ADHD In Children

Children with ADHD Need Positive Reinforcement (& Other Interventions That Work)

ADHD in children shows up at school, in behavior, and with friends and siblings. For the ADHD symptoms that collide with developmental milestones in childhood, positive reinforcement is almost always the best parenting solution. Read on for pinpointed solutions for common organization problems, emotional dysregulation, and learning challenges.

ADHD in childhood: Children play vector illustration set. Cartoon happy boys and girls characters playing different fun games together collection, child flying kite outdoors, holding houseplant, jumping with ball (Children play vector illustration set. Cartoon happy boy


Every stage of life is defined by developmental milestones that are shaped or complicated in some way by the symptoms of ADHD.

In children, ADHD symptoms and traits like hyperactivity, distractibility, and impulsivity can influence behavior and performance in the classroom, with friends and family, and out in the world.

Below is an overview of the ADHD experience in childhood, including essential skills, parallel ADHD-related challenges, recommended treatments, and positive parenting strategies from experts that apply to all aspects of this stage of life.

ADHD in Children (6 to 12 Years): Challenges and Solutions

Developmental Milestones in Childhood

In grades 1 through 6, students work to build a rock-solid academic, social, and emotional foundation in the following areas:

  • Reading acquisition and comprehension require sitting still and focusing consistently, a hurdle for children with ADHD.
  • Learning math facts and operations may be thrown off track by distractibility and boredom. This results in careless mistakes like missing digits or skipping steps. Frustration follows.
  • Understanding and following social contracts are harder with emotional dysregulation and poor perspective-taking skills. Children with ADHD often interrupt teachers and classmates, find it hard to keep friends, and act out in anger.
  • Learning to follow multi-step directions — from morning routines to homework assignments — calls on a child’s executive functions, which are weak in the ADHD brain.
  • Building organization skills happens through observation and practice, often a challenge in households where one or more parent has ADHD.

[Self-Test: ADHD Symptoms in Kids]

ADHD in Children: Positive Reinforcement Strategies

Positive reinforcement is particularly powerful at this stage of life. When elementary students constantly face punishment and disappointment from parents and teachers, their confidence and self-concept are destroyed. Set a time to discuss undesirable behavior after the immediate, stressful moment has passed. Clear, consistent goals and rewards make a world of difference at this age. Try these strategies:

1. To boost early language skills, align your child’s reading material with his passions and interests. Use graphic novels and audio texts to build a love of books, and engage in the material by asking questions to build his critical-thinking and comprehension skills. Watch the film version of a just-finished book and discuss the differences.

2. Create flashcards using yellow index cards and black ink. This color combination is easily processed by the brain and will trigger memory. Students can use the flashcards for reading acquisition or any type of studying. This tool helps them learn and memorize facts. When they see good results, their engagement and interest will inevitably increase.

3. Post a big, bright list of classroom or family expectations in a prominent location. Place a stop-sign sticker on each student’s desk. The teacher can silently point to this to adjust behavior with minimal interruption or embarrassment.

[Read: How to Shepherd — Not Carry — Your Child Toward Fulfillment]

4. To grow math competence and confidence, keep a step-by-step sample problem nearby for easy reference during homework. Draw attention to operation signs and important information with highlighters, and check for accuracy at each step of the problem to curb frustration.

5. To build organization skills, divide your child’s routines and chores into smaller steps to avoid overwhelming him. Create reminders and guides, like an illustrated timeline of his morning routine or a series of “clean bedroom” checklists (for the closet, dresser, bed) with a photo of the ideal result for each chore.

6. Identify and avoid your child’s triggers when possible, and use calming strategies when not. Teach your child coping skills, and role-play when and where to use them. Remain calm, validate her feelings, and praise your child’s efforts at emotional control.

ADHD in Children: Treatments

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends behavior therapy in conjunction with medication to treat ADHD symptoms in children ages 6 to 12. Behavior therapy reinforces desired behaviors with parenting strategies that focus on consistency, clarity, and incentives.

The first-line ADHD medication prescribed to children is typically a stimulant — methylphenidate or amphetamine — available as a tablet, capsule, liquid, patch, or disintegrating tablet. Work carefully with your child’s prescribing healthcare provider to identify the best medication and calibrate the dose for maximum effectiveness and fewest side effects. Choose a formulation that your child can tolerate. Liquid formulations or flavored tablets that dissolve in saliva may be best for children who have difficulty swallowing pills. Children who do not respond to or tolerate stimulants may be prescribed non-stimulants or off-label medications.

Children with ADHD, roughly half of whom also have a learning disability, usually benefit from IEPs or 504 Plans that outline classroom accommodations and/or academic services. Behavior intervention plans help some students replace interfering behaviors with appropriate alternative actions.

ADHD in Children: Next Steps for Parents

The Ages & Stages of ADHD

Access more articles from ADDitude’s 5-part “Ages & Stages” series exploring common ADHD-related challenges through the lifecycle, along with strategies and treatments for each:

Download the Full Ages & Stages of ADHD Booklet

These strategies for children with ADHD were derived in part from Meg Leahy’s, MS, NCC, BCC, work and expertise as an educator and ADHD coach. Read more about her recommended ADHD strategies through the ages in “The Life Coach Guide for ADHD: Strategies for Every Age and Stage.” 

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