How to Discipline Children With Behavior Problems

While all children misbehave sometimes, some kids need discipline more often than others. In particular, children with neurobehavioral disorders, like attention deficit disorder, often have more serious discipline problems. Besides getting frustrated easily, ADHD kids can be unpredictable and hot-tempered -- a challenging combination for any parent. In the April/May 2006 issue of “ADDitude” magazine, Dr. Thomas W. Phelan, a clinical psychologist and author of “1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12,” suggests praising a difficult child more and criticizing him less.

Provide Positive Feedback

Dr. Phelan points out that criticism chips away at a child’s self-confidence, whereas praise builds self-esteem. A child who is sure of himself is usually more willing to cooperate. Kids benefit from feedback, and the more positive, the better. Another strategy is to create a physical connection. An article on the Scholastic website points out that a simple touch on the shoulder can help focus a difficult child’s attention to what you are saying. Touch is calming, and it also connects you with your child.

Define Expectations

Let your child know you expect good behavior, says the AskDrSears website 3. This is where setting clear boundaries comes in. Your child needs to know up front not only the behavior you expect, but also what consequences -- both positive and negative -- she can expect for her behavior. Sending your child the message that you know she will act appropriately can be effective as well. Allowing a youngster to make choices gives her a feeling of having some power over her life. It also gives her the opportunity to learn from her mistakes and teaches her that her actions affect her life.

Establish Consequences

Positive consequences that provide solutions to problems are an effective way to change your child’s behavior 2. In an article for Empowering Parents, behavioral therapist James Lehman points out that the goal of establishing consequences is to guide your child toward desired behavior 4. It's important to know in advance what it is you want a consequence to accomplish. If your child makes the effort to do something you want, then allow him to do something he wants, or reward him in a way meaningful to him. Impose fair consequences that teach a lesson rather than leave him feeling angrier and more upset. Explain to your child that consequences are a way for him to learn and aren’t meant to punish.

Use Time Outs

Using a time out can be an effective discipline strategy for a child of any age who loses control easily. It gives your child a chance to calm herself and reflect on her behavior. However, a time out isn’t effective if your child sees it as a punishment. Although you need to be firm, you must remain calm when giving a time out. The last thing you want to do is to lose control yourself and escalate the situation. When your child settles down and the two of you can talk reasonably, that’s the time to discuss any additional consequences for her behavior.