How to treat a child with ADHD: 7 practical tips

Children diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) have a number of particular characteristics that make their development, their interactions, their communication and their evolution, in a certain way.

Logically, each child is different, but knowing these basic characteristics can help us know how to treat a child with ADHD .

In this article, in addition to publicizing the profile of a child with ADHD, we explain some guidelines (and how to apply them) that will help us interact with them, improve their quality of life and improve their self-control and behavior, between others.

  • Related article: ” Types of ADHD (characteristics, causes and symptoms)

How is a child with ADHD? symptom

Before offering some guidelines on how to treat a child with ADHD, in order to favor their development, facilitate their learning and the appearance of appropriate behaviors, improve their well-being, strengthen ties with him … We believe it is important to make a brief “radiography” of the characteristics that children with ADHD can present.

For this, it is important to understand that each child is a world , and that a diagnosis does not have to – or should – pigeonhole or label it in any way.

Yes, it is true, on the other hand, that ADHD, like all disorders, has a series of characteristic symptoms that will manifest themselves idiosyncratically in each child. The key symptoms in ADHD are three: hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention.

For its part, the DSM-5 (Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders) considers that ADHD can be of three types: with a predominance of inattention, with a predominance of hyperactivity or combined (with a predominance of both types of symptoms).

1. Hyperactivity

Recall that there is ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). In the case of hyperactivity, this translates into a constant need to move .

Parents often talk about their children with ADHD as “children who have an engine inside, which never shuts down . ” That is, referring to this symptom, these are children moved, restless, with difficulties to sit or stop, etc.

2. Impulsivity

Impulsivity, another key symptom in ADHD, consists, in broad strokes, of that inability (or great difficulty) to reflect before acting. Thus, they are children who act on impulses, who have a hard time thinking about things before doing or saying them , with difficulties in waiting for turns, impatient, etc.

Logically, all this can be worked on, and like the rest of the symptoms, it is not something that defines them or “catalogs” them as such indefinitely. It is simply another characteristic of ADHD. Many times, as a result of that impulsivity and that difficulty in waiting, behavioral disorders associated with the disorder appear (or for some other reasons) .

  • You may be interested: ” How to control impulsivity? 8 tips that help

3. Inattention

Inattention, also present in many cases of ADHD (specifically, in the combined and inattentive subtypes), consists in the difficulty of maintaining sustained attention (concentration) during a certain period , towards some specific stimulus.

Many times there is also a deficit in selective attention (ability to change the focus of attention), although what predominates is the deficit in sustained attention.

4. Interference

Finally, in order to be able to diagnose ADHD, it is necessary that the aforementioned symptoms interfere with the child’s life , and that they also appear in more than one context: for example at home and at school.

How to treat a child with ADHD

How to treat a child with ADHD? Yes, normally, but if we want to adapt to it, empathize, understand it, enhance their learning and improve their quality of life, we must follow a series of guidelines. Here we propose some (although there are more):

1. Work the self-control

Self-control is a difficult area in children with ADHD, because, due to their impulsiveness, they mainly present problems in relation to the modulation of their own actions. That is to say, it is difficult for them to control their actions in an appropriate manner, and they have difficulties in arriving at that feeling of internal control that is so necessary many times.

Thus, a first guideline on how to treat a child with ADHD is working with him his self-control. How can we do it? Whether we are teachers, educators, psychologists, fathers and mothers … here you will meet two resources.

1.1. The turtle technique

The first tool that we propose is the turtle technique, which involves teaching the child to respond in front of the keyword “turtle” (shrinking, closing his body, putting his head between his arms in a kind of imaginary shell … ).

This will be done when you feel overwhelmed, angry or threatened, in order to control your emotions and your impulses to environmental stimuli, for example.

1.2. Training in self-instruction

Another useful technique for working on self-control is through self-instructions, which involve helping the child to internalize the following steps, before making a decision :

  • I ACT

We can work with images or pictograms, for example through the “STOP” symbol (traffic signal).

2. Strengthen proper behavior

It is important, in relation to how to treat a child with ADHD, to also work on their behavior. For this there are different strategies. One of them is to recognize, reinforce and reward their appropriate behaviors , so that they increase.

3. Apply behavior modification techniques

Beyond reinforcing appropriate behaviors, we can also use different behavior modification techniques, in order to also improve their inappropriate behaviors (reducing them and replacing them with others).

We can do this through different techniques (whether at school, at home …), such as:

3.1. Time out

It consists of removing the child from the reinforcing context in which he is immersed (for example, the classroom or the playground), so that he “loses” the reinforcers (who maintain his problem behavior) temporarily, and can reflect on his inappropriate behavior. It is recommended to apply one minute of time outside, for each year of the child’s age.

  • You may be interested: ” Time out: what is this behavior modification technique?

3.2. Cost of response

This technique implies that the child loses some reinforcing object for him (or a token, in the context of a token economy), as a result of inappropriate behavior.

4. Avoid criticizing him in front of others

It seems quite obvious, but sometimes it is not. Another guideline on how to treat a child with ADHD is as follows: do not criticize their behavior, or speak ill of it, in front of the other children.

It is important not to lower your self-esteem and not feel embarrassed, as it is often something you cannot control, or you simply have not been taught how to act better in an alternative way.

5. Avoid excessive use of punishment

Many times, punishment is of little use, because it does not teach the child alternative behaviors to inappropriate behavior. In addition, it is not easy to find a really effective punishment .

That is why we must avoid its use with children with ADHD, and replace it with: reinforce appropriate behaviors, use overcorrection (which does teach the child positive behavior), etc.

6. Explain the expected behavior of him / her

Another important guideline that we can use is the following: explain to the child what is expected of him, for example when he is at home and must do certain tasks, or in class, the park, etc.

Many times, they don’t do it (or even act improperly) precisely because of ignorance, because nobody has explicitly explained what they expect of them, and not because they don’t want to or don’t know .

7. Describe your behavior, avoiding the verb “to be”

This is important not only for the interactions with him / her, but also for possible school or psychological reports that we should make about a child with ADHD.

Thus, the ideal is to describe his behavior (for example “his behavior has been inadequate …”), and not to describe him / her (for example “he is a rude child …”).


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