School Behavior

Rewarding Good Behavior

Five ways for teachers of children with ADHD to accentuate the positive in the classroom.

A teacher works with a child who has autism spectrum disorder.
A teacher works with a child who has autism spectrum disorder.

One of the best strategies for motivating students is the use of “social reinforcers.” There is no substitute for noticing when students are being good and reinforcing those behaviors with specific, descriptive, sincere praise. Students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) receive a lot of teacher and peer attention for misbehavior and rule violations.

It is important to pay attention when they are behaving appropriately, reward good behavior and provide positive reinforcement. Try to provide three times more positive attention and comments to students than negative feedback. Here are five ways to do it:

1. Speak it.

Tell the student what he has done well in the classroom. Say, “Victor, you did such a good job paying attention and staying with the group” or “I see that Marcus is in his chair, facing forward, with his book open to the right page. Nice job of following directions.”

[Read: Positive Charge: How to Reinforce Good Behavior]

2. Write it.

For older students, who may be embarrassed at being praised in front of peers, slip a note or Post-it on his desk before or after class, or send an e-mail to him and his parents.

3. Announce it.

Students who don’t mind the attention can be singled out for their achievements in a public way: by recognition at an awards assembly, receiving Star of the Day or Student of the Week awards, or special commendation broadcast over the school intercom.

4. Give activity rewards.

Students with ADHD need the opportunity to earn the reward of participation more than other children. They often miss out on group activities because they’re busy trying to complete unfinished assignments. Find ways to provide support and accommodations to help students get caught up with their work, so that they can join their peers. Some rewards might include listening to a student’s choice of music in the classroom, an ice cream, popcorn, or pizza party, or an opportunity to take a break, run a few laps, dance to a song, or spend some time in the playground.

5. Give material rewards.

Offering students a prize for doing a good job in class often reinforces their performance. Special pencils, pens, or folders; edible treats; or free tickets to school dances, concerts, or sporting events are good choices.

Adapted with permission from and How to Reach and Teach Children with ADD/ADHD, Second Edition, Copyright 2005 by Sandra F. Rief.