4 easy strategies for students with ADHD: help children thrive in school and life

4 easy strategies for students with ADHD: help children thrive in school and life

1) Identify the WHY- Based on ABA, there are four reasons (functions) why we all engage in the behaviors we engage in. Just a brief review, these are; Tangible (activity, object), Escape (terminate, avoid unpreferred tasks/things), Sensory (usually used to regulate our bodies), and Attention (positive or negative attention from others-including eye contact). A nice little acronym to remember this by is TESA always EATS. You can identify the reason why your child engages in the behavior by first:

  • Stopping (drop everything you are doing and focus on your child).
  • Watching (focus on what they were presented with first and what happened immediately after they behaved the way they did).


  • Listening -to what your child is trying to communicate they need by engaging in the behavior- perhaps it's more attention from you, or that they feel uncomfortable, or they may need some time to calm down.

2) Find out what they are into- In the field of ABA, we often conduct preference assessments to identify the child's preferences between objects/tasks/people. But we understand that just because a child likes a particular activity, person, or item does not mean they will behave or "work" to obtain it. For example, I like skittles but won't wash an entire car for 30 bags of skittles. The truth is that a preference does not necessarily equal to a reinforcer. An easy way to find out if an item, person, or activity functions as a reinforcer for your child is to test it out! If you provide them with a contingency (if-then or when-then), will they follow through? For example, let's look at this statement "when you finish your homework, then you can have five minutes of IPAD." If the child follows through, we can say that the 5 minutes of IPAD use may be a reinforcer. If they don't, we will probably look for another item to motivate them to follow through.

3) Affirm their strengths- All children have strengths, check out this metaphor-pretend you are walking through a garden; you will only pick the flowers that you see, and after you choose them, you will put them in a bouquet and offer them to your child. Perhaps they are creative (which we spoke about can be associated with ADHD), or they are very active, so they can be great in sports, or maybe they are outgoing and build friendships quickly and are not shy and speak what they think. Now we can see how these strengths can become hazardous when not channeled correctly, which is the key! After you've identified it, you can provide them an affirmation such as "you are persistent; this can help you figure out difficult tasks."

4) Help them ask for what they want and don't want by communicating it. This seems like a no-brainer, but sometimes children may experience difficulties connecting what they are thinking to words. Sometimes ADHD brains work faster than the mouth, and oftentimes especially with ADHD-Hyperactive type, children impulsively act on their emotions. Teach your child by redirecting them to use "their words" whenever they want or even want to avoid/delay something. For example; teaching your child to escape or delay completion of tasks (when they aren't that big of a deal to complete, of course) by asking, "can I do it later" or "can I have a break" or "can I do it differently." Most of the time, parents and teachers allow children to escape tasks they don't want to do by engaging in those behaviors we want to reduce, so why not allow them to escape it but by asking appropriately? Children may sometimes find these tasks painful to complete because they have difficulty with them; teach them to ask for HELP. Another important component is teaching your child to communicate their feelings. Some children may feel overly "jittery" at times or like they "can't stay still" teach them to ask for a change in environment (can we go outside and play-I feel energized) or an item that will help them feel better ("can I have by fidget toy please or can you tickle me").

Sometimes identifying functions of behaviors and a child's preference is easy, and other times it may be more challenging. For those times that it appears to be more difficult, make sure you contact a professional with experience working with children with ADHD and behavior management to help.