Breast Milk Best for Premature Babies’ Brain Development

Premature babies show better brain development when fed breast milk rather than formula, according to a new study.

Premature birth has been linked to an increased possibility of problems with learning and thinking skills in later life, which are thought to be linked to alterations in brain development, according to researchers at the University of Edinburgh.

Previous studies have shown that pre-term birth is associated with changes in the part of the brain’s structure that helps brain cells communicate with one another, known as white matter.

For their study, researchers studied MRI brain scans from 47 babies from a study group known as the Theirworld Edinburgh Birth Cohort.

The babies were born before 33 weeks gestation. Scans took place when they reached term-equivalent age, an average of 40 weeks from conception, the researchers reported.

The researchers also collected information about how the infants had been fed while in intensive care — either formula milk or breast milk from the mother or a donor.

The study found that babies who exclusively received breast milk for at least three-quarters of the days they spent in hospital showed improved brain connectivity.

The effects were greatest in babies who were fed breast milk for a greater proportion of their time spent in intensive care, the researchers discovered.

“Our findings suggest that brain development in the weeks after preterm birth is improved in babies who receive greater amounts of breast milk,” said Professor James Boardman, director of the Jennifer Brown Research Laboratory at the University of Edinburgh.

“This study highlights the need for more research to understand the role of early life nutrition for improving long-term outcomes for pre-term babies.”

“Mothers of pre-term babies should be supported to provide breast milk while their baby is in neonatal care — if they are able to and if their baby is well enough to receive milk — because this may give their children the best chance of healthy brain development,” he concluded.

The study was published in the journal NeuroImage.

Source: University of Edinburgh

Photo: The data suggest that brain connections in preterm babies are improved with greater amounts of breast milk in the weeks after birth. Credit: Jennifer Brown Research Laboratory, the University of Edinburgh.

Fish-Rich Diet in Pregnancy May Boost Baby’s Brain, Eye Development

Women who eat a diet rich in fatty fish can help boost their child’s brain function and eyesight, according to a small Finnish study published in the journal Pediatric Research.

The new findings support previous studies that emphasize the importance of an expectant mother’s diet and lifestyle choices when it comes to the development of her baby.

Study leader Kirsi Laitinen, from the University of Turku and Turku University Hospital, says that a mother’s diet during pregnancy and breastfeeding is the main way for valuable long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids to become available to a fetus during the period of maximum brain growth in the first years of a child’s life.

Such fatty acids help shape nerve cells important to eyesight, particularly in the retina. They are also important in forming the synapses that are vital in the transport of messages between neurons in the nervous system.

For the study, the researchers looked at the results of 56 mothers and their children drawn from a larger study. The mothers had to keep a regular food diary during the course of their pregnancy. Fluctuations in their weight before and during pregnancy were taken into account, along with their blood sugar levels and blood pressure. The researchers also took into account whether the mothers had smoked or developed pregnancy-related diabetes.

The researchers took note of the levels of nutritional long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid sources in the mother’s diet and blood serum, as well as the children’s blood levels by the age of one month.

The children were tested again around their second birthday using pattern reversal visual evoked potentials (pVEP). This sensitive and accurate, non-invasive method is used to detect visual functioning within a young child’s visual system.

The subsequent analyses of the visual test results showed that babies whose mothers ate fish three or more times a week during the last trimester of their pregnancy fared better than those whose mothers ate no fish or only up to two portions per week. These observations were further substantiated when the serum phospholipid fatty acid status was measured.

“The results of our study suggest that frequent fish consumption by pregnant women is of benefit for their unborn child’s development. This may be attributable to long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids within fish, but also due to other nutrients like vitamin D and E, which are also important for development,” says Laitinen.

“Our study therefore highlights the potential importance of subtle changes in the diet of healthy women with uncompromised pregnancies, beyond prematurity or nutritional deficiencies, in regulating infantile neurodevelopment,” adds Laitinen, who believes the new findings should be incorporated into diet counseling for pregnant women.

