CBT & Behavioral Therapy for Children With ADHD & ADD

Children struggling with ADHD commonly have symptoms marked by inattentiveness, disorganization, and difficulty following instructions or remaining on task. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and behavioral training can help teach beneficial skills such as impulse control, problem-solving, the use of calendars or lists, and documenting distractions rather than being consumed by them. In large, it’s viewed as a technique to help those with the disorder champion over negative thoughts and be successful in their application of skills to handle life’s daily challenges.

Medications are commonly used for patients with ADHD, and the purpose of popular drugs such as Ritalin, Adderall, Concerta, and Vyvance are to control the core symptoms of the disorder, such as inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and short attention span.  In contrast, behavioral therapy is most effective with habit and skills training for functions such as self-regulation and emotion management. One significant difference between using medication versus behavioral therapy is that medicine only works as long as a patient is taking it. Behavioral therapy is learning a skill set that can be applied long term and can be done by itself or paired with medication. 

In 2010, Massachusetts General Hospital conducted a study on the effectiveness of CBT for ADHD. The participants in the study were already on prescription drugs for their ADHD symptoms and for the course of the study also received behavioral therapy training to teach them skills such as emotional management is stressful situations, planning, and problem-solving. The results of the study showed a 30% improvement in ADHD symptoms in the patients who were taking medication paired with behavioral therapies, as opposed to the patients taking medication alone. 

CBT is beneficial for children as well as adults with attention disorders. Children and teens with ADHD tend to struggle with school work demands and often feel like they have a hard time in the arena of socialization. Being that cognitive behavioral therapy is a technique designed to give patients tools to help them with their thinking and self-regulation, behavior improvements can be accomplished through a praise and reward system that serves as motivation for a child to cope with school and social challenges. Children diagnosed with ADHD often face punishments for their problem behavior as opposed to hearing praise for when they’re exhibiting appropriate behavior. This alone makes positive attention such a powerful tool to incorporate in behavior therapy. CBT for a child relies on a team effort from both parents and teachers who get trained to appropriately reward and reinforce behaviors like paying attention, managing time or completing a task with accolades or small tokens to reward a job well done.

CBT and behavioral therapies are not a cure-all for ADHD, but they certainly can contribute to the success of a child struggling with the disorder, providing the client with a set of tools and skills to use the rest of their lives.


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