Behaviour strategies for teenagers with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
Behaviour strategies will be an important part of an overall approach to managing your teenage child’s attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
These strategies are likely to include a focus on helping your child take more responsibility for their own behaviour. This can support the development of your child’s independence in the teenage years.
Here are some strategies that can help your child learn to take responsibility for their own behaviour:
- Involve your child in making family rules about behaviour. This can help your child understand and accept your expectations and take responsibility.
- Use praise for positive behaviour. When you notice and comment on your child’s responsible choices and positive behaviour, you encourage them to keep behaving this way.
- Work with your child to set consequences for challenging behaviour and then apply them consistently. For example, you and your child might agree that they lose access to the PlayStation for a day or two if they’re aggressive.
- Set up predictable daily routines for things like bedtime, chores and homework. This can make it easier for your child to cooperate.
For more on guiding teenage behaviour, you can check out our articles on encouraging good behaviour in teenagers, dealing with disrespectful behaviour in teenagers and discipline strategies for teenagers.
Social skills for teenagers with ADHD
Teenagers with ADHD might need support to get along better with others. Here are some ideas to help your child work on social skills:
- Help your child practise what to do if there’s a problem with another person. Walking away is often the best option. You and your child could role-play challenging social situations.
- Help your child practise strategies for understanding and managing their own behaviour in challenging social situations, like disagreements with friends. For example, your child could use a short prompt like ‘Stop, think, do’ to remind themselves to think through the consequences of their actions and consider solutions.
- Encourage your child to try an extracurricular social group or activity, like a team sport, or a martial arts or drama class. This might help your child stay focused and build confidence. If your child tries an activity that’s out of their usual comfort zone, praise them for their bravery.
- Be a role model for fair and consistent behaviour towards your child and others.
Good parent-teen relationships tend to help children have positive relationships with peers. So being warm and supportive, staying connected and actively listening to your child can help them with social and friendship skills.
Classroom and learning strategies for teenagers with ADHD
Teenagers with ADHD can have problems at school. They often struggle to be organised and prepared for classes. Many also have learning difficulties. So it’s good to have some classroom strategies to support your child’s learning.
These strategies might include:
- offering one-on-one help whenever possible
- asking for your child to have extra time to finish tasks, especially tests
- helping your child to make a weekly or monthly planner that shows when assignments are due and what tasks need to be done to complete them.
You can discuss these strategies with your child’s homeroom teacher or year coordinator or the school’s learning support officer.
The school should work with you to set and review your child’s learning goals and needs regularly. Your child’s support plans should be set out in an individual learning plan.
Your child can also use strategies to manage energy levels and maintain focus when they’re learning or studying at home. These strategies might include:
- building rest breaks into activities
- breaking up learning tasks like reading or homework with brief stretches of physical activity.
Having a healthy lifestyle is an important part of development and wellbeing for all teenagers. It’s good for your child to get at least 8-10 hours of sleep each night, make healthy food choices and balance screen time with other activities.
Doctors will sometimes prescribe stimulant medicines for children and teenagers diagnosed with ADHD if their symptoms are causing significant problems.
Stimulant medicines improve the way the parts of the brain ‘talk’ to each other. This can help teenagers ignore distractions, maintain focus and complete tasks. Stimulants can also help with self-control, which means they might help teenagers get along better with others.
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 work out with you 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?
- Does my child need to take the medicine every day, including weekends and holidays?
- How long does my child need to keep taking the medicine?
- Can my child stop taking it suddenly?
Stimulant medicines can cause some side effects. These might include:
- loss of appetite, which can affect your child’s weight gain
- reduced final adult height – this might be reduced by 1-2 cm after long-term use
- anxiety or agitation
- worse tics, if your child has tics to start with.
If your child has been prescribed a stimulant medicine, your doctor should be monitoring your child closely. If there are side effects that are causing problems, your doctor might change the type, dose or timing of the medicine to help with this.
Occasionally teenagers with ADHD find that stimulants don’t suit them. For example, stimulants might make teenagers feel too quiet or just not themselves. If this happens, teenagers can usually stop taking the medicine without any withdrawal symptoms. You should contact your doctor so your child’s medicine can be reviewed.
Taking stimulant medicine doesn’t increase your child’s risk of developing alcohol and other drug abuse problems.
Although stimulant medicines are generally the best for treating ADHD, there are also some other medicines available. These include Strattera (atomoxetine), Catapres (clonidine) and Intuniv (guanfacine). These are sometimes used for teenagers who get side effects from using stimulants.
If your child responds well to ADHD medicine, they’ll probably be on it for at least a year. As your child matures, they might not need medicine anymore. If they’re doing well, they can talk with their doctor about having a trial period without medicine.
Teenagers taking responsibility for ADHD medicine
As children get older, they often want to take more responsibility for their medicine, which is a good thing. Some children also go through a period where they don’t like the idea of taking medicines.
Either way, if your child can share their feelings about taking medicine, you’ll be better able to understand where they’re coming from. Listening to your child will also help you understand how the medicine affects their daily activities.
It’s also good to encourage your child to discuss things with their GP or paediatrician. You might suggest they have part of their appointments alone with the doctor.
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.