Source: Springer

Brief CBT Can Benefit Women Caring for Kids with Severe Health Issues

A new study finds that brief cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can significantly improve the mental health of women overwhelmed by caring for children with severe chronic health conditions, such as cerebral palsy or cystic fibrosis.

Brief CBT, a short-term goal-oriented form of psychotherapy, offers a hands-on practical approach to problem-solving and focuses on changing patterns of thinking or behavior to help alleviate negative thoughts and improve recognition of one’s own ability to cope.

“Women caring for children with chronic conditions such as cerebral palsy and cystic fibrosis are at high risk for depressive symptoms,” said Lynne Hall, Dr.P.H., R.N., associate dean of research and professor at the University of Louisville (UofL) School of Nursing.

“They have many things to juggle, including caring for the child, administering medications and coordinating physician and therapy visits. They’re stressed and overwhelmed by the amount of care their children require and the number of hours a day it takes.”

The findings show that, after five therapy sessions, study participants reported significantly decreased depressive symptoms, negative thinking and chronic stressors, and experienced improved sleep quality.

The study also suggests that women caring for children with serious health conditions should be screened for depression and that CBT can be an important treatment for this population, Hall said.

The study involved 94 female caregivers with high levels of depressive symptoms. Each was randomly assigned to either a control group or an intervention group which received five 45 to 60-minute sessions of CBT.

The participants were given homework that focused on examples of cognitive distortions with positive substitutions, a thoughts log and instructions for practicing relaxation.

“A lot of these women said they felt very isolated and there was no one who would listen to them,” said Catherine Batscha, D.N.P., a psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner who provided CBT to the study participants.

“Because of their child’s care requirements, the women had difficulty getting together with friends because they couldn’t hire a babysitter who knows about medical equipment or complex health conditions, so people were cut off from a lot of social support.”

About 15 million children in the United States have special health care needs and women constitute 72 percent of the caregivers of those children.

Hall presented the study findings at the Council for the Advancement of Nursing Science at the State of the Science Congress on Nursing Research in Washington, D.C.

Source: University of Louisville



Spiritual Upbringing Tied to Better Physical, Mental Health in Adulthood

Participating in spiritual practices during childhood and adolescence may help buffer against a number of negative health outcomes in early adulthood, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that people who attended weekly religious services or practiced daily prayer or meditation in their youth report greater life satisfaction and positivity in their 20s. They were also less likely to develop depressive symptoms, smoke, use illicit drugs, or have a sexually transmitted infection compared to those raised with less regular spiritual habits.

“These findings are important for both our understanding of health and our understanding of parenting practices,” said first author Dr. Ying Chen, who recently completed her postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard Chan School.

“Many children are raised religiously, and our study shows that this can powerfully affect their health behaviors, mental health, and overall happiness and well-being.”

Previous research has suggested a link between adults’ religious involvement and better health and well-being outcomes, including a lower risk of premature death.

For the new study, Chen and senior author Dr. Tyler VanderWeele, John L. Loeb and Frances Lehman Loeb Professor of Epidemiology, analyzed health data from mothers in the Nurses’ Health Study II (NHSII) and their children in the Growing Up Today Study (GUTS).

The sample included more than 5,000 youth who were tracked for 8 to 14 years. The researchers controlled for many variables such as maternal health, socioeconomic status, and history of substance abuse or depressive symptoms, to separate the specific factor of religious upbringing.

The findings reveal that people who attended religious services at least weekly in childhood and adolescence were approximately 18 percent more likely to report greater happiness as young adults (ages 23-30) than those who never attended services. They were also 29 percent more likely to volunteer in their communities and 33 percent less likely to use illicit drugs.

Participants who prayed or meditated at least daily while growing up were 16 percent more likely to report greater happiness as young adults, 30 percent less likely to have started having sex at a young age, and 40% less likely to have a sexually transmitted infection compared to those who never prayed or meditated.

