However, prescriptions aren’t the only option. And even for people taking ADHD medication, additional treatments can often help them to manage their ADHD more effectively. One of the most highly recommended non-medication treatments for kids is behavior therapy.

What Is Behavior Therapy?

Behavior therapy is a strategy for treating ADHD in children that focuses on identifying negative actions and replacing them with positive ones. Unlike what often comes to mind with the term “therapy,” this type of treatment is not about analyzing thoughts and emotions. Instead, it deals with the behaviors caused by ADHD in a direct, practical manner.

Typically, behavior therapy is conducted by clinical psychologists. They work closely with each client to determine which behaviors need work. The intent is to reward positive behaviors so that children acquire the skills they need to manage their ADHD and are motivated to behave differently. 

What Happens in a Behavior Therapy Session?

Behavior therapy usually begins with a meeting involving the therapist, the child, and the parents. This provides an opportunity to discuss which behaviors have proven to be the most challenging for the child and those around them. Some examples might include:

  • Failing to pay attention in class or listen to instructions
  • Not completing homework assignments or chores
  • Disorganization and frequently losing things
  • Talking out of turn
  • Angry outbursts or tantrums
  • Impulsive actions
  • Constant fidgeting

Depending on which types of behaviors are most troublesome, the therapist will work with the family to come up with a system to work on discouraging those behaviors. This system involves teaching the child what type of behavior should replace the negative one, then providing them with a reward to reinforce the positive behavior.

For example, if a child with ADHD is very disorganized and messy, they’ll learn some organizational skills in behavior therapy. At home, the parents might choose to get some extra shelves or storage bins for the child’s bedroom so they can keep it clean and avoid losing their belongings. For each week they’re able to keep their room tidy, they’ll receive a reward, like a special treat or activity. In some cases, negative behaviors may be met with a consequence, such as a time out or losing screen time.

Much of the work in behavior therapy focuses on setting expectations at home that help to support and motivate the child with ADHD. That may involve sticking to structured routines, tracking progress, and ensuring consistency with the consequences and rewards system developed in behavior therapy. Teachers are sometimes involved as well if the behaviors that need to be changed primarily occur in school.

What Is the Goal of Behavior Therapy?

In behavior therapy, children learn better ways to manage the disruptive or frustrating behaviors caused by their ADHD. Ultimately, the goal is to help the child thrive at home, at school, and in social situations. At the same time, parents learn how to support their child and encourage good behavior that will help them overcome some of the challenges that ADHD can cause.

Do Adults with ADHD Need Behavior Therapy?

Behavior therapy is generally used for children with ADHD who need support from their parents and a very structured approach with rewards and consequences. Adults with ADHD, on the other hand, can often benefit from another type of treatment called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This type of psychotherapy is designed to change negative thought patterns. Adults in CBT work on common challenges brought on by ADHD, like problems with time management, lack of motivation, high stress, and low self-esteem.

Behavior therapy isn’t a replacement for ADHD medication or any other treatment. However, it can be incredibly effective for children who need help managing their ADHD.