Behavior Therapy for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in Children

NYU Langone’s Child Study Center offers evidence-based behavior therapies for children and adolescents with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Younger children tend to respond well to behavior therapy, whereas a combination of medication and behavior therapy may be especially beneficial to older children.

The goal of behavior therapy for childhood ADHD is to help children change and monitor their behavior. Therapists may provide practical assistance by helping a child to organize tasks and complete schoolwork. Or, a therapist may help a child to develop strategies to deal with an emotionally difficult event. Behavior therapy can also help children to learn how to follow rules and comply with directions and instructions. Parents and family members are also an important part of the therapy process and are encouraged to become involved in a child’s treatment.

Parent–Child Interaction Therapy

Parent–child interaction therapy is a behavioral training program for parents of children two to seven years old who are significantly noncompliant and disruptive. This type of therapy teaches skills to caregivers that they can use to increase the number of positive interactions they have with their child, improve a child’s level of compliance, and reduce parenting stress. Sessions involve live coaching of interactions between parents and children. Therapists observe these interactions from behind a one-way mirror, providing guidance and feedback to the parents via headset.

The average length of treatment is about 18 weeks, though this duration varies. Parent–child interaction therapy generally lasts until parents master the skills they’ve been taught, the child’s behavior problems decrease significantly, and the parents feel confident managing their child in everyday situations.

Therapy for Parents and Families

Clinicians at the Child Study Center also offer a variety of behavior therapy services that are specially designed just for parents. These one-on-one sessions teach parents how to manage their child’s ADHD using a variety of coping, reinforcement, and support strategies. Parents of children with less pronounced behavioral issues may benefit from individual parenting consultations. 

Older children or teens and their parents can work with a therapist during family therapy sessions. During these sessions, the parents and child establish rules, responsibilities, privileges, and consequences in collaboration with the therapist. 

For instance, families and children often struggle with homework time, morning and evening routines, and the use of technology. Behavior therapists are skilled at helping families to create plans that are favorable to parents and children alike. These plans can be very helpful in clarifying expectations, reducing arguments, and ensuring that family members meet the goals they have set for themselves.

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