“While decisions about religion are not shaped principally by health, for adolescents who already hold religious beliefs, encouraging service attendance and private practices may be meaningful avenues to protect against some of the dangers of adolescence, including depression, substance abuse, and risk taking. In addition, these practices may positively contribute to happiness, volunteering, a greater sense of mission and purpose, and to forgiveness,” VanderWeele said.

One study limitation is that it primarily tracked children of white females of relatively high family socioeconomic status, and therefore might not be generalizable to a broader population, though previous research by VanderWeele suggested the effects of religious service attendance for adults may be even larger for black versus white populations. Another limitation was that the study did not investigate the influences of parents and peers on adolescents’ religious decisions.

While previous research on adult populations have found religious service attendance tends to have a greater association with better health and well-being than prayer or meditation, the current study of adolescents found communal and private spiritual practices to be of roughly similar benefit.

Source: Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Does My Daughter Have an Eating Disorder?

Eating disorders can be easy to hide. Know what to look for.

Often when I work with parents they say they had no idea their child’s eating disorder was going on as long as it was. Eating disorders are easy to hide so it’s important, as a parent to be aware of what signs you should look for in your child.

Eating disorders are secretive and can be very easy to hide from loved ones, especially in the beginning. Sometimes, the person experiencing an eating disorder is not fully aware that what they are doing is not healthy so it makes it that much more important for parents to be fully educated on what to look for and what to do if they suspect an eating disorder is developing. Often eating disorders occur in those that are successful and bright. It can be hard to associate the word “disorder” with someone who has seems to have it together and is doing well on the outside.

When the Mind Becomes Hijacked by an Eating Disorder

I’ve worked with clients in eating disorder recovery who often look back at the behaviors they were engaging in months ago and are shocked that they did not fully realize what they were doing. Sometimes people refer to an eating disorder as feeling like a “zombie” or an “out of body experience” where it does not feel like the actual person. The mind is not rational and their thinking is distorted. But they are not able to see that until they start their recovery journey and find their healthy self again. Getting your healthy self back and finding complete recovery from an eating disorder is absolutely possible! Catching it in its early stages always helps.

An eating disorder is all encompassing. However, it does not start out this way, it can start slowly and if it goes unnoticed (which happens often) an eating disorder grows and becomes stronger, making it harder to treat. This is why it’s so important for parents to monitor their child’s eating behaviors and have conversations around how they feel about their body image.

It’s important to remember that eating disorders can affect boys as well as girls. Movies portray eating disorders to fit a certain stereotype when in actuality eating disorders can impact people of all races, genders and backgrounds. There are often different signs to look for in boys versus girls for eating disorder behaviors. Below are signs to look for in your adolescent daughter.

Eating Disorder Red Flags:

Body image issues:

  • This can encompass a wide array of things to monitor. If she’s uncomfortable being in a bathing suit, if she resists back to school shopping, or if she talks about her weight and body shape in a negative way.  
  • If she only wears certain clothes to help cover up the areas that she is embarrassed about on her body. This can be anywhere on the body from her neck, to stomach or legs.
  • You may notice during the summer months she is eating less, making comments about areas of her body she is not happy with or feels more anxious/depressed. Summer months are extremely hard for those who struggle with body image issues and bathing suit season can often lead to increased eating disorder behaviors. If your daughter is starting to develop body image issues this alone is a good reason to find a therapist to connect with and help her work through her negative body image.

Negative Reactions Around Food:

  • If she feels guilty or depressed after eating something that she believes is unhealthy, will make her gain weight or “feels fat” after eating one thing. These are signs of fear foods that she is developing and often leads to restricting and creating food rules.
  • If she feels uncomfortable eating in front of other people, in public places or at school.
  • If she is hiding food that she ate in her bedroom or you find wrappers of candy, chips, etc. this can be a common occurrence with binge eating disorder.

