Is It Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or Just Bad Behavior

May 24, 2011

You may have heard the comment, “Today children have ADHD; in my day, they were just called brats.”  As the parent of a child with ADHD, you may bristle or feel defensive when you hear this. But maybe you also wonder what is the difference between a badly behaved child and one with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder?

Certainly, the roughhousing and impulsive behavior, common in kids with ADHD, is also evident in all kids from time to time. What separates kids with ADHD from other kids is the consistency of the behaviors. The behavior of most kids falls apart when they are tired or in an exciting environment, but generally children can control their behavior when they are well-rested and in routine.

ADHD children usually continue their hyperactive, unfocused behavior in all settings—at school, at home, at the homes of friends, at doctors’ visits, and on outings. The behavior also persists over a longer period of time. For instance, a child without ADHD might have an outburst but will return to his/her normally good behavior quickly. This just isn’t possible for the child with ADHD.

The people who make the comment quoted in the first paragraph discount the lack of control a child has over his or her behavior. While it may appear that the squirming, fidgeting, noisy child is just being “bad,” the pain the child feels is not being taken into account. Invoking the wrath of teachers, parents, and even friends, ADHD children know that their behavior is unacceptable, but just knowing does not provide the tools needed to change the behavior.

If you have a child with ADHD, you are, no doubt, exhausted and frustrated. A solid diagnosis is the beginning of change for your child—and for you. There are many techniques that can help your child to change his behavior, and there will be a period of trial and error as you learn what works for your child. Just as you have taught and modeled good behavior for your other children, you will do similar things with your ADHD children. However, there are specific ways to help your impulsive child.

Mom’s Take:

As the parent of multiple children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, I understand how hard it is to stay calm and firm at the same time—especially through the initial stages of figuring out what actually works in your specific case. For instance, behavior charts are touted as being very helpful in modifying behavior for children with ADHD. In the case of one of my children, the charts just seemed to make things worse. I found myself embroiled in a daily battle of how many stickers he had actually earned. In his case, this very good idea just wasn’t good for him. During this period, his behavior actually worsened and tension in the house increased. While I kept reminding myself to stay calm, it was extremely challenging to do so.

It wasn’t until we implemented some other behavioral techniques that our home became more peaceful. Take a deep breath; you’ll get there.

Meanwhile, get some support. One group I found to be a great resource is Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder, C.H.A.D.D. To find a support group near you, see http://www.chadd.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Find_Local_CHADD_Chapters.

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