Behavior Management Strategies for the ADD (ADHD)
By Sharon Weiss, M.ED., Behavioral Consultant
What the ADD (ADHD) Child needs is Structure and Predictability.
ESTABLISH RULES - Make the World Predictable.
Schedules, routines - preferably stated in writing - help
children make sense of a world of time and expectations that
are often arbitrary and inconsistent. Repetition of a procedure,
adherence to a routine gives the child practice (with cues)
at meeting expectations.
Once a routine or list of activities is developed, consistently
enforce and reinforce adherence.
USE A TIMER - A timer teaches your child that a specified
time is not debatable.
When specific intervals have been established, use a timer
to "document" the length of the interval. If the
schedule says dinner at 6:00 (and your child is reading, talking
on the telephone, etc.) let him know that there are 5 minutes
remaining and that the timer bell will signal dinner time.
This is especially useful when preparing to leave the house.
(Often preparation for appointments outside the house, or
the lack of preparation, is the antecedent for some really
Rationale: A timer ensures the time increment
is consistent (NOT "in a few minutes") and that
everyone is aware of the start and end of the interval. It's
objective. It decreases the interaction between parent and
child signaling the end of the activity. It is the timer that
ended play, not the parent. It is a way to disengage. Instead
of a parent standing over them, nagging/reminding, the timer
gives the signal and the child is now responsible for responding.
It is not the parent's job to cajole the child into action,
it is the child's responsibility to act or not to act. As
a result, children are generally less reactive.
PRIORITIZE - Focus on one or two behaviors at a time.
Define the desired behavior(s), discuss it with your spouse,
your child, teachers, babysitters. Be consistent. Stay with
these few behaviors. Consistent feedback and a limited focus
increase the likelihood the child will remember what your
DEFINE THE RULES. All children need and want limits.
Determine what guidelines are most important and phrase rules
in positive terms. ("feet on the floor" instead
of "get your feet off the couch".) Ask your child's
opinion as to what rules are important (You'll probably find
they respond with a list of "Don'ts".) Keep rules
short and to the point - a few rules that apply in all situations.
Adults have a habit of identifying the rules as soon as the
child breaks them. Instead, call attention to the rules when
the child is adhering to them.
REINFORCE - Reinforcing desired behaviors teaches your
child an alternative.
You've tried punishment, without much success. Punishment
interrupts a behavior, for the moment, but it doesn't teach
an alternative. Define what you want the child to do (Prioritize)
and determine what would make it worth his while to do it.
PRAISE APPROPRIATE BEHAVIORS - Emphasize what's going
"right" instead of always focusing on what's going
Focus on the many small, positive behaviors that your child
exhibits. When you enter a room, ask yourself, "What
is going right?" Make specific positive comments. For
example, notice when she responds to a direction the first
time you say it. Even if she's doing it because it's something
she wants to do, it still merits special attention. This will
help her notice the exact behavior(s) that you want her to
demonstrate. If a task has been partially completed, comment
positively on the completed part first.
When you notice things that a child does right, it breaks
the cycle of negative redirection (nagging) and makes her
feel better about herself and about you. Increase the amount
of non-verbal praise. Give lots of warm smiles, pats and thumbs
up. Your attention is something your child needs, use it at
the right time. Provide extra praise for behaviors you want
Catch your child being good.
Remember, if you want to see a behavior happen again, pay
attention to it.