Setting Limits for an ADD/ADHD Child

We've all confronted those dreaded candy displays oh-so-conveniently located at the checkout counters in grocery stores. How often must parents like to exert control and say "No!" when "Oh, why not?" is much easier than facing a potential temper tantrum? Parenting magazines at the same checkout counter taunt us with "10 Easy Ways to Set Limits with Kids," but it's not so easy when your child has ADD/ADHD.

Many ADD/ADHD children are obsessive and unable to "let go" of a particular thought. If they have swimming in mind, for example, but can't be taken due to an unexpected thunderstorm, prepare for a meltdown. They will not forget any promise made or even any expectation that exists only in their imagination. So what's a parent to do? There's no magic answer, but these six strategies will help your child learn to cope with disappointment:

Control the environment. Don't set up situations that are bound to be overstimulating and stress-filled for your ADD/ADHD child, such as taking him grocery shopping at 5:30 after a long day or staying at a family party until the wee hours of the night. This is age-dependent, however, and can be adjusted over time.

Control the outcome. Don't be afraid to leave a situation that you can see is going to be a conflict for the child. Learn to read the writing on the wall about the potential for disappointment. For example, a teenage cousin is probably not going to invite the fifth grader to join their friends when they leave grandma and grandpa's family event, so make sure to depart before the opportunity to feel left out arises.


Set limits, and stand your ground. Don't argue about situations you know the child understands already, but continues to ask you about '- "But why can't I (have that, do this, go there, etc.)?" State your limit, stay calm and acknowledge their feelings: "I know you are disappointed, but your plan is not going to work for me."

Teach patience. After a tantrum or argument has settled, talk to your child about how to wait for what she wants or how to plan for what she feels she needs or how to have alternatives that are almost what she imagined.

Minimize frustration. Offer strategies for handling "big" feelings after disappointments, such as talking to a grownup, playing a fun game, relaxation techniques or playing with pets. Positive self-talk '- "Maybe next time I'll win the game" '- and calming down can help them develop a new plan or just let go of something they wanted.

Validate their efforts. Notice and comment on the times your child is willing to "let it go." Acknowledgement of growth in being able to deal with unfairness and disappointment goes a long way in reinforcing good patterns. As adults, we have the responsibility to teach children that '- as your mother and mine often said '- life is often not fair. Helping children learn to wait for rewards and "earn" special treats will yield the long-term benefit of helping them develop a sense of competence.

Talk to other moms of ADD/ADHD children on our message boards!

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