Focusing on the Positive: Behavior Management with ADHD

Eileen Bailey Health Guide January 23, 2012
  • When talking about making changes in your child's behavior, "focusing on the positive" or "positive reinforcement" programs are common terms. But when your child is acting up, it is sometimes hard to even find the positive never mind focus on it. You are so entrenched in everything your child is doing wrong, you can't see what he is doing right.

    As parents of children with ADHD we have all been there. Every time you ask your child to do something, he seems like he isn't listening or doesn't remember what you asked, even a minute or two later. He bounces around the house, jumping on furniture and argues with you constantly. All this may be the typical day in your house and although you desperately want to focus on the positive and compliment your child for his behavior, you are frustrated and struggling to find just one thing good to say.


    Sometimes, you have to set up your child for good behavior and then immediately compliment him. For example, when giving your child instructions, rather than listing what you want him to do, give one simple instruction that he can carry out immediately, such as "please take your plate to the sink." When your child has completed this simple task, tell him you really appreciated him listening. Keep in mind that instructions should be simple and feedback should be immediate.

    One of the other problems in praising your child comes up when you hold back praise because you don't want to spoil the moment. Imagine your child's favorite show is on television and he is sitting relatively quietly watching the show. You relish the few minutes of peace and are worried that if you call attention to him sitting quietly, you will break the spell of the show and he will once again be off and running. While it is tempting to try to quickly get something done while your child is occupied, you don't want to miss this moment to let him know you appreciate and have noticed that he is sitting quietly or is not pestering his siblings. When starting a behavior program, you need to take advantage of every time you can "catch" your child behaving appropriately.

    Another aspect of a successful behavior program is choosing one behavior to work on at a time. As difficult as it is to ignore annoying behaviors, it is important to choose one thing to work on at a time. Before beginning, you might want to take some time to list several behavior you want to improve. Work with your spouse to create a list and then discuss which behavior is causing the most difficulty for your child or which one is the most frustrating your you to deal with in your household. While you may not be able to outright ignore all other behaviors - especially if your child or other children are in danger or if your child steals or hits other children - however, you can minimize your reaction to these behaviors as you work to improve your "chosen" behavior. By concentrating on one specific behavior, you can more easily notice improvement and give your child immediate feedback.


  • Make sure you have set clear goals and can measure your child's success so you know when to move on to a new behavior. It is also important to see any improvement, no matter how small, as a positive move in the right direction.


    For more information, you might want to check out:

    Tips for Using Behavior Charts to Shape Your Child's Behavior

    Sample Behavior Charts

    Using Token Economies to Help Manage Behavior

    Behavior Management: Five Useful Phrases