Punishing Children with ADHD – What is Effective?

To Spank or Not to Spank…


Effective discipline goes a long way.

This is a hot topic. Punishing children with ADHD can be very tricky and also very stressful. I won’t get into the debates over whether to spank or not to spank. The experts don’t even agree on this one. I will, however, state my position on the matter. I believe that physical punishment should only be used when the child is doing something unsafe and only if it can be done with parental emotions under control. It should never, ever be done out of anger. Physical punishment done out of anger is more harmful and not effective and tends to precipitate abuse. That’s my position. That being said, I’ve spanked my son three times in his life. He is nine years old now, his last spanking was when he was three years old.

Rules and Consequences

To apply effective punishment, we need to understand why we are punishing. It isn’t because they did something we don’t like. Our job, as parents, is to teach our children to follow the rules. They must conform to society’s laws. They must learn that, whether they agree or not, breaking the rules is not acceptable. This is the reason we punish. This must be considered each time.

We shouldn’t be punishing children for breaking rules that aren’t clear. The rules should be established first and they should be very clear. Do not do this and do not do that. We should be teaching them that for every action there is an equal and appropriate consequence. In other words, the punishment should fit the crime. So spanking them for not cleaning up their toys doesn’t fit.


Consequences should fit the crime.

Examples of Appropriate Consequences

Rule                                    Consequence

  1. Pick up your toys before bed.          Toys are taken away for a week.
  2. No hitting your brother.                   No playing together for the rest of the day.
  3. TV off by 8pm.                                    No TV tomorrow.
  4. No throwing food.                             Eat in the kitchen alone.

The consequence should naturally fit with the rule that was broken. You may have to be creative with it but it should always be a natural fit. My son kept slamming his bedroom door in an angry fit, so he lost his door for a week. That was at four years old. It hasn’t happened again. Notice also, we are punishing behaviors. We’re giving consequences for actions. We are not telling them they are bad. We are not destroying their sense of self-worth by putting them down or losing our temper and yelling at them. I know it’s easier said than done, they can really push our buttons. I’ve done my fair share of yelling and I can tell you from experience, it’s not effective. All it does is scare him and it doesn’t make him remember what he’s supposed to do.



One simple warning is enough.

When my son breaks a newly established rule, he gets one warning. Honey, you’re late. Remember your curfew is 7pm. If you’re late again without calling, you won’t be allowed to play the next day. “Okay Mom. I forgot, I’m sorry.” Beyond that, he gets the appropriate consequence. Repeated warnings send the message that you don’t mean what you say. You don’t want them to get that message. Things need to stay clear and simple for children. One warning and then take action.

We also don’t want to over explain. Remember, children with ADHD have short attention spans. We want them to know why they shouldn’t do something. So explain that when the rule is set. But when the rule is broken we should be firm and brief. You did this, it’s against the rule, here’s the consequence. No negotiating, no explanations, no giving in. Remember that if you give up your authority to your child, it will be a nightmare trying to get it back. This is the rule, you follow it, or this is the consequence. Period.



Pick your battles.

This can be one of the most frustrating things. We’re trying to teach them and they get this bad attitude with us. I don’t necessarily have this as a rule in my house. Children have emotions too but the big difference is that they haven’t learned how to properly cope with them. When my son was three, I explained to him, you can get mad at me, that’s perfectly okay. But you cannot hit me. You can tell me you’re mad, but you need to do so respectfully.

Respect is a rule in my house. He’s allowed to pretty much say whatever he wants to as long as he does so respectfully. That means no name calling, no yelling, and no putting down. Respect is very clearly defined. He’s allowed to roll his eyes or roll his neck all he wants, I ignore that. It doesn’t happen often anymore. Rolling his eyes at me really doesn’t hurt anything so I’ve chosen not to fight that battle because there are so many other battles to fight that are much more important. Pick your battles.

A Creative Approach

When my son gets an attitude with me, I give him a warning. I say, “Attitudy.” It stops immediately. I’ve never had an issue with him pushing it beyond that. I’m sure that will change when he becomes a teenager. But for now, the warning works. I taught my son to respect me when he was three years old. It was the hardest lesson ever to teach him. The consequence for being disrespectful was time alone. This was his currency, and still is, because he can’t stand being alone. However, I couldn’t just send him to his room for a time out. He wouldn’t stay in there so things would escalate out of control.

Instead, I would go to my room for an hour…and lock my door. It wasn’t punishing me because I had a TV, stereo, books, and a computer in my room. I could do whatever I wanted, and he couldn’t stop me! The first two or three times, he stood at the door throwing an absolute fit. Screaming, crying, and beating on the door. I ignored him the entire hour and let him throw his fit. Then suddenly the disrespect stopped and hasn’t reappeared since. He figured out I meant it. Now a simple, one word, warning does the trick. Every time.




Do you have similar methods?  Different methods that work?  Please don’t hesitate to share your own experiences below by clicking on the response link next to my name.  I welcome all feedback.