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Connecting Behavior and Consequences for Kids With ADHD


Updated January 31, 2011

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Connecting Behavior and Consequences for Kids With ADHD
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Question: Connecting Behavior and Consequences for Kids With ADHD
“I just read that children with ADHD don’t learn from cause and effect. Knowing this, how do I teach/train my child? I usually say something like: ‘if you do this then here’s the consequence.’”–-About.com forum member


You are right to be specific about the behavior and the consequence that will follow such behavior. This provides clear information to your child about your expectations. And when you follow through with consequences in a consistent manner, you make things predictable for your child. Guidelines are identified and your son knows what to expect. Children with ADHD often need a lot of external structures in place to help them be more successful. In addition, the timing of the feedback and consequences you give to your child to help him manage his behavior is important. It must be provided immediately and frequently.

Let me back up just a minute to explain why timing is important and to answer your question about cause and effect.

Kids with ADHD often have difficulty delaying or inhibiting their responses. Instead, they tend to live in the moment, reacting immediately to that moment without thought. In order for a child to make a connection between a specific action and consequence (the cause and effect to which you refer), he (or she) needs to be able to stop himself, think through and weigh the consequences of the behavior, and then allow these thoughts to guide his decision making about the behavior.

For many children with ADHD, there is often a disconnect between thinking and reacting. It all just seems to happen at once! So they respond impulsively without using information about past experiences to guide their behavior. This is why kids with ADHD do not seem to learn from past mistakes as easily as their peers.

Impairments in working memory can also result in problems being able to "see what lies ahead". In other words, the child may have trouble keeping relevant information in his or her thoughts in order to make decisions about future behavior. In addition, kids with ADHD may experience a delay in the development of internal language -- the voice inside our head that helps us to "talk" to ourselves, contemplate what we should do, and then regulate our behavior.

What does this all mean in terms of helping to teach your son?

When you have a child who thinks and reacts impulsively, it is helpful if you can intervene and provide cues, reminders, incentives and guidance at the point of performance (the moment in time when your son must inhibit behavior to meet the demands of the situation). Your immediate feedback about his behavior -- pointing out, reinforcing, and rewarding him when he is displaying the behavior you want to see, and providing mild reprimands and redirection to help get him back on track when he is beginning to engage in inappropriate behavior -- will help him to "stop and think" or "put on the brakes" before responding. Your teaching and training in this area will also help him develop greater self-awareness. And the more aware and in-tune he is to the situation, the more likely he will be to connect cause and effect and use it to guide his behavior.


Mary Fowler. Maybe You Know My Kid. Birch Lane Press.1999

Russell Barkley. Taking Charge of ADHD: The Complete, Authoritative Guide for Parents. Guilford Press. 2005

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