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ADHD in the Family

Marilyn Preston, MA in Human Services Administration, Building Strong Families Extension Associate, University of Missouri Extension


Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, is a growing concern for families in the United States. Studies show that between 3 to 5% of school-age students have ADHD. With the disorder gaining more and more attention it is important for families to understand more about ADHD and ways in which families can work together to make their child with ADHD more successful.


Symptoms of ADHD
ADHD affects a person’s ability to pay attention and make decisions. In order to receive an ADHD diagnoses, a child’s problems must be affecting their ability to behave and act in a way that would be normal for their age. For example, if a ten year old child cannot seem to pay attention in class and often gets up and walks around the classroom then this would get in the way of his or her ability to learn and interact as a normal ten-year old.


Children who have ADHD will have at least some of the behaviors before the age of seven and have trouble in more than one place, such as, both at home and school. ADHD makes it very hard for children to learn, make friends, and follow directions. The symptoms have to have a negative impact on the child’s life. If a child has trouble concentrating, but is getting excellent grades, she probably does not have ADHD.


Signs that your child might have ADHD include:

  • Not being able to pay attention to directions or assignments
  • Problems with organization, including problems keeping their room clean
  • Difficulty remembering when they have appointments or when things are due
  • Always acting as if “on the go”
  • Always fidgeting and squirming
  • Not having any patience and not being able to wait for his or her turn
  • Talking too much
  • Daydreaming too much
  • Interrupting conversations and answering questions before they have been asked
  • Quickly becoming very frustrated with homework and schoolwork


ADHD affects a child’s ability to control his or her impulses. Children with ADHD often seem to make rash decision and bad choices. They may act up and get in trouble at school more than a typical child. Often children with ADHD will have trouble understanding directions and completing their homework. Their trouble with understanding may frustrate them and cause them to have tantrums and misbehave both at home and school. This means that a child who is 12 may act more like a 9 year old in regards to his ability to focus and have self-control. This does not mean that he is not smart; in fact, research shows that most children with ADHD have at least normal intelligence.


It can be hard to determine if your child has ADHD. If you notice any of the symptoms mentioned above, it may be a good idea to contact your child’s teacher, daycare provider or caregiver to discuss your child’s behavior in places outside of the home. You can also consult your pediatrician, and make an appointment with a doctor or school counselor to discuss your child and the options available to you and your family.


Three Types of ADHD
Researchers have found three distinct types of ADHD:

  • Inattentive – The child cannot seem to focus and has trouble staying on top of and finishing a project.
  • Hyperactive-Impulsive – The child is extremely active and seems to make rash decisions.
  • Combined – The child has difficulty focusing and has symptoms of hyperactivity.


ADHD can make it hard for a child to be successful in school. It can also make it difficult for parents to understand how to work with and advocate for their child. If a child is diagnosed with ADHD he or she qualifies for assistance in school, either through an Individual Education Plan (IEP) or through a lesser-known program called Section 504. Both of these programs may help the child by offering assistance through behavioral strategies in school.


Tips for Parents and Caregivers

  • Children with ADHD may be behind their peers in terms of development. It is important to keep this in mind when making a plan or set of consequences for the child. Try to fit your discipline strategy to your child’s behaviors and needs, not to their age.
  • Remember to catch your child doing good. It is easy to notice when a child is misbehaving, but it is just as important to tell your child that he or she is doing a good job or trying hard.
  • Set up rules that are clear and consistent. Write these rules and put them in a place that the child can see easily. Make a few rules and keep them simple. For example, you could create a short rule list and post them on the refrigerator. Rules might include 1) put dishes away (or finish chores); 2) respect family members by not talking back; and 3) work on homework 3:30-4:00 and 6:00-6:30.
  • Give simple directions to your child, one step at a time. Make sure your child understands what you want by asking him or her to repeat what you said. Break down directions into small pieces. Instead of telling your child to get ready for school, tell them the steps to take: 1) brush teeth, 2) get dressed, 3) eat breakfast, and 4) pack their book bag. You can make a poster with pictures to help them remember.
  • Tell your child what you want him or her to do, not what you do not want them to do. For example, instead of “Don’t be late” say “Be home by 7:30.”
  • Be specific. For example, say, “Please put your clean clothes in your drawers” instead of “Go clean your room.”
  • Set up a regular schedule for homework, meals and bedtimes. A regular routine helps children with ADHD to prepare for and plan for their day. If there is going to be a change in routine, prepare your child ahead of time.
  • Since children with ADHD may have a hard time organizing their thoughts, work with them by asking what, why, how and when questions. For example, ask them what they are angry about, why they feel sad, how the teacher told them to do the homework. By asking these types of questions, parents can get a better understanding of how their child views the world.
  • Give incentives for good behavior and accomplishments. A sticker or reward chart might work, especially if your child helps to choose the rewards.
  • Make time for breaks, both for your child, when he or she is working hard, and for you, so that you don’t get overwhelmed.
  • Work with your child’s teacher to create a system for homework, such as a notebook that travels to and from school. Check in every night to see what homework your child has and make sure he or she completes the homework.


Tips for Teachers and Educators

  • Children with ADHD should either be seated up front to minimize distractions or have the option of sitting in private enclosed areas. These seating arrangements should not be used as a punishment.
  • Allow students to work in groups or pairs, providing a role model for ADHD students.
  • Use creative techniques to keep student’s interest. For example, use music, movement and visual aids to teach a lesson.
  • Have clear and consistent rules that are displayed in an accessible place in the classroom.
  • Children with ADHD learn best by “doing.” Make assignments interactive. Provide information and assistance, but let the student work through the question by finding the answers themselves.
  • Capitalize on student’s hyperactivity by asking them to assist you with passing out papers, setting up lessons and erasing the board.
  • Provide breaks on a regular basis that allow children to get up and move.
  • Keep directions as simple as possible, checking with the students to make sure that they understand what is being asked of them.
  • Reward good behavior with incentives that are meaningful for the student.
  • Work with parents—you are a team whose goal is the success of the student.
  • Provide written instructions for homework and create a system that allows the parents to see what homework is assigned each night.
  • Some children might need the readings to be highlighted to demonstrate the main points.
  • Depending on the IEP, some students might need longer test times, less or different homework and other assistance. Work with the IEP team to determine the best ways to help the student succeed.
  • Try to make connections between new information and subjects and the student’s lives. This may help them to organize and retain the information.


ADHD causes behavior that can sometimes be frustrating for parents and teachers. It is important to keep in mind that children with ADHD are not trying to misbehave, but that the part of their brain that works on impulse control is not working properly. Despite the difficulties that these children face, success is a very real and tangible possibility with help from supportive families and teachers.


For more information on ADHD and supports please visit the Missouri Developmental Disability Resource Center’s section on ADHD at


For information regarding a Section 504 plan, see



American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th ed.). Washington DC: Author.

U.S. Department of Education. (2003). Identifying and Treating Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: A Resource for School and Home. Washington DC: Office of Special Education Programs.



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Last Updated 08/25/2009