Perfectionist Personality and Mood Disorders:

  • If she tends to have a perfectionist personality, uses black and white thinking and is hard on herself. Perfectionism is a very common personality trait for those who suffer from eating disorders.
  • Any history and/or current anxiety, OCD or major depression can underlie an eating disorder and the eating disorder behaviors are ways of expressing the mood disorder.

The Bottom Line

If you suspect that your daughter is suffering from body image issues and/or an eating disorder have her get an assessment from a therapist that specializes in eating disorder treatment. If you suspect that there is an issue, often that suspicion is accurate. There are many different forms of eating issues outside of the bulimia and anorexia diagnosis. Disordered eating and binge eating disorder are often missed but can still be very impairing and deserve professional treatment.

One mistake I sometimes see is that parents write it off as “normal teen girl behavior” and wait until it’s become more severe to get help. Eating disorders are often much worse and more far along than they appear at the surface, which is why an assessment is important. Getting help early is vital to your child’s health and wellbeing. Getting an assessment could save her life.

How Losing a Mom Early Impacts Religiosity

Teenagers who lose a religious mother to an untimely death are less likely to attend church as young adults, while teens who lose a non-religious mom are more likely to seek the comfort of spiritual practices, especially prayer.

Researcher Renae Wilkinson, sociologist and doctoral candidate at Baylor University’s College of Arts & Sciences, said a mother’s death during childhood is “an off-time death, when our norms break down.”

“A child may wonder why God chose to take the mother away so soon and could turn away from God, or turn toward God as a compensatory figure.”

The findings are complex, however, as overall, teens in the study who experienced a mother’s death were less likely to attend church, but were still more likely to say that religion is important in their lives as young adults.

“These findings suggest that there is a complex relationship between mother loss and religiosity, and it is one that may depend on maternal religiousness,” said Wilkinson.

“For children dealing with a mother’s death, the loss is not only distressing, but also likely to violate beliefs about the timing of life transitions and to challenge ideas about the fairness of the world,” Wilkinson said.

“This is a disruptive event at an already disruptive time of life — the transition from adolescence to young adulthood involves role changes related to education, family and romantic relationships that experiencing the death of one’s mother may complicate.”

Previous research has shown that in general, children tend to mirror their parents in matters of faith over time, whether that be religiosity or atheism. And a study from the Pew Research Center suggests mothers have more influence on their children’s religious upbringings than fathers, especially in families with parents of mixed religious backgrounds.

For the new study, Wilkinson looked at data from two waves of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health. The first was conducted in 1994 and 1995 with in-depth interviews of a nationally representative sample of American adolescents in grades 7-12.

The next wave was conducted in 2008, when participants were young adults ages 24 to 34. The final sample was limited to 10,748 of the initial participants, allowing comparison of those whose mothers were alive and those whose mothers were dead.

The study looked at four aspects of both mothers’ and children’s religiosity: affiliation with a religious tradition, attendance at religious services, prayer and how important religion was to an individual. (To assess mother’s religiosity, prayer was not included because it is considered private and likely to be less observable to children.)

“This study is an initial contribution to an understudied topic,” Wilkinson said. She said that future research could compare the impact of the loss of a mother to the loss of a father and how those results might differ by the gender of the bereaved child.

In addition, the research would need to examine other outcomes after experiencing a parental death throughout the transition to adulthood, such as psychological well-being and physical health.

The study is published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.

Source: Baylor University


Surviving Back to School Anxiety

The end of summer brings about an assortment of mixed feelings. For families with school aged children one of those feelings is often anxiety. Both parents and children alike may be worried about the new school year, and for many those worries can be tough to handle.

A little nervousness as the school year begins is normal. Both parents and kids will have concerns about the new expectations, academic challenges, social environment and managing the new, likely hectic, schedule. But when does school anxiety become more than a little nervousness and what do you need to do when it does?

Kids of all ages can experience anxiety when going back to school. For most it is the fear of the unknown and concern that they will somehow fail at their assigned tasks. These worries may not always be expressed verbally, but rather through actions, behaviors, or physical symptoms. Children may suddenly develop a variety of ailments like stomach aches, headaches, or restless sleep. Or they may act out, becoming angry, oppositional or withdrawn.

