ADD children, Disciplining and Following Rules

ADD children and discipline
Setting priorities when making rules is essential if you have children with ADHD. When you are disciplining a ADD Children, not all rules are equally important. The important rules need extra attention and the unimportant rules need to be ignored. I recently learned of a study that was done on children looking at what rules children consistently obeyed. This study is interesting to me because it dovetails very nicely with the discussion that we are having on disciplining. They looked at four types of rule following. The four categories that the researchers looked at were:

1. Safety Rules (Put on your helmet when you are skateboarding).
2. Moral Rules (Do not steal from your brother's piggy bank).
3. Social Convention Rules (Do not pick your nose in public).
4. Personal Preference Rules (Do not play with that boy that curses)

The conclusion of the study was that children have the most difficulty obeying the personal preference rules. The researchers concluded that all the other rules made sense to these children but that most children feel that the personal preference rules were none of the rule makers business.

These findings, while not necessarily comforting to parents (parents would like ALL their rules to be followed), make intuitive sense to all of us. We all resent bosses or authority figures who over control us Children with ADHD, especially those who are at all oppositional or prone to explosive tantrums have huge problems with over controlling authority figures. Picking your battles and deciding what rules really matter is extremely important when parenting children with ADHD.

In the book The Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children, Ross Greene asks parents to separate rules into three categories. He tells us to look at rules and put them in three baskets:

Basket 'A' is for those rules that must be followed, end of discussion. Safety rules and Moral rules fall into that category.

Basket 'C' is for those rules that are really not that important and that you should expend no energy trying to get your ADHD child to comply with. An example of a personal preference rule that I have had to ignore at my house is, "Please do not wear those torn up, dirty, sneakers to school".

Basket 'B' is for the rules that must be followed but that requires some give and take on the part of the parent and child. The social convention rules are in this category.

An example of a Basket 'B' negotiation that happened at my house involved my Brother's wedding. My brother got married last year in Cancun. It was a beach wedding and my brother wanted the boys to wear white Izod shorts and baby blue Guayaberas. Guayaberas are a traditional Caribbean Island shirt. My 8 year old son hates to dress up and only has to do so on Christmas and Thanksgiving. He has khaki pants and a nylon dress shirt that he wears for these occasions and he wanted to just wear that to the wedding.

The wedding occurred prior to starting my son on medication. Before my youngest son was started on Vyvanse his sensory integration issues, oppositional defiance issues, and exerting his independence issues were in full flower. At that time he would only wear certain clothing. His daily costume consisted of one style of Nike sports pants and one style of shiny nylon sports shirts. He had such issues with clothing that I would search high and low on eBay for the exact style Nike sports pants and shiny sports shirts to buys so that I did not have to battle with him about his clothes.

One month prior to the wedding, the wedding wear arrived in the mail and, the Basket 'B' negotiations begun. He took one look at the shorts and shirts and said. "I am not wearing that." I explained to him that weddings were important; I explained to him that he loved his uncle and soon to be aunt, I explained to him that all his male cousins would be wearing the same thing. None of these arguments persuaded him in the least bit.

I asked him to make a suggestion for a compromise. He said he could not think of anything that would make this better. This is a common problem with children with ADHD. They have a lack of the internal language necessary to problem solve and need extra help in finding solutions to problems that they are having.

After a month of negotiations we came to the agreement that he had two choices.

1. Not go to the wedding and we would hire a baby sitter at the hotel to watch him during the ceremony.
2. Go to the wedding in the required clothing but it was agreed that we would bring a change of clothes and as soon as the ceremony was over he would have permission to change into his Nike sports pants and shiny athletic shirt.

He chose the second option but never did change into his Nike pant and athletic shirt.

All children, and especially children with ADHD, often feel as though they have little control over how they live their lives. Recognizing that not all rules are equally important will allow you as a parent to:

1. Consistently but kindly enforce the rules for which there is no wiggle room. (Basket 'A').
2. Negotiate the rules where a compromise can be reached. (Basket 'B').
3. Forget completely and waste no energy on the rules that are not important. (Basket 'C').

Having you and the ADHD child come to some agreement and compromise regarding some rules will not be that difficult for you. We already use this approach when compromising on disagreements that you may have with your co-workers, spouse, neighbors and peers. We compromise with these folks because we empathize with them and respect them. Our children deserve to be treated with respect and empathy as well.

Today my young son wears the wedding Guajabera just for kicks. He likes the way he looks in it. He even wears his brother's Guajabera if his is dirty. What a long way we have come at my house. The medication has helped tremendously but so have the 'baskets'. Hurray for Basket B!!

In my ADHD parents group a few parents have had very good success and improvement in ADHD behavior using a program called: the Calm  Child Program:  This program is a medication free approach to treating ADHD. 


  1. I have read this book but I love the way you put it together with the sensory isssues and the clothing issues. My 6 year old has a lot of sensory issues, which are ometimes hard to sort out from control issues, because the tights she won't wear to school she sometimes wears for dress up play. I really try to avoid power struggles over clothing with her but sometimes it is impossible. Thank you for this blog.

  2. Sarah, Thanks for your comment. I had often thought that I was losing my mind trying to clothes my son in a way that was comfortable for him (and me). Thanks for reading!!


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