Behavior, or psychosocial, therapy can help a child learn self-control and lead to better behavior.
Stimulant medication is an effective treatment for most children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). But many children also benefit from training that helps them overcome negative behaviors. This type of treatment is called behavior, or psychosocial, therapy.
Children with ADHD often have problems that go beyond having trouble sitting still or paying attention. For example, they may hit or bite other children or have trouble taking turns. They may make low grades because they forget to complete or turn in homework. Behavior therapy can address these issues. It may work best when used along with medication.
Experts say that three things predict how well a child with ADHD will do in adulthood:
- Whether the parents used effective parenting techniques
- How well the child got along with other children
- How well the child did in school
Behavior therapy focuses on these three areas. It works best when the child, the parents, and the child’s school are all involved in the process.
The first step is to find a mental health professional or educator who can provide behavior therapy. This is a skills-based approach that helps children and parents learn ways to change behavior. It should not be confused with individual “talk” therapy or play therapy. These types of therapy have not been shown to work for ADHD.
The therapist will do a complete evaluation, using information gathered from the parents and school and from interviewing the child. The therapist will then draft a list of target behaviors. These may be either behaviors the child needs to stop or new skills the child needs to learn.
For example, many children need help with social skills. A child might attend a group or camp where the children are coached in skills such as how to take turns, share toys, and play team sports. These skills can then be practiced and reinforced at home.
Raising children is normally a challenge, but raising a child with ADHD presents special problems. Parent training can help adults understand more about ADHD and how to help the child function better in everyday life.
Parent training is usually done by a therapist and consists of 10 to 20 sessions. Children with ADHD normally get a lot of criticism and negative feedback. Parents learn to focus more on good behavior and to build on the child’s strengths and abilities.
In parent training sessions, parents are taught techniques that can improve behavior, such as how to:
- Set up a token system that rewards the child for good behavior. For example, the parent puts a star on a chart when the child does something positive, such as finishing homework. The child could lose stars for bad behavior. The child can choose a prize or treat for getting a certain number of stars.
- Use time-outs. When the child misbehaves, he or she will spend a little time alone calming down. When used properly, time-outs can be a useful tool to help children learn self-control.
- Create a structured home environment that provides a base of support for the child. This may include ideas such as helping the child use folders to organize homework or learn how to break large, daunting tasks into smaller parts.
Consistent use of these techniques can help a child behave better and have better interactions with family members and peers.
Working with the school
Parents also learn how to become their child’s advocate at school. It is important to build a good relationship with their child’s teacher. If the teacher is not familiar with ADHD, parents can share materials that explain ADHD and ways to manage behavior in class.
Teachers can provide daily or weekly reports that help parents track how well the child is managing schoolwork and behavior. A teacher can also set up a token system like the one parents use at home to reward appropriate behavior. By working closely with the school, parents can help create a setting where their child is more likely to succeed.