ADHD at school – Part 1: planning and rules, rewards & punishments

Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) have developmentally inappropriate attention, hyperactivity and/or impulsive behaviour that can be disruptive in the classroom. In the first article of a two-part series for teachers, the Learning Assessment & Neurocare Centre point out the realities of the condition, and provide suggestions and strategies for coping with children with ADHD.

Neurobiological aspects of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

ADHD is a complex neurobiological disorder. Researchers believe that people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder have a few structures within the brain that are smaller and that their neurotransmitters - chemical messengers of the brain - do not work properly. This gives rise to very poor concentration, impulsivity and/or hyperactive behaviour that significantly interferes with and impairs everyday life.

Managing it in the classroom

The purpose of classifying behaviour enables specialists to understand and help the child, suggesting strategies for those who live and work with them. Children with ADHD often test the limits of teachers and parents. To help the child you need to remain in control and respond positively, not allowing yourself to get drawn into a negative behavioural style.

Planning for a child with the problem

  • School can be a hostile place for a child with ADHD.

  • Be aware of problem situations.

  • Accommodate skills difficulties.

  • Acknowledge and note vulnerabilities.

  • Find out about potential problems before the child enters the class so you can plan ahead and avoid the possibility of a poor start.

  • Assess situations with the ADHD child in mind. School trips or a school play are likely to make the child very excited. Establish one or two essential rules before the event and make sure the child knows what the rules are and what will happen if they do or do not comply. It may be necessary to plan for a parent or classroom assistant to be present at the event.

  • Try to control the level of stimulation the ADHD child is exposed to. A child with ADHD is easily aroused.

  • Give short, clear instructions: try not to “flood” the child with information as they will “switch off.”

  • Tell the child what to do, rather than what not to do, for example, “please put your feet on the floor” rather than “take your feet off the table.” Giving positive rather than negative instructions is better for morale of both the teacher and child.

Rules, rewards and punishments for affected children

  • Have only few rules in classroom; make sure they are visible and the child knows the rules and consequences of compliance or non-compliance. Rules should be phrased positively, for example, “be kind to others, listen when the teacher is speaking.” Praise and reward appropriate behaviour and achievements - try and ignore minor behaviour.

  • Enforce rules consistently and quickly: ADHD children cannot await rewards and forget why they are punished if there is a delay.

  • Children may need help in appreciating rules, procedures of classroom and find them hard to remember.

  • Reinforcement and meaningful rewards are more effective than punishment, as is a positive attitude, comment or smile.

  • Set boundaries and limits for a child in the classroom and playground.

  • Make it clear that it is the behaviour not the child that is unacceptable.

  • Remember the threat of punishment has little effect on child with ADHD because of poor appreciation of cause and effect and consequences of actions.

  • Use reward systems, giving the child opportunities to be rewarded frequently.  Change reinforcers as ADHD children become bored very quickly. Use positive reinforcers but remember ADHD children also need mild negative consequences. If punishments are too extreme, the child will give up trying to behave.

  • Punish carefully - avoid lecturing, criticising, ridiculing, sarcasm, and so on.

  • Work on one difficult behaviour at a time - remember you are teaching the child to behave just as you teach him to read.

  • Remember the child has a disability and try to be kind to them and to yourself.

  • Make sure the child knows it is their choice to be rewarded or punished.

  • Don’t presume that the child will behave well because of getting a treat or reward.

  • Try to provide opportunities for the child with ADHD to retreat, like giving small jobs that are not used as a punishment.

  • Whenever possible, try to give the child with ADHD opportunities to be responsible - don’t resent doing so because he doesn’t deserve it - think of him as being disabled.

  • Make sure that the child is given a second chance to succeed as soon as they have failed, for example, “as soon as you say you are ready to be quiet you can leave the naughty chair and return to the room”, and so on.

  • Teach the child problem-solving skills so that they feel in control.

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ADHD at school – Part 1: planning and rules, rewards & punishments