Updated: Oct 3
Grabbing action figures. Incessant interrupting. Pulling hair. Hitting. These are all impulsive behaviors. If your child has ADHD, here’s how you can help curb them.
All children, at their core, want to do good. If you're the mom of a child with ADHD, however, you may have noticed some "tricky" things getting in the way. The need to play with that Barbie, NOW —"Oops, I didn't mean to grab it!" The desire to pull all the labels off the crayons – "How did that happen"? The green slime on your newly upholstered couch –"That wasn't me. I promise. It was just...there!"
As a mother, it can be maddening. But if these types of incidents are common in your house, it's essential to realize that your child may be struggling with impulsivity.
Impulsivity is "an action without foresight." It's also one of the hot executive functions, activities controlled by the brain in the prefrontal cortex, that ADHD children have trouble regulating. That's a biological factor.
So what's a frustrated mom to do? The key is slowly teaching and motivating the right behaviors while curbing the wrong ones. Here's how:
1. Raise awareness. Say, for example, your child interrupts you mid-conversation. Calmly point out to them that you were speaking, and explain how when a person speaks, they need to wait because (insert your preferred reason). This method is effective because kids must first be aware that they are behaving impulsively to manage impulsive behaviors.
2. Problem solve. Impulsive responses are often an ADHD brain's first response to a potentially challenging or tempting environmental occurrence. Instead of saying, "No, we don't steal Dragon Ball Z cards," teach your child how to problem solve. "You wanted a Goku card?" "How else might you have gone about getting it?" Hear their idea. Chart them. Run through which could be better options and which are great responses!
3. Alternative satisfaction: Is your child prone to kicking or punching? Encourage them to take their aggression out in other ways. Bite a pillow. Kick a ball. Punch a punching bag. It will help satisfy their urge without causing problems, and it works!
4. Self-script. Create helpful dialogues to correct problematic behaviors. If your child has difficulty not jumping on the couch, try "No jumping on the couch, yes rolling on the carpet," or "No jumping on the couch, yes jumping on one leg to the fridge and back." Then practice that alternative dialogue together next time the situation arises.
5. Private gestures. Some parents prefer creating private gestures. They serve as a reminder to avoid a problem without embarrassing your child. For example, your child tends to put their feet on the table. Discuss the situation, and agree on a sign, like pointing downward. Next time you're eating family dinner and the feet start to go up, point downward with a quick and gentle reminder.
6. Immediate consequence. Dangerous, hurtful, or inappropriate behaviors call for quick and immediate responses. Keep punishments short and appropriate, but let them remind your child that he is responsible for his behavior. Dinnertime tantrums can mean dismissal from the table without dessert. Keep punishments brief but allow them to communicate to your child that they are responsible for controlling their behavior.
7. Praise patience. Reward good behavior with praise or a special prize. This is especially important for children with ADHD, who get a lot of negative attention for misconduct. If your child works well with physical rewards, try encouraging positive behavior with a night of backyard camping together, a boost in allowance, sugar cookie baking, extra screen time, etc. Get creative. The better the reward, the greater the impetus to fight the impulse.
Struggles with impulsivity are common among children with ADHD due to how their brains are wired.
Teach appropriate behavior by running through alternative responses to upsetting situations, providing prompts and gestures, and integrating praise.
Curb bad behavior by making your child aware of why their behavior was inappropriate, providing immediate consequences, and offering alternative outlets.
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