It is easy to want talk to them about why they are acting the way they are and try to get them to communicate about it, but generally kids do not want to open up. And at young ages many won’t be able to pinpoint the reasons. Instead try giving them opportunities to express their feelings in a physical way, such as game play or a creative activity like art. It can also help to do what you can to make their environment and circumstances more comfortable.

If your child is struggling with anxiety related to school, try some of the following:

  • Talk in positive terms. Children listen to everything you say and the way you say it (even if you don’t think so). Make sure you talk about school in the most positive manner. Highlight the cool new things that the year will bring and perhaps relate it to your own personal enjoyment of school. Watch out for talking in terms like, “math is so hard this year,” “social studies bored me to tears,” or “P.E was the worst.” Hearing you talk like this will give them unspoken permission to see things the same way and not give school a chance.
  • Point out the fun. Each year brings new opportunities. Get excited for and with your child over these things. New field trips, new subjects, and new projects can all be made fun. Your enthusiasm will be noticed and remembered.
  • Help them find friends. Social anxiety is a big issue for many kids, especially if they are naturally shy. Encourage new friendships by setting up play dates, after school activities, or enrolling your child in new activities. If you have a chance, you might even pay attention to the kids in the classroom or playground that look like they would be a good fit as a friend. Suggesting that your son or daughter might have things in common and would enjoy them might give them some direction. Be careful about being too overbearing about this though. Trying to choose your child’s friends can backfire.
  • Talk to the teacher. A conversation with the teacher about your child’s anxiety can help as well. Teachers generally like to know when a child is having difficulties. Most teachers will work with you and your son or daughter to ensure the environment feels comfortable and safe for them.

Anxiety symptoms will likely go away within the first week or so, but for some anxiety can be more serious. Social pressures, fear of bullying, and even the many news stories regarding school safety can affect children deeply and cause problems that go on for some time.

If nothing you have tried works and you are still dealing with debilitating anxiety in your child, you may need to seek help from your family physician or a counselor. Anxiety issues in children are on the rise and while most will get through things with family support, some will need more.

As parents we want the best and happiest experiences for our kids. Childhood is supposed to be fun, formative and educational.  When dealing with an anxious or constantly worried child and your efforts to alleviate the problems aren’t working, it can be difficult to know what to do. Don’t discount the experience of those people who work with your child on a regular basis. Teachers and principals are good resources. They may not be able to solve the problems, but it is likely that they can help point you in the right direction for assistance if you need it.

Whether it is kindergarten or college, anxiety at the start of a new school year is normal. You may not remember (or maybe you remember all too well), but you probably experienced it as well. No matter if it is short-lived or more serious your child will need you to be patient and supportive as they work through things. Take comfort in knowing that you are not alone and that it will likely to get better as their comfort level with the new environment grows.

Important Lessons We Learn from Our Kids

We teach our kids lots of things. We teach them how to read and how to share. We teach them to do chores and to work hard. We teach them how to make good decisions and how to drive. We teach them what it means to be good citizens.

But we aren’t exclusively educators, mentors and tutors. We’re students, too. And our children are pretty incredible teachers.

[M]y kids teach me much more than I teach them,” said Emily Fonnesbeck, RD, a mom of four and a registered dietitian in southern Utah specializing in disordered eating, eating disorders and body image concerns. She’s learned so much about herself, about her strengths and weaknesses, while raising her kids.

For instance, she’s not very patient, and can easily lose her cool if she’s not careful. But she’s also a hard worker who embraces challenges. She’s also very organized and keeps up with her kids and their many activities. And she can improve on the weaknesses and pass on her positive traits—as her kids watch her use them.

Because that’s another critical lesson Fonnesbeck has learned: It doesn’t really matter what she says; what matters is what she does. “[T]he thing they will always remember is my example.”

