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Parent Training for Childhood ADHD: What to Know

Medically Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on June 09, 2022

There are a number of tools that can help treat your child’s ADHD, including medications, educational services, and parent training. Also called behavioral parent training (BPT), parent training can improve the way your child acts, help them gain self-control, and boost their self-esteem. For young children, this type of therapy works best when a parent does it. Here’s what you need to know.

How Does Parent Training for ADHD Work?

It’s common for ADHD to raise stress levels in a household, and parent training is a way for you to help you and your child better regulate your emotions and actions.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends treating ADHD in kids ages 4-5 with parent training before trying medication. Reasons for this include:

  • It gives you valuable skills and a roadmap to help your child in the long run.
  • Studies show it works as well as medication for ADHD in young children.
  • Young children have more side effects from ADHD medications than older children.
  • Doctors don’t yet know the long-term effects of ADHD medication on young kids.

Although there are other types of therapy that can also help kids with ADHD, young children do best with parent training. That’s because they aren’t old enough to change their behavior without an adult’s help.

You’ll meet with a mental health professional who’ll guide you through methods for managing your child’s ADHD symptoms. It’s usually for a set number of sessions, about eight to 12. You’ll learn ways to talk to your child, methods for discipline, and how to set expectations. Your child typically isn’t part of these sessions.

You may role-play to help practice for future interactions with your child. Between sessions, you’ll practice what you’ve learned and report back to your counselor. They’ll help you troubleshoot issues you may have had and talk about the progress you’re seeing.

Goals of Parent Skills Training

Kids with ADHD tend to be impulsive and have trouble paying attention. As a result, it’s common for them to be punished for misbehavior in school and at home. Because of this constant negative feedback, kids with ADHD can struggle with their self-esteem. Often this only makes the behavior problems worse.

Typical discipline may not work well with kids with ADHD. Parent skills training helps you learn alternative, science-backed behavior techniques. Every child is different, so it can take some trial and error to figure out which combination of tools works best. But overall, parent training uses strategies such as:

  • Creating familiar structure to the day
  • Praising good behavior
  • Discouraging negative behavior
  • Being consistent with discipline
  • Using positive communication to build a stronger relationship with your child

You might use methods such as:

  • House rules, organization, and routine
  • Clear instructions
  • Praising good behavior
  • Ignoring incorrect behavior (as long as it’s not dangerous)
  • Planning ahead for outings to public places
  • Using charts or point systems with rewards and consequences

Studies show that these methods can result in fewer behavior problems and improved family dynamics. You also may notice your child’s self-esteem get better as it becomes easier to have positive relationships with teachers, friends, and others.

Parent Skills Training for Different Ages

The type of training you need will in part depend on the age of your child.

Younger kids. Preschool-age kids with ADHD are more likely to have intense tantrums and defy their parents more often than kids without ADHD. They also go through a lot of change in a short time as they grow into their school years. They’re still learning how social settings work, so one-on-one time with parents is a better way to work on these skills than in a group.

Teens. Parent training for teens uses upgraded consequences for behavioral problems. Instead of time out, discipline for a teen might involve losing a privilege like the use of their cell phone or car. Or you may give them extra chores. Your teen will also be more involved with the mental health professional you’re working with than would a younger child. You’ll all work together to set goals and targets, such as better grades.

You might meet one-on-one with a counselor, or you might be part of a parenting group all learning the same skills together. Ask your mental health professional which might be right for you and your child.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

CDC: “Parent Training in Behavior Management for ADHD.”

CHADD: “Parent Training and Education,” “12 Behavioral Programs for Managing ADHD,” “Behavioral Therapy for Young Children.”

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