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ADHD: Coping with symptoms

Child running.

Behavior therapy and medication can help your child control disruptive behavior.

There is no cure for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but there are ways to curb the disruptive behavior it causes.

Symptoms can usually be relieved through a combination of behavior therapy and medication.

Behavior therapy

Teachers, counselors and family members work with the child to manage behavior. Usually they create a system of rewards and penalties and ways to minimize distractions. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), these can include:

  • Making life predictable. Set up a daily routine and keep a checklist of things to be done.
  • Breaking large tasks into small steps. Have your child set small goals and reward your child when he or she meets them.
  • Giving positive reinforcement. Reward appropriate behavior instead of punishing bad behavior.
  • Using creative options. Don't rely on spanking. Instead, try distracting your child, ignoring the behavior or giving your child some quiet time alone.
  • Repeating things and writing down directions. Your child can accomplish more when he or she has written ideas to refer to.

Using these tips, most children with ADHD are able to stay in a regular classroom at school, but some may need a special education program or a tutor to meet their needs.

Check to see if your child's school has a program for dealing with ADHD.


Children with ADHD may be prescribed stimulants, such as Ritalin or Dexedrine, to reduce hyperactivity and increase attention span.

Side effects may include headaches, sleeplessness, loss of appetite and personality changes. Your child should get regular checkups to ensure that medication is working and the correct dosage has been prescribed.

While medication should never be used as the only way to control ADHD, these medications are considered safe if used as prescribed.

The AAP recommends that children with ADHD have a thorough patient history, family history and physical exam before starting treatment with stimulant drugs.

Overdiagnosing ADHD

Not every child who has trouble paying attention or is squirmy or disruptive has ADHD.

Anxiety, depression, chronic middle ear infection, sleep problems or thyroid problems can all mimic ADHD symptoms.

All possible explanations for a child's symptoms should be explored before a doctor diagnoses ADHD and prescribes medication.

Your doctor should take a complete medical history and talk with your child's teachers and your family before making a diagnosis.

Reviewed 5/23/2023

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