10 ADHD Behavior Management Strategies
Behavior management, also called behavior modification, can make parenting a child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) a little easier. This approach to ADHD treatment involves rewarding and praising your child’s good behavior and discouraging unwanted or impulsive behavior with appropriate consequences.
The concept of behavior management is easy to understand, but it can be difficult for parents to implement, says Betsy Davenport, PhD, a clinical psychologist who specializes in ADHD and is in private practice in Portland, Ore. “Often parents don’t follow through.”
Here are 10 tips to establish and carry out a successful behavior management plan to help your child:
- Define the house rules. need simple rules for behavior. Define your house rules and write them down. If your child can read, post them where he or she will see them, such as on the refrigerator or over the bathroom sink. If your child is too young to read, use pictures or drawings to illustrate the house rules. Explain clearly what will happen when the rules are obeyed and when they are not. You might need to go over the rules again prior to an activity or event.
- Give immediate rewards and consequences.Children with ADHD need more immediate feedback for their good behavior, as well as their unwanted behavior, than other children. Children without ADHD may learn from praise for their good behavior long after it occurs. “When your child has ADHD, the moment the good behavior you’re looking for occurs, you have to acknowledge it and do what you said you would when it does,” Davenport says. “Don’t expect your child with ADHD to be able to delay gratification.” The same is true for negative consequences, which can include time out, removal of privileges and removing your child from the situation.
- Provide frequent feedback.Children with ADHD require feedback for their behavior more often than other children do, Davenport says. A good way for you to remember is to set an alarm to go off every 20 to 30 minutes. Then when it goes off, check on your child. If he is behaving well, praise or reward him exactly as promised. If not, apply the consequences you previously discussed with your child.
- Be consistent.Consistency is key to getting an ADHD child to change negative behaviors to more positive or productive ones, Davenport says. You need to react the same way every time your child behaves in a way that you like or dislike. Also, she says, be persistent. You may want immediate results, but that’s not likely. It can take months to see significant progress.
- Establish routines.“Kids with ADHD are terribly bored by routines, but they need them desperately,” Davenport says. Establish everyday routines for getting ready for school, doing homework, and going to bed. A routine doesn’t mean that everything has to happen at exactly the same time every day, Davenport notes. For example, your child may sleep later during the summer. But things still need to be scheduled in the same order. For instance, your child should brush her teeth before coming down for breakfast.
- Create checklists.One way of getting your child to follow a routine is to create a checklist and mark off the steps as they are completed. “For children who are even mildly literate, I have them make their own lists,” Davenport says. For younger children, you might use pictures, such as someone brushing her teeth. “Kids like that a lot,” she adds. Checklists are helpful, Davenport says, because parents can say: “What’s next on your list?” That’s more effective for a child with ADHD than: “Go do this.”
- Set clocks and timers.If your child has ADHD, placing clocks with alarms throughout the house may help. Then, establish times for key activities — when your child will have dinner, start homework, catch the school bus, stop watching TV, and get ready for bed — and set an alarm to signal each one. That way you don’t have to stand over your child and nag. Also, you’re clear and consistent about your child’s schedule, rather than saying, “We’ll do this in a few minutes.”
- Create a reward system.Many times you can manage the behavior of children with ADHD with tokens, stickers, or gold stars, which the child can trade for a special reward. “Reward systems can work if the child is on board with earning them for certain behaviors,” Davenport says. However, Davenport prefers praise and acknowledgment to prizes. “If you thank your child for clearing the table and tell him how proud you are of him for doing such a good job, that’s way more powerful to him because he cares about you,” she says.
- Focus on the positive.Emphasize the things that your child does right. For example, if she is given a multi-part task, say “good job” when she’s completed the first part. Focusing on the positive, rather than berating her for not finishing the entire task, is more effective for a child with ADHD. This helps build confidence in her abilities. But always be genuine, Davenport cautions: “Don’t practice praise inflation because your child knows that not everything he does is good.”
- Plan for problems.Many parents of children with ADHD can predict when their child is likely to be disruptive and misbehave. If you can anticipate problems, use it to your advantage. Develop a plan for what you will do if your child misbehaves, especially in public, and share your plan with your child. Making the child aware of what may happen may lessen the likelihood that it will. If your child does misbehave, remember your plan and follow through.
A behavioral management plan can help your child with ADHD succeed if it is well thought out and enforced with consistency. Be positive and match behavior with appropriate rewards and consequences.
Video: Behavioral Treatments for ADHD
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