Behaviour management plans for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) might behave in challenging ways. So your child’s behaviour management plan will include strategies to guide your child towards appropriate behaviour.
A behaviour management plan might include:
- strategies to encourage good behaviour
- social skills to help your child get along with others
- strategies to manage your child’s energy levels and tiredness
- strategies to support your child in the classroom.
The best plans are usually based on professional advice that takes into account what suits your child and family. Plans should consider all aspects of your child’s life, including your child’s needs and responsibilities at home, at school and in other social settings.
Children with ADHD often have other difficulties like learning disorders, oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder or anxiety. You can incorporate strategies to help with these in your child’s management plan.
It’s a good idea to discuss your child’s plan with your family, and your child’s carers, therapists and teachers. This helps people have realistic expectations of your child’s behaviour. It can also help them understand how best to handle your child’s behaviour. And if they have to give your child medicine, they’ll know how much to give and when.
When you work with health professionals, school teachers, other adults in your child’s life, and your family and friends, it can be easier for you and your child to keep to the plan.
Behaviour strategies to help children with ADHD
Your child’s behaviour management plan will probably include strategies that help your child learn skills for behaving cooperatively more often and behaving in challenging ways less often.
Some simple but effective behaviour strategies might include:
- changes to the environment to make it easier for your child to behave well
- clear verbal instructions to help your child understand what you want them to do
- praise for positive behaviour to encourage your child to keep behaving well
- predictable daily routines to help your child at demanding times of the day, like when you’re getting ready for school and work in the morning.
Social skills to help children with ADHD
Children with ADHD might need support to get along with other children. So your child’s behaviour management plan could include some ideas to help your child develop social skills.
These ideas might include:
- rewarding your child for helpful behaviour like sharing and being gentle with others
- teaching your child what to do if there’s a problem with another child – for example, walking away or talking to a teacher
- teaching your child how to regulate their own behaviour – for example, by using a short prompt like ‘Stop, think, do’
- giving your child the chance to practise social skills – for example, by arranging supervised playdates.
Strategies to manage energy and tiredness in children with ADHD
All children find it easier to behave well if they can manage their energy levels and aren’t tired. Behaviour management plans for ADHD often cover this.
You can help your child manage energy levels and maintain focus by:
- building rest breaks into activities
- allowing time for physical exercise breaks while your child is doing learning tasks like reading or homework
- being ready with some fun but low-key activities like Lego or puzzles, which your child can do if they start to get overexcited.
And you can stop your child from getting too tired by:
- getting your child into good sleep habits, like getting to sleep and waking up at about the same time each day
- providing healthy food options for longer-lasting energy and concentration
- making sure your child’s screen time is balanced with other activities during the day
- making sure all electronic devices are switched off at least an hour before bed.
Classroom strategies to help children with ADHD
Children with ADHD can have problems at school. So behaviour management plans should include classroom strategies to support your child’s learning.
You could talk with your child’s teacher about strategies like:
- dividing tasks into smaller chunks
- offering one-on-one help when possible
- giving your child a ‘buddy’ who can help them understand what to do
- planning the classroom so your child is seated near the front of the room and away from distractions
- making a visual checklist of your child’s tasks or keeping a copy of the class timetable where your child can see it
- doing more difficult learning tasks in the mornings or after breaks
- giving your child some extra time to finish tasks.
To get the support your child needs for learning, language and physical problems at school, you might need to advocate for your child. This could involve talking to your child’s classroom teacher, the principal or the additional needs support officer about how they can support your child – for example, through special programs.
Schools can help by setting out support plans in an individual learning plan for your child. The school should also work with you to set and review your child’s learning goals regularly.
Raising children is an important job, and looking after yourself helps you do the job well. That’s because looking after yourself physically, mentally and emotionally helps you give your children what they need to grow and thrive.
Your child’s doctor might prescribe medicines to help your child with focus and behaviour management.
Doctors will sometimes prescribe stimulant medicines for children diagnosed with ADHD. These medicines improve the way the parts of the brain ‘talk’ to each other. This can help children with attention and self-regulation.
Methylphenidate is the most commonly used medicine of this type. It’s sold under the brand names Ritalin 10, Ritalin LA and Concerta.
Other stimulant medicines are dexamphetamine or lisdexamfetamine. Lisdexamfetamine is sold under the brand name Vyvanse.
Your child’s paediatrician or psychiatrist will be able to work out which drug and dose will be best for your child.
Here are a few questions you might want to ask your doctor:
- How long will each dose last?
- What are the side effects of the medicine?
- How will my child be monitored while they’re taking the medicine?
- How long will my child stay on this medicine?
There are also some non-stimulant medicines for ADHD. These include Strattera (atomoxetine), Catapres (clonidine) and Intuniv (guanfacine). These medicines can help to reduce anxiety too.
Side effects of ADHD medicines
These medicines can cause some side effects – for example, loss of appetite, which can affect your child’s weight gain or growth. Other side effects might include difficulty getting to sleep, tummy upsets or headaches.
Because of these possible side effects, a health professional should closely monitor a child who’s taking medicine for ADHD.
Most side effects are mild and don’t last long. If there are side effects that don’t go away, your health professional might change the dose or timing of the medicine, or suggest a different medicine.
Treatments that are backed up by science are most likely to work, be worth your time, money and energy, and be safe for your child. If you’re interested in other ADHD treatments, it’s always a good idea to speak with a health professional about them.