How are children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder treated?

Diana Meeks
Diana Meeks on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Family Practitioner

Children with ADHD can get better with treatment, but there is no cure. There are three basic types of treatment:

  • Medication - Several medications can help. The most common types are called stimulants. Medications help children focus, learn, and stay calm. Sometimes medications cause side effects, such as sleep problems or stomachaches. Your child may need to try a few medications to see which one works best. It's important that you and your doctor watch your child closely while he or she is taking medicine.
  • Therapy - There are different kinds of therapy. Behavioral therapy can help teach children to control their behavior so they can do better at school and at home.
  • Medication and therapy combined - Many children do well with both medication and therapy.

This answer is based on source information from National Institute of Mental Health.

It is important for parents to remember that while ADHD can't be cured, it can be successfully managed. There are many treatment options, so parents and doctors should work closely with everyone involved in the child's treatment -- teachers, coaches, therapists, and other family members. Taking advantage of all the resources available will help you guide your child towards success. Remember, you are your child’s strongest advocate! In most cases, ADHD is best treated with a combination of behavior therapy and medication. For preschool children, behavior therapy is the recommended first line of treatment. Good treatment plans will include close monitoring, follow-ups and any changes needed along the way. Following are treatment options for ADHD:

  • Medications
  • Behavioral intervention strategies
  • Parent training
  • School accommodations and interventions
Dr. Diana K. Blythe, MD

There are multiple accepted ways to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. You can try a therapy approach, a medication approach or a combination of both. 

For parents who are reluctant to start medication, trying a therapy approach can be very helpful. Therapy can truly help the behaviors while giving parents an active way to help their child. You must be consistent at home with the therapist’s instructions. If what you are hearing sounds difficult, ask if there is another option. Doing a second choice option consistently will work better than doing a first choice option inconsistently.

If you do consider medication, there are many choices. The most effective of these are the stimulant medications. Other options are non-stimulants, some antidepressants and some blood pressure medications. Which medication your pediatrician and you choose for your child will likely depend on the ADHD symptoms that are most bothersome to your child's life. While the stimulant medications have been shown to be most effective, you may choose to try another medication depending on your child's symptoms.

Donna Hill Howes, RN
Family Practitioner
Growing up with any health condition is tough. When your child's brain and body just won't comply, life is a struggle. Thankfully, science has identified several effective treatments for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Children usually do best when they take ADHD medications and receive some sort of behavioral therapy. Your pediatrician or child psychiatrist can help you find the best medicine to treat your child.

Once your child is compliant with the prescribed medication, he or she may benefit from talking things out with a counselor. Family therapy is another option for treatment. You, your spouse, and your other children can come together to find ways to communicate about how one child's ADHD affects the whole family. You can even learn ways to modify your child's behavior -- quickly and effectively.

If your child struggles to make friends or do well in school, consider social-skills groups. In these groups, your child spends time with like-minded peers. Through talking with peers and with a group leader, the child will learn how to act in appropriate and healthy ways.
Dr. Lara Honos-Webb, PhD
Psychology Specialist

Psychotherapy can help impulsiveness in ADHD children by helping them realize that bad behavior is often sad, mad or scared behavior. As children learn to label their emotions they gain greater control over their behavior. Children with ADHD need support in challenging their negative thinking that results from repeated failure experiences and punishment in the environment. You can build confidence and motivation in a child by finding and focusing on his or her gifts which can include creativity, emotional sensitivity, empathy, exuberance and being nature smart.

Therapy can also help a child build his or her ability to follow through and stay organized by increasing his ability to weigh the pros and cons of any behavior. Many children will improve if their parents get coaching in strategies such as reflecting emotions, directing the child toward the wanted behaviors rather than punishing the bad behaviors, and learning to ask "What is right with my child?"

Children also need parents to advocate for the child in school settings, so a comprehensive treatment would involve making sure the child gets accommodations in school so her true abilities are able to shine.

I work with children by combining play therapy with the child, a focus on gifts, validating emotional expression while creating new positive behaviors, teaching stress management and executive functioning skills. I work with the whole family by including parent coaching in each session including teaching parents how to use behavioral reinforcements for desired behaviors.

Whether a child's treatment includes medication or not, finding and focusing on a child's gifts will be an important way to encourage change in the child.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.