Behavioral therapy, parent training, classroom support, and routine changes can all help children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
However, if possible, health organizations do advise that children over age 6 years take ADHD medications in combination with these approaches. Some studies suggest medication could lead to positive changes in brain structure.
If medications are not possible or beneficial for a child with ADHD, non-drug interventions can also help children thrive.
Keep reading to learn more about how to help a child with ADHD without medication.
These interventions may improve symptoms. In some cases, they may delay or eliminate the need for medication.
For children over age 6 years, the AAP recommends a combination of medications, if a child tolerates them, as well as these strategies.
Caregivers or their children may not want to go down this route, however. For instance, it may be difficult for some caregivers to access or pay for an ADHD assessment or medical insurance.
Some children may also experience side effects, although some trial and error with different options can sometimes resolve this.
In some cases, caregivers may not want to give a child ADHD medications due to fears about the drugs themselves. There is a stigma surrounding ADHD medications and misinformation about their benefits and risks.
To ensure a person is making an informed decision, it is important they talk with a qualified and knowledgeable doctor, whenever possible.
Below are some ways people can manage ADHD without or alongside medication.
Behavioral therapy is a type of talk therapy that focuses on managing or reducing unhelpful behaviors.
In addition to the child, caregivers and other family members may be present, too, particularly for younger children or situations where ADHD is affecting family relationships.
Behavioral therapy may help a child learn how to:
- regulate their emotions
- reduce impulsive behaviors
- gain confidence
- learn strategies to help with focus
Therapy can also help caregivers manage their emotions when managing challenging behavