Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)/Punishing Niece


QUESTION: My niece Emily is 20, and has ADHD. She stays at my house a lot, and she's usually well behaved. But sometimes she gets totally out of control. I use to just put her in time-out, but her mom said that if I treat her like she's 5, she's gonna act like she's 5. So this week while Em was at my house, I talked to her. I told her that if she's acting her age, and I think she needs some alone time, I'll tell her to take an "adult time-out." I told her she can go anywhere in the house or even outside, as long as she separates from everyone, and has some time to herself. But I told her if she's acting childish and disobeys, I'll tell her to go to the time-out hallway, and she'd have to sit on a stool for 15-20 minutes. For example, the other day she threw a fork at my son to get his attention. He wasn't hurt, and she apologized and said she forgot to stop and think. But I made her sit on a stool in the time-out hall while everyone else ate lunch because she had acted childish. And another example is another day she told my other son to get away from her, so I knew she needed alone time. I told her to take an "adult time-out" so she went outside for a bit. What do you think of this idea?

ANSWER: Hello Claire,

I am not sure if I can help you. A 20 year old person is usually going to college and working, and building a life for herself, even with ADHD. She must have other serous problems to be so dependent on others. You are treating her like a little child. Is her IQ low, or is she of normal intelligence?

As to time out, I don't agree with that. I would have her apologize to the other person when she does something then leave it at that. To tell her that she needs to be alone for a few minutes until she is ready to treat others nicely would be all right but I would not call it a time out. But to have her sit in the hall while others are eating is very punishing and would not be good for her self-esteem.

I need more information to properly advise you.


---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Emily's working, going to school, and she's even engaged. She's of normal intelligence. She's just REALLY immature sometimes. And her mom gives her way too much freedom, so that may be part of it. When she's here I like to have her well-structured with rules and boundaries. I figure that if she gets punished for once, she outgrow the immaturity. I have the same rules and consequences for my kids who range in ages 8-21.

Hello Claire,

You are probably not going to like what I have to say. Giving a twenty year old or normal intelligence time out is outrageous punishment. I hope you are not that controlling with your own children. Punishing her for telling your son to get away from her is also outrageous. She has a right at her age to tell someone to leave her alone if she doesn't want their company. The most she should have received is a reminder that she is old enough to know better than to throw the fork and not do it again, and a reminder to be kind to your son if she doesn't want him to be around her and ask him more politely to leave her alone.  That is it and all that should have been done.

The purpose of parenting is to prepare a child for independence as soon as possible, not control and regulate their every move. Children need choices as soon as they can understand what you are saying. You start by giving them choices between two or three outfits they can wear to school, choice between which veggies they would like to have for dinner, whether they want to go to bed now and get a nice bedtime story or wait an be carried to bed without a story. If you regulate and "structure" their whole life you cripple them for adulthood. You are setting up a relationship that is codependent and making them needy and unable to cope with their lives.

A twenty year old should be structuring their own life not being structured by you. Your idea that she has way too much freedom might be that you think parents should completely structure their children's lives, probably even after marriage.  There should be rules of the house that everyone observes, including the parents, such as letting each other know what time you will be back home, helping out with particular chores, calling if it is getting late to let others know they are okay and what time they will be home, certain standard of modesty in dress at home, no drugs or alcohol until of age, etc. She should be choosing what she wears, where she goes, what time she goes to bed, her friends, etc. At twenty your interaction with her should consist of perhaps occasional reminders of what is best for her, occasional advice as to what might be good for her, but you are treating her like a five year old--way harmful because it makes children dependent on parents for everything and does not prepare them for life.

The goal of every parent should be to prepare their children to be independent, thinking adults and functioning so they do not need you, except for occasional input or advice--occasional I emphasize. Children should be given independence as soon as possible and structuring their own lives within the boundaries of house rules. Thank goodness for my parents who encouraged us to make choices and prepared us for independent living. children must make choices so they realize the natural consequences of their choices--not punishment for every little thing they do wrong. When you raise children to be independent you are preparing them to work for someone and not have to be told every little thing to do but can make decisions and do a good job on their own with minimum regulation.

If they hurt someone they apologize, if they choose to go swimming and then they miss out on something else, then that is a natural consequence, etc. If they are unkind to another child then they do not get to play with child until they apologize and commit to treating them kindly--their choice--if they do not wish to apologize then they get to play by themselves and not have friends for a week or so.

I can't write a whole book here but there are books out there to help parents raise healthy and INDEPENDENT children. Many parents make the mistake of thinking they can mold a child's personality. Each person is born with over 60 traits that have nothing to do with the environment. You cannot mold a child's personality, you can only help them to direct their personality to positive behavior. Helping a child control himself is the goal, not follow endless regulations.

I hope that this helps you and that you will consider a little different outlook on parenting, which would be good for you, as well as the children.


Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)

All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


Sharon Crandall


Behavior and learning challenges are usually caused by personality traits such as Restlessness, High Physical, Low Concentration, Wide Tolerance (spaciness), Force (anger), Aggressive, plus others. I can help in either area.


25 years experience working with families, teaching them how to work with traits so they work for you, rather than against you. As mother of seven grown children and grandmother of 19, I have seen first hand the beauty of recognizing talents and potential in a child who is difficult to raise. I could not have raised my last daughter, who had a very strong personality, without this knowledge. Besides working with families, I have worked with individuals and businesses. The challenges are always the same--learning how to work with your own traits, plus learning how to handle trait differences between yourselves and others.

©2016 All rights reserved.