How to improve behavior in a child with ADHD


Changing an ADHD Child’s Behavior

How to improve behavior in a child with ADHD

As kids return to school to start the new academic year, more and more parents are asking for ways to change their ADHD child’s behavior. This usually means their ADHD child has poor behavior, has bad habits, or displays misbehavior and they want help in fixing it-the behavior.

Common complaints about the behavior of a child with ADHD include:

  • He doesn’t listen to me (pay attention to what I am saying or ignores me)
  • She interrupts when I’m speaking (has to get the last word in)
  • He won’t sit still in class (fidgets all the time-disrupts the class)
  • She refuses to do her homework (I can’t get her to do her homework)
  • He talks back to me all the time (has a smart mouth-is mouthy)
  • She argues over everything or acts like she knows everything.

As I’m sure you have noticed, all of these ADHD symptoms are really just typical behaviors or habits normally seen in ADHD kids and teens. They include the core symptoms used to make the diagnosis of ADHD-inattentiveness, impulsivity, and hyperactivity.

Daniel was the perfect example of an ADHD child’s behavior problem

Daniel’s mom was about to lose her job-not because she was a poor worker or wasn’t at work on time every day she was scheduled-but because of Daniel’s bad behavior.

Daniel’s behavior during thye first two weeks of school was so bad, that Patti had to leave her job 7 out of 10 days to pick him up at school between 10 and 11 am. On each of those days, his teacher called telling her his mouthiness and constant fidgeting and interrupting were so disruptive to the class as a whole, that someone had to come and get him. Since Daniel’s father worked out of town for days at a time and no one else was available, Patti had to leave work to get him.

Once Patti arrived at the school, Daniel calmed down and appeared to act as if nothing had happened. Patti and her husband tried threats, punishment, promises of rewards for good behavior, but nothing worked, and in fact; his behavior worsened instead of improving.

At first, Patti’s boss was very understanding and let her take sick leave to handle the problem. But…the previous day was different-he told Patti he would have to replace her if something wasn’t done and he meant like yesterday.

So, what was Daniel’s problem? Why was his behavior so different from the previous school year? What happened over the summer that had changed this child?

Here’s what I discovered about Daniel’s ADHD behavior: Daniel

  • Was starting first grade
  • Was starting first grade in a new school
  • Was starting first grade in a new school in a new town
  • Had never had a school problem before
  • Had a stressful summer filled with his parent’s money problems, having to live with a grandmother until a new house was ready, and then had to deal with moving the twenty miles to our town
  • Had not attended school orientation like the other kids, because no one could take him.

I suspected Daniel was suffering school transition disorder with anger, frustration and fear as a result of being thrown into a new and poorly controlled setting and environment.

What could have been done to prevent or at least lessen the likelihood of Daniel’s behavior?

The best ways to change or improve an ADHD child’s behavior

  • Try to anticipate things that will disrupt your child’s life-whether large or small
  • Introduce changes slowly
  • Avoid springing things on your child abruptly
  • Target one behavior at a time
  • Set definite and clearly understood goals (end points)
  • Avoid setting unrealistic goals and time schedules
  • Go slowly
  • Avoid being judgmental or accusing
  • Reward each change toward good behavior-no matter how small
  • Set up ways to maintain the behavior once the goal is met
  • Allow your ADHD child maximum input into everything done-if he or she doesn’t buy into the game plan-guess what? It will not work.

While it is often difficult for a parent to behavior train an ADHD child without professional help, it’s not impossible. In my next article, we’ll discuss simple things you can do to start behavior training at home while waiting on that all important doctor’s visit to re-evaluate your child’s behavior problem.

Twice yearly re-evaluation of your child’s behavior disorder is the best way to make sure he or she is truly suffering from ADHD and not one of the more than 100 things that can look just like ADHD causing misdiagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Frank Barnhill, MD 

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