sugar coat things with them. We have behaviour expectations, they are not always met, but hey I make mistakes too. When I make a mistake, which is more often then I’d like to admit, I apologize. I don’t think it is out of line to expect an apology from a child of this age also. I will not be mistreated, no one deserves that, whether it is from a stranger, a parent, or a child. The behaviour and subsequent lack of reaction in this article seem more in line to me with how you would handle the same situation with a 3 or 4, maybe 5 year old. Please don’t get me wrong, like I said, you seem like a great person, and I don’t mean to offend. I just think we need to give our kids tools for success in the future and this approach to me doesn’t do that.

  60. That Ross Greene book is a must have for psych students and normal people alike. It could come in handy when it comes to children having meltdowns at social gatherings.

  61. I am struggling with the same situation. Child is medicated and he does well in school but the behavior at home makes life a living hell the way he touches and uses everything and then once he is done drops it on the floor. He occasionally becomes oppositional as well, which is no picnic. But what really gets to me as I read all these posts is why are there so many children with this ADHD issue now. When I was growing up in the 60s, I could count on one hand the number of children that had this kind of an issue. It just makes me wonder what else is at play that none of us know about.

  62. hi. I really appreciate this post, and most of the comments.

    My son was diagnosed last year with ADHD. He is 6 now, and despite medicating (4 different meds) and creating structure in the home with regards to rules/expectations, his behaviour is getting worse. He struggles very much with impulsiveness, physical boundaries, frustrations, emotional regulation, excitability/hyperactivity, and now we are seeing more aggressive behaviours. I know he needs to be in therapy, but the counselor he has been seeing does not agree, nor does anyone else in his circle of care. I feel like he understands what is expected of him but continues to struggle to make good choices because he doesn’t have those skills yet. How can we expect things of him if he has not learned how to do them yet. There seems to be too much negativity around him as well. It’s a constant cycle of him making bad choices – being consequenced – and then making more bad choices just to face more consequences. The adults in his life (and peers most likely) are now just expecting him to act out. We are waiting for a psychological assessment to try and get some resources for him at school. I’m considering changing schools altogether, start fresh. Intellectually he is on point. Even our family worker thinks he his choosing to act out, and that he ought to be consequenced. But i think he’s doing it for attention, and negative attention is far easier to attain than positive attention. My poor daughter is overdone by him. She hates all the talk about him at school by teachers and peers. Other kids are updating her about her brother all the time. He drives her absolutely nuts at home; always invading her space, interrupting her piano practice, talking to her in gibberish, being loud and unruly, etc. I need help teaching him the skills to self regulate, but I’ve been told time and time again that i CAN do it, that I just need more confidence. But i cannot do it all; single mother of two, i have my own mental health issues, the house, the car, the money, the school, the after school activities, the behaviours, the meltdowns, and so on. They say I need to be more strict. But it seems the more strict I become the worse his behaviour gets. I need support. My son needs support. I don’t want him to depend on me for everything. He has so much anxiety when he has to be away from me because he says I am the only person who is really on his team. I’m rambling now, but you get the picture. I feel trapped and lost and worried for my son.

  63. What a bunch of nonsense.
    The child is NOT special… attention deficit disorder is NOT a recognized ailment, illness or syndrome… it only exists in countries of lazy people who turn to blaming others and pill poppers.
    He needs to learn how to deal with reality and the rest of the world surely doesn’t need to walk on egg shells because he’s a hyper emotional drama queen child that has been coddled and raised not to accept any responsibility.
    What bad parenting.

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  67. Very good post, and agree punishment means nothing, consequences mean nothing, rewards don’t even mean anything. It will rarely prevent the out burst because one the mind is made up that they have been somehow wronged its game over. I have used ever tactic you have listed here.

    People who have no clue what real ADHD is think discipline and punishment will solve the problem, rewards when they are good, which i find to be nothing but useless, according to the pros you stick by the reward, guess what a kid with ADHD really doesn’t see what he did wrong so when the reward for what your “agreement” is denied, it will set him off again.

    Its laughable when start getting parenting advice from people with kids who react in the normal spectrum.

    Still a good article, keep in mind schools will not invest the same amount of time into your child as you do … At some point you will be i a corner and the schools will not let your kids into school without meds.

  68. I am a grandmother who is bi polar raising grandkids. The 9 yr old has adhd and the 2yr old might. Your article was very helpful. The biggest issue we are having is the 9yr old won’t. Phisaclly let go of me at night when I tuck him in.

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