Published on ADDitudeMag.com

Better Behavior at School: Help Teachers Manage Your Child's Distractions and Impulsivity

Share these winning strategies with your child's teachers to keep your student focused and on his best behavior in the classroom.


When Teachers Are Challenged

Students with ADHD frequently act up in the classroom and find it hard to stay focused on assignments. Teachers often don't know what to do to manage these monumental challenges. Experts say that teachers need a large repertoire of ADD-friendly strategies to address and manage impulsive behavior and distractions in the classroom, like the ones outlined here. 

Say What You Mean

Telling a child to “behave” or “to be good” is too vague. Explain exactly what good behavior looks like. “Keep your hands at your side when waiting in line” and “Take out your books and sit quietly” are better options. Make sure kids understand the expectations and consequences. “Keep your hands to yourself, and you’ll get an extra 10 minutes of recess. If you hit another child, you will have to stand in the corner.”

Show Good Behaviors

Posting visual reminders helps ADHD kids remember the rules. Write out classroom rules, such as “Respect Others,” and “Use an Indoor Voice,” on colorful paper, and post them somewhere easy to see. Place cards with messages like, “Raise hands before speaking,” on the child’s desk for an extra reminder. Use an abacus to track interruptions by moving a bead each time a student speaks out of turn.

Set a Clear Routine

Let kids know where they are in the day. Write the day’s schedule on the blackboard, and erase items as they are completed. Alert the class in advance if there are revisions. Use a timer to help transitions between activities, and give five- and two-minute warnings, so ADHD kids have time to stop doing one thing and start another. This gives ADHD students a sense of control over their day.

Mute Distractions

Do what you can to minimize external distractions. Seat an ADHD child close to the teacher, and away from doors or windows. Surround her with students who are good role models, and away from students with challenging or distracting behavior. Allow her to use earphones or earplugs to block distractions while working on homework or tests. (To avoid singling out ADHD children, make these available to all students.)

Grab Their Attention

> Use a bell, chime, or gong before giving assignments, or making important announcements.
> Wait until it’s quiet, and you have students’ attention before speaking.
> Vary the pitch and volume of your voice.
> Use props—for example, a butterfly net if you’re assigning a project on nature. Try anything that will keep all eyes on you.

Redirect Attention When It Strays

Saying things like “Earth to Amy!” to an ADHD child or scolding him in front of the class for not paying attention doesn’t fix the problem; it adds to it by embarrassing the student. Instead, find ways of redirecting a student who is distracted. Give nonverbal cues, such as standing close by, making eye contact, or patting her on the shoulder. Or to help build confidence, ask a question that you know she can answer.

Repeat, Repeat, Repeat

After assigning work, have several students repeat it, and then have the class say it in unison. This gives ADHD students more opportunities to hear it, and is a good way to drill instructions into the heads of non-ADHD students as well. Give both oral and written instructions, so ADHD kids don’t have to remember everything. When giving written instructions, ask the students to color, highlight, or underline key words.

Offer Brief, Sincere Praise

Teachers often dwell on the shortcomings of kids with ADHD. Be sure to offer positive feedback when ADHD kids are well behaved or stay focused. Be specific about their good behavior by saying things like, “You’re being very patient—thanks for waiting your turn!” Or just say, “Nice job” or give him a thumbs up. Don’t overdo it: Kids know when praise is forced, or they may feel insulted that you are praising them for a skill that they should have mastered. 

Know the Pressure Points of ADHD

ADHD kids often misbehave during transitions—lunch, recess, breaks; when the schedule or class structure changes (a substitute is present); when he is failing a class; or when medication wears off. Ignore minor muttering in class, especially if the student follows instructions. Teach the child to recognize when he is about to lose control and have a crisis plan in place. 

Create a Place to Cool Off

Sometimes an ADHD child is distracted because of an annoying tag inside of his clothes or the sound of a child writing behind him. Be sure to have a quiet area in your class—a tent, an area drawn on the floor, or a beanbag chair in a quiet corner—for students. Clarify ahead of time what students can do there—read, draw, or rest. For older kids who suspect they might blow up, give them ongoing permission to head to the guidance counselor’s office to talk or to sit and cool off. 

Keep a Child on Task and in His Seat

> Make sure directions are clear and understood before sending a child to work independently.
> Send students to their seats with a written task card, checklist, or things-to-do sheet. Have students cross out each task as they complete it.
> Make sure necessary supplies are available so students can work during independent time without excuses.
> Assign a study buddy to students who might need help.

Let Fidgety Students Move Around

Movement helps ADHD kids hit the reset button and focus. Ask a child to perform a task, like cleaning the blackboard or straightening a bookshelf. Or allow her to get a drink of water or go to the bathroom. If this is not practical, the student can play with small objects—a squeeze ball or rubber band—that can be manipulated quietly. Don’t punish her by taking away recess. Many ADHD children have a harder time concentrating without a break.

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