Connecting Behavior and Consequences for Kids With ADHD

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Children with ADHD are often constantly moving or fidgeting, have trouble focusing, and struggle to process information as rapidly or correctly as other children. This can affect how they interpret the consequences of their behavior, which can be frustrating for ​parents and teachers.

Let's take a look at why there is often a disconnect between behavior and consequence in children with ADHD, and how to best help them make the connection.

The Disconnect Between Behavior and Consequence

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 behavior and consequence, he needs to be able to stop himself, think through, 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, a 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.

Children With ADHD Can Make the Connection Between Behavior and Its Effect

When you have a child who thinks and reacts impulsively, it's 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 of and in-tune he is with the situation, the more likely he will be to connect cause and effect and use it to guide his behavior.

Also, be sure to follow through with consequences in a consistent manner—feedback needs to be provided immediately and frequently. This way things are predictable for your child. Guidelines are identified and your son knows what to expect.

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Article Sources

  • American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5).

  • 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.