Behavior modification teaches self-control to kids with ADHD.

Behavior Modification for ADHD Children

by Karen Doyle

Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder -- or ADHD -- are often more challenging from a behavior perspective than other children. By helping your child to modify his behavior in an appropriate way, he will learn self-control and will improve his interactions at home, in school and with friends.

1. Praise, Ignore or Punish

When your child engages in a certain behavior, you can do one of three things, according to the Healthy Children website of the American Academy of Pediatrics. You can praise the behavior, ignore it or punish the child. The key is deciding which of these reactions is appropriate. Then you must follow up on that choice and be consistent over time. Praising good behavior is more powerful and preferable to ignoring or punishing inappropriate behavior. The Healthy Children website cites three simple rules: To encourage a certain behavior to continue, praise it. To discourage a behavior that is not dangerous or unbearable, such as whining or sulking, ignore it. To stop a dangerous behavior or one that you simply cannot allow, such as hitting or biting, punish it.

2. Be Clear and Consistent

To be able to do what is expected, your child must know what is expected. Clearly stating your expectations is the first step in helping your child to modify his behavior. Establish eye contact to get your child’s attention. Clearly state the expected behavior. For example, say, “You need to stop hitting your friend right now.” Give your child a warning that clearly states what will happen if he stops, and what will happen if he doesn’t. “If you keep hitting, Sam will have to go home and you will go in time out. If you stop hitting right now, you can keep on playing.” Be firm and calm. If the hitting stops, praise your child. If the hitting doesn’t stop, follow up with the consequence and explain why you are doing so. “You did not stop hitting, so Sam is going home and you are going in time out, as we talked about.”

3. One Step at a Time

Young children with ADHD may have trouble following multi-step commands, so you may need to break them down into individual steps, according to the Healthy Children website. For example, instead of saying, "Stop jumping on the couch and put your toys away," you might start with, "You need to get off the couch now." When your child gets off the couch, say, “Good job. Now please put your Legos in the bucket.” Only give commands your child can actually follow. Being specific is often the key here. Instead of saying, “Go clean your room,” break the task down into individual steps. Say, “Pick up all the toys on your floor and put them in the toy box.” The next step may be putting clothes in the hamper or making the bed. Eventually, your child will learn that all of these activities combined will result in a clean room, and you’ll just be able to say, “Clean your room.”

4. As Your Child Matures

As your child gets older and begins to master self-control at a basic level, you can increase the complexity of the commands you give, and move your child toward more independence. Once your child is able to comply with one-step requests when they are given, you can try asking your child do something a short time later. You will probably need to use a clock or timer, according to the Healthy Children website. Say, “Turn off the TV and pick up your toys in three minutes when the timer goes off.” This increases your child’s independence and self-esteem.

About the Author

I have three children, ages 10, 13 and 14. My 14-year-old son has high-functioning autism, making me somewhat of an expert on this topic, on which I have written in the past.

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