In fact, that’s how she knows which traits she needs to work on: “I see what [my kids] need to improve on and realize that I’ve got to be a better example of those things. If I’m impatient with them or one of their siblings, they will be impatient with themselves and each other.”

Before Sarah Argenal became a mom, she thought she had to be the expert, teaching her kids everything they needed to know about life. “I came into our relationship with a ‘superior’ status, and I took on the responsibilities and arrogance that can come along with that type of power,” said Argenal, MA, CPC, who writes, speaks, consults and leads interactive trainings on work/life balance, intentional living, and connected family relationships for busy professionals at

But just a few weeks after the birth of her first son, she realized that she needed to surrender her agenda and support him instead. She realized she needed to let her son lead, and she needed to follow. So she started listening more, and letting his struggles, needs and desires spark his growth and her’s.

Today, Argenal focuses on providing her sons with the space to explore who they are. Because they’re not property to shape and mold, she said. Rather, they’re souls who’ve entrusted her with holding their hand on their journey—a powerful privilege.

Practically, Argenal does this by never comparing her kids to other kids. Because doing so disrespects her sons’ experiences. Each son is “his own person, and he’s going to have a unique blend of strengths and abilities than every other child out there.” Argenal focuses on celebrating exactly where each child is at, instead of making them feel like they’re “ahead” or “behind” someone else. “Doing that just sets [them] up for a lifetime of anxiety about how [they] measure up to others, and that’s not something I want [them] to worry about.”

Argenal also makes sure to be honest with them (in an age-appropriate way). For instance, her five-year-old son asks lots of questions about life, everything from “Where do babies come from?” to “Why is that man sleeping on the sidewalk?” to “Why is that little girl bald?” and it’s tempting for Argenal to try to protect him.

“I don’t hide things from him. I don’t try to polish reality. Sometimes life is hard, and I want my son to be able to handle that. Together we talk about the best way to manage his emotions about what he’s learning. Most importantly, he knows I’ll always be straight with him whenever he comes to me.”

My daughter will be two years old this fall. Like Fonnesbeck, I, too, find my weaknesses emphasized in flashing lights: my natural tendency to fixate on chores instead of fun, my tendency to get overwhelmed easily, my thin patience, my rigidity, my compulsion to control.

Children are unpredictable. They nap today, but not tomorrow. They get sick and miss a week of school. They’re ecstatic one minute, and have a meltdown the next. Today they love blueberries. Tomorrow you find them all over the house. Kids are constantly changing—sometimes it feels like every second. This includes their needs, wants, preferences and abilities. So everything.

When you prefer to live and breathe certainty and schedules, the unpredictably can be tough, no matter how small it might be. I’m learning to go with the flow and embrace uncertainty (or at least not flee from it). I’m learning to pivot, and let some things go. I’m learning to focus on the beautiful, kind-hearted miracle standing right before me, to sing and dance with her, sometimes after the dishes are done, sometimes before.

When talking about myself, I’m trying to be kinder (and it’s hard), because I don’t want my daughter to learn that you talk to yourself with cruelty and contempt. I want her to be comfortable with respecting, honoring and loving herself.

And, as Fonnesbeck said, I’m learning I have a lot to learn. And I’m learning I mess up a lot, too.

“Having kids is just like holding up a mirror on yourself all day,” Fonnesbeck said. “It’s like putting yourself under a microscope.” Which is why being a parent teaches us lessons we might’ve not learned any other way, she said.

“At the end of the day, my kids don’t need me to be perfect, though, I just hope they see me always learning from mistakes and recommitting to being better.”

“The most important life lessons have come from my kids,” said Argenal. “The more open I am to giving them space to show me who they are, the more I learn. Life as a mom is very different than I expected, but it’s also an adventure. It’s messy and exhausting and surprising. But it’s the biggest privilege of my life to walk alongside my kids and offer whatever love and support I can… the rest is up to them.”

Parents Guide for Disciplining Kids with ADHD

Author imageReceiving our son’s diagnosis of ADHD shed light as to why standard parenting advice wasn’t really working in our home. Understanding our son’s non-neurotypical condition enabled us to be more effective parents as we researched beneficial parenting techniques for children with ADHD.

For those parents who have been struggling to discipline their children with ADHD, I will go through the research we found which revolutionized our parenting practices and helped our son improve his behavior.

Discipline Starts with the Parents’ Personal Discipline

The behavioral foundation for any child starts in the home, and this concept goes double for a child dealing with ADHD. In a study found in the scholarly journal published by the Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America, researchers identified that dysfunctional parenting practices were often the key to changing common problem behaviors in children with ADHD, such as:

  • Struggles with homework which extended to forgetfulness, constant reminders needed, inattention, carelessness, and disorganized.
  • Lacking the independence to follow a daily routine on their own, noncompliance with chore duties, resisting bedtimes and morning routines.
  • Aggressive behavior and outburst aimed at siblings and parents.  

What the study particularly noted was that the parenting practices which did not work for children with ADHD were centered on the parents who handed out punitive, power assertive, and/or inconsistent discipline. To help parents move away from this form of discipline, the researcher recommends behavioral parenting training to help parents learn better ways to work with their children who have ADHD.

Lastly, an observation I found interesting was made by researchers who published their research in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. They discussed the link between a father’s lack of parenting consistency and its strong association with a child’s inattentive ADHD symptoms.

It was posited that as fathers generally have less of a caregiving role, they need to be even more conscious of their parenting practices. As inconsistency will not only trigger negative behaviors in the child but also add to the stress of the mothers, who are often the main caregivers, consistent discipline from both parents is vital to help a child with ADHD become more disciplined. As a father, this study made me re-evaluate how well I was supporting my wife as a co-parent and partner.

Reinforce Positive Behaviors and Ignore Negative Outburst

To begin altering less effective parenting behaviors today to improve the effectiveness of your discipline efforts, you will need to focus on reinforcing positive behaviors rather than reacting to negative behaviors. A study from the Behavioral and Brain Functions scholarly journal found results which indicated that children with ADHD respond even better to positive reinforcement due to their brain’s higher sensitivity to seeking rewarding stimuli.

This result can be confusing for parents, who ask why the child with ADHD is misbehaving if they really want rewarding stimuli. However, what us parents perceive as a reward is different to a child with ADHD.

For their highly active minds, any form of engagement is a rewarding stimulus. Say the child throw a fit over doing homework, and the parents engage in punishment with time-outs or privilege removal. The child with an ADHD has already had their reward as their brain has received the engagement it craved.

Instead, it is recommended that parents ignore these outbursts as long as no one is endangered. Once the child has calmed down, re-engage with the child. If they continually find no rewarding attention for their outburst but the parents focus on actively praising positive behaviors, children with ADHD will naturally begin to focus on expressing the desired behaviors. Many behavior modification programs focus on this form of discipline, as it has been highly effective in creating change.

One Effective Solution for When the Negative Behavior Cannot Be Ignored

While children with ADHD may be wired to seek high levels of stimulation and activity, it can become too much for them, and they will experience a meltdown in their ability to regulate themselves. To assist your child during this time, parents should provide a safe place for their children to regain their mental and emotional composure.

This time-out/quiet place should not be used to punish, or it will become ineffective. Instead, present it to your child as a time and place where your child can process their feelings. The area should be distraction-free to allow your child to focus on processing their overwhelmed feelings. Working with your child’s school district to develop an individual education plan (IEP) can also ensure that your child has a place like this when at school.  

Lastly, while researching how to discipline a child with ADHD, I saw that many studies noted that children with ADHD often had co-morbid conditions, such as Oppositional Defiant Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. As you work on implementing strategies, I would definitely recommend you investigate if your child had any additional issues which may help you understand how to provide appropriate discipline for their needs.  


Skip to toolbar