Living with ADHD

Living with a child who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can be draining. The impulsive, fearless and chaotic behaviours typical of ADHD can make normal everyday activities exhausting and stressful.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

There are many areas that bring about their own issues when your child has ADHD, including:

  • Getting your child to sleep at night.
  • Arriving at school on time.
  • Listening to and carrying out instructions.
  • Social occasions.
  • Shopping.

Ways to Cope

It is difficult when things are going wrong, but it is important to remember a child with ADHD cannot help their behaviour. People with ADHD find it difficult to suppress impulses, which means they do not stop to consider a situation or the consequences before they act.

Plan the Day

Plan the day so your child knows what to expect. Set routines can make a difference to how a child with ADHD copes with everyday life. If your child has to get ready for school, for example, break it down into structured steps so they know what the daily chores are.

Set Clear Boundaries

Make sure everyone knows what behaviour is expected and reinforce positive behaviour with immediate praise or rewards. Be clear, using enforceable consequences if boundaries are overstepped (such as taking away a privilege) and follow these through consistently.

Be Positive

Give specific praise. Instead of saying a general, "Thanks for doing that," you could say, "You washed the dishes really well. Thank you." Your child will know you are pleased, and why.

Giving Instructions

If you are asking your child to do something, give brief instructions and be specific. Instead of asking, "Can you tidy your bedroom?" say, "Please put the Lego into the box and put the books back onto the shelf." This allows your child to achieve and creates opportunities for praise when they get it right.

Incentive Scheme

Set up your own incentive scheme using a points chart or star chart so good behaviour can earn a privilege. For example, behaving well on a shopping trip will earn your child time on the computer or a game of something. Involve your child in it and allow them to help decide what the privileges will be.

These charts need regular changes or they become boring. Targets should be:

  • Immediate (for example, daily).
  • Intermediate (for example, weekly).
  • Long-term (for example, three-monthly).

Try to focus on just one or two behaviours at once.

Intervene Early

Watch for warning signs.  If your child looks like they are becoming frustrated, overstimulated and about to lose self-control, intervene. Distract your child if possible, by taking them away from the situation, which may calm your child down.

Social Situations

Keep social situations short and sweet. Invite friends to play, but keep playtimes short so your child does not lose self-control. Do not aim to do this when your child is feeling low (for example, when they are feeling tired or hungry after a day at school).


Make sure your child gets lots of physical activity during the day. Walking, skipping and playing sport can help your child wear themselves out and improve their quality of sleep. Make sure they are not doing anything too strenuous or exciting near to bedtime.

Read more about health and fitness including information on getting active, and how much activity you and your child should be doing, on the Active Scotland website.


Keep an eye on what your child eats. If your child is hyperactive after eating certain foods, which may contain additives or caffeine, keep a diary of these and discuss with your GP.

Find out more about healthy eating on the Eat Better Feel Better website.


Stick to a routine. Make sure your child goes to bed at the same time each night and gets up at the same time in the morning. Avoid overstimulating activities in the hours before bedtime, such as computer games or watching TV.

Night Time

Sleep problems and ADHD can be a vicious circle. ADHD can lead to sleep problems, which in turn can make ADHD symptoms worse. Many children with ADHD will repeatedly get up after being put to bed and have interrupted sleep patterns. Trying a sleep-friendly routine can help your child and make bedtime less of a battleground.