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What behavioral treatments are available for ADHD?

There are two kinds of behavioral interventions that can help children with ADHD manage their symptoms of hyperactivity, impulsiveness, and inattention. These ADHD therapies don’t affect the core symptoms, but they teach children skills they can use to control them. Some focus on strategies for staying organized and focused. Others aim at cutting down on the disruptive behaviors that can get these children into trouble at school, make it difficult for them to make friends, and turn family life into a combat zone.

Some children, especially those with severe ADHD symptoms, benefit from behavioral therapy along with medication; for others, the training may make enough difference to enable them to succeed in school and function well at home without medication.

One important reason for kids to participate in behavioral therapy (whether or not they also take medication) is that ADHD medications stop working when you stop taking them, while behavioral therapy can teach children skills that will continue to benefit them as they grow up.

For kids whose impulsive behavior is creating conflict at home and getting them into trouble at school, therapy can help them rein in the behavior that’s problematic and establish more positive relationships with the adults in their lives. It’s called, generally, parent training, because it involves working with parents and children together. It trains parents to interact differently with children, in order to elicit desirable behavior on the part of the child and discourage behavior that’s causing him trouble.

Parent training is not just for children with ADHD, but since kids with ADHD are often prone to tantrums, defiance, and tuning out parental instructions, it can substantially improve their lives, and the wellbeing of their whole families. Though it focuses on interaction with parents, it’s also been shown to reduce outbursts and other problem behaviors at school, as the skills kids learn in responding to very predictable parental interactions are transferrable to other settings. The training is generally done by clinical psychologists.

There are several kinds of parent training that have been shown to be effective, including Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT), Parent Management Training (PMT), Positive Parenting Program (Triple P). They all teach parents how to use praise, or positive reinforcement, more effectively, as well as consistent consequences when kids don’t comply with instructions. They result in better behavior on the part of children, decreased arguing and tantrums, better parent-child interactions, and reduced parental stress.

Young children with ADHD often find themselves scolded or punished much more than they are praised, so a clear way to earn positive attention from the most important people in their lives can be a big motivator. It’s not unusual for kids who’ve been negatively affected by their behavior problems—kicked out of preschool, black-listed from play dates—to make dramatic improvements through parent training.