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Behavioral Techniques for Children With ADHD

Using behavior management techniques is a key part of treating ADHD in children. 

In children and teens, the two basic principles are:

  • Encouraging good behavior with praise or rewards. This works best if you reward or praise the child immediately after the positive behavior.
  • Setting consequences for bad behavior.

Preschoolers (Age 5 and Younger)

To help younger kids with ADHD, try these behavior management techniques:

  • Organize the day. Set a routine. Let your child know if the routine is changing or something unusual is going to happen, such as a visit from a relative or a vacation.
  • Set boundaries and expectations . It's best to do this right before the activity or situation you have in mind.
  • Use rewards. Gold stars or favorite activities are examples of rewards for good behavior. Avoid using food and especially candy for rewards.
  • Engage your child in constructive and mind-building activities, such as reading, games, and puzzles. Join in!
  • Use a timer. Some parents find that using a timer for activities is a good way to build and reinforce structure. For example, setting a reasonable time limit for a bath or playtime helps train your child to expect limitations, even on pleasurable activities. Giving a child a time limit for doing a chore is also useful, especially if you reward finishing on time.

Children Ages 6-12

Behavior management strategies for older children with ADHD may include:

Explain and instruct. As much as possible, give clear instructions and explanations for tasks throughout the day. If a task is complex or lengthy, break it down into steps that are more manageable, keeping in mind that as the child learns to manage their behavior, the steps and tasks can become more complex.

Reward the child appropriately for good behavior and tasks completed. Set up a clear system of rewards (point system, gold stars) so that your child knows what to expect when they complete a task or improve their behavior.

Make a plan for discipline. Avoid disciplining your child in front of other people, if he or she is sensitive. Set up a specific consequence for a certain behavior, and then be consistent and fair about enforcing it.

Communicate regularly with your child's teachers so that you can deal with any behavior patterns before they become a major problem.

Walk your talk. Set a good example for your child. Children with ADHD need role models for behavior more than other children, and the adults in their lives are very important.

Teens

If your teen has ADHD:

Involve them. As your child matures, you should involve them in setting expectations, rewards, and consequences. This empowers them, which may improve their self-esteem and reinforce the concept that they are in charge of their own behavior.

Discipline in private. Teenagers are often very sensitive of how they appear to others and may overreact or feel ashamed when they are disciplined in front of others. The teen years can be tough enough without ADHD, so be gentle and understanding. Talk with them about any issues they're having.

Keep communicating with your teen's teachers. Together, you can deal with any behavior patterns before they become a major problem.

Be predictable. Continue to be consistent and fair in your own behavior. That way, your teen knows what to expect from you.

Set a good example . Teens don't always show it, but the adults in their lives are very important.

If you find yourself becoming overwhelmed by the situation, speak to a professional. It's only natural that you have needs and questions in this process, so seek help when needed.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Patricia Quinn, MD on September 02, 2012
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