How Do You Calm Down a Child with ADHD?

Ask a Doctor

My son is a wonderful, vibrant little boy, but his ADHD leads him to have periods where he just can’t keep still and quiet. Yelling and disciplining aren’t effective, and are probably counterproductive, but I don’t know what else to do. How can I calm my hyperactive child?

Doctor’s Response

Here are a few tips for managing your child’s attention deficit hyperactivity disorder:

  • Embrace structure and predictability. Children with ADHD need clear definitions of routines and expectations. Predictability is also helpful for adults with ADHD. You can help your child use and understand schedules by making a daily schedule that includes time to get ready for school, do homework, free or play time, and bedtime. Older children may benefit from the use of clocks, timers, or charts to help them manage their day. If the child enjoys this, he or she can check items off a checklist as they are completed.
  • Define rules and expectations. Children with ADHD do not deal well with ambiguity or changes in rules and expectations. As with the daily schedule, it may be helpful to make lists of goals, rules, or expectations for behavior.
  • Use positive feedback. It is always better to use more positive than negative feedback when talking with your child. Be concrete and specific, and praise your child for the things that he or she does well or completes on time rather than constantly criticizing the behaviors that result from the characteristic ADHD symptoms. Rather than offering costly prizes or incentives, reward positive behavior with rewards such as special time with a parent or a special privilege.
  • Tackle one thing at a time. While you may want to help your child overcome a number of behavior problems, it's best to focus on one or two at a time. Set both short-term ("learn to control interruptions at the dinner table for 10 minutes at a time") and long-term ("stop interrupting at the dinner table 90% of the time") goals and remember to use praise and rewards for achievements.
  • Help your child eliminate distractions and manage time. Especially tweens and older children may need help establishing a homework routine that is free from distraction. You can help them create a homework space that is pleasing, quiet, and free from distraction. Your child may appreciate the use of a timer to help with homework in order to focus on one subject for a given amount of time, or to schedule 10-minute breaks after every hour of homework. It can also be helpful to look at long-term projects such as term papers and draw up an "action plan" for the project, breaking it down into manageable steps. Older children may appreciate learning to use mobile apps to help them manage their time.

For more information, see our slideshow on ADHD symptoms in children

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References
Medically reviewed by Margaret Walsh, MD; American Board of Pediatrics

REFERENCES:

Subcommittee on Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, et al. "ADHD: clinical practice guideline for the diagnosis, evaluation, and treatment of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in children and adolescents." Pediatrics 128.5 (2011): 1007-1022.

Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation. Parenting the Child with ADHD.

United States. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder: Treatment." May 31, 2017. <http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/treatment.html>.

United States. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder: Data & Statistics." Nov. 13, 2017. <http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/data.html#1>.

University of Maryland Medical Center. "Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder-Behavioral Management." Sept. 18, 2013. <http://www.umm.edu/patiented/articles/managing_attention-deficit_hyperactivity_disorder_000030_9.htm>.

Wilkes, Maggie A. "Pediatric Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder." Medscape.com. Apr. 24, 2017. <http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/912633-overview>.