The place start on this topic for both parents and clinicians is the CDC’s one page handout, Behavior Therapy for Children with ADHD: An Overview.
Here are excerpts from Parent Training in Behavior Management for ADHD:
Behavior therapy is an effective treatment for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) that can improve a child’s behavior, self-control, and self-esteem. It is most effective in young children when it is delivered by parents. Experts recommend that healthcare providers refer parents of children younger than 12 years old for training in behavior therapy. For children younger than 6 years old, parent training in behavior management should be tried before prescribing ADHD medicine.
When parents become trained in behavior therapy, they learn skills and strategies to help their child with ADHD succeed at school, at home, and in relationships. Learning and practicing behavior therapy requires time and effort, but it has lasting benefits for the child and the family.Did you know?
Parent training in behavior management is also known as parent behavior therapy, behavioral parent training, or just parent training.
What should parents look for?
If possible, families should look for a therapist who focuses on training parents. Some therapists will have training or certification in a parent training program that has been proven to work in young children with ADHD.
Therapists may also use strategies like those in proven programs1,2. The following list of questions can be used to find a therapist who uses a proven approach:
- Does this therapist
- Teach parents skills and strategies that use positive reinforcement, structure, and consistent discipline to manage their child’s behavior?
- Teach parents positive ways to interact and communicate with their child?
- Assign activities for parents to practice with their child?
- Meet regularly with the family to monitor progress and provide coaching and support?
- Re-evaluate treatment plans and remain flexible enough to adjust strategies as needed?
What can parents expect?
Parents typically attend eight or more sessions with a therapist. Sessions may involve working with groups of parents or with one family alone. The therapist meets regularly with the parents to review their progress, provide support, and adjust strategies, as needed, to ensure improvement. Parents typically practice with their child between sessions.
Parents have the greatest influence on their young child’s behavior. Only therapy that focuses on training parents is recommended for young children with ADHD because young children are not mature enough to change their own behavior without their parents’ help. Some therapists may use play therapy or talk therapy to treat young children with ADHD. Play therapy provides a way for children to communicate their experiences and feelings through play. Talk therapy uses verbal communication between the child and a therapist to treat mental and emotional disorders. Neither of these has been proven to improve symptoms in young children with ADHD.
Learning and practicing behavior therapy requires time and effort, but it has lasting benefits for the child. Ask your healthcare provider about the benefits of parent training in behavior therapy for young children with ADHD.
What can healthcare providers do?
Healthcare providers can:
- Follow the clinical practice guideline for diagnosis and treatment of ADHD in young children.
- Discuss with parents the benefits of behavior therapy and why they should consider getting training.
- Identify parent training providers in their area and refer parents of young children with ADHD for training in behavior therapy before prescribing medicine.
For more information:
For Parents and Providers:
- Finding a therapist: A guide for parents [PDF – 975 KB]
- Behavior therapy for young children with ADHD: Overview for parents[PDF – 330 KB]
- Behavior therapy for children with ADHD: Overview for parents[PDF – 795 KB]
- Behavior therapy for young children with ADHD: What healthcare providers can do[PDF – 749 KB]
- ADHD treatment options
- National Resource Center on ADHD
- American Academy of Pediatrics clinical practice guideline for ADHD
And now here are excerpts from the CDC’s Treatment Of ADHD specifically relating to Behavior Therapy in ADHD:
Types of treatment for ADHD include
- Behavior therapy, including training for parents; and
Treatment recommendations for ADHD
For children with ADHD younger than 6 years of age, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends parent training in behavior management as the first line of treatment, before medication is tried. For children 6 years of age and older, the recommendations include medication and behavior therapy together — parent training in behavior management for children up to age 12 and other types of behavior therapy and training for adolescents. Schools can be part of the treatment as well. AAP recommendations also include adding behavioral classroom intervention and school supports. Learn more about how the school environment can be part of treatment.
Good treatment plans will include close monitoring of whether and how much the treatment helps the child’s behavior, as well as making changes as needed along the way. To learn more about AAP recommendations for the treatment of children with ADHD, visit the Recommendations page.
Behavior Therapy, Including Training for Parents
ADHD affects not only a child’s ability to pay attention or sit still at school, it also affects relationships with family and other children. Children with ADHD often show behaviors that can be very disruptive to others. Behavior therapy is a treatment option that can help reduce these behaviors; it is often helpful to start behavior therapy as soon as a diagnosis is made.
The goals of behavior therapy are to learn or strengthen positive behaviors and eliminate unwanted or problem behaviors. Behavior therapy for ADHD can include
These approaches can also be used together. For children who attend early childhood programs, it is usually most effective if parents and educators work together to help the child.
Children younger than 6 years of age
For young children with ADHD, behavior therapy is an important first step before trying medication because:
- Parent training in behavior management gives parents the skills and strategies to help their child.
- Parent training in behavior management has been shown to work as well as medication for ADHD in young children.
- Young children have more side effects from ADHD medications than older children.
- The long-term effects of ADHD medications on young children have not been well-studied.
School-age children and adolescents
For children ages 6 years and older, AAP recommends combining medication treatment with behavior therapy. Several types of behavior therapies are effective, including:
- Parent training in behavior management;
- Behavioral interventions in the classroom;
- Peer interventions that focus on behavior; and
- Organizational skills training.
These approaches are often most effective if they are used together, depending on the needs of the individual child and the family.