I sat stunned at what I was hearing. New parent clients were telling me the advice they had received about the importance of implementing structure for their child with ADHD. To paraphrase, “Parents must enforce structure by any means necessary up to and including physical punishment even if that means applying that punishment several times a day”. And then I cried with the parents, as they sheepishly admitted they had tried this and realized it wasn’t going to work. (Full disclosure, this advice came from a pastor not a licensed counselor or physician.)
I realize advocating the use of physical punishment is extreme, but it does highlight the fact that “structure” is often confused with “control”. Providing structure for a person with ADHD means providing a supportive environment that ensures that person is successful, not punishing them when they make a mistake.
Parents should be careful not to confuse “supportive environment” with overcompensating for their child. A structured environment is organized and predictable and must include these components:
- Developmentally realistic expectations
- Consistent house rules applied consistently by each parent
- Written processes and schedules for completing daily routines
- Positive reinforcement methods to direct and re-direct effort
Structured environments help humans (not just ADHD humans) learn a multitude of personal life skills like putting responsibility before privilege, time management, decision making, transitioning between activities, and task initiation. Families who implement a positive, supportive structure in their home report lower stress levels and improved parent/child relationships. These families also report higher levels of independence for the children.
Take some time to think about where you could use supportive structure instead of punishment to improve your child’s performance.
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