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Classroom Behavior Modification Strategies for ADHD

By Elizabeth Halper, Ph.D. ; Updated August 14, 2017

Behavior modification techniques shape behavior through a system of reinforcement and punishment. This type of system can be effective in helping certain problem behaviors, such as those frequently seen in children with ADHD. In behavior modification strategies, the problem behavior, and the desired behavior that ideally will replace it, must be clearly defined. Then small steps toward the desired behavior are rewarded. Lapses in progress, or regression back to the problem behavior, are not rewarded.

Multiple Activity Choices

ADHD children cannot be expected to sit still and focus on one activity for a long period of time. However, if a child has the option to go between several activities at will, he will be less likely to wander off and do something else. By monitoring the amount of time spent at each activity, teachers can establish a baseline regarding the current amount of time the child stays at one activity (for example, two minutes at a drawing station) and reward the child for increased lengths of stay at each activity. Rewards can be as simple as saying, “Great job, I can see you’ve really worked hard!” It is important to reward the child for increased length of stay at an activity, but not for spending the same amount or less time than he did previously.

Individual Reward Charts

Individual reward charts are another way to implement behavior modification in the classroom. First, the teacher and child must discuss and agree on a list of behaviors that should change. For example, after talking with the teacher, Sue agrees to work on sitting quietly in her seat, raising her hand when she wants to say something and listening to others when they are speaking. The teacher then gives the child a card with these goals and puts a smiley face next to the date/class when the behavior is achieved. After a full week of smiley faces, the teacher agrees to write a positive note for the child to take to her parents. Often, at first, an entire class period may not be a reasonable goal. It is more likely that the teacher will want to reward the child for every 10 or 15 minutes that the behavior is achieved. This can be done with a smiley face, sticker, or verbal praise.

Fun Time-outs

At times it is helpful to utilize the behavior the child wants to do as a reward for doing the behavior that you want the child to do. For example, if a particular boy in the class tends to run around and make a lot of noise, the teacher could implement a system where if he is able to sit quietly for a certain amount of time, then he can run around and be noisy for five minutes as a reward. This system tends to work better with older children or children with milder ADHD symptoms. With younger or more severe ADHD kids, it may be difficult to redirect the child to acting appropriately after giving him the fun time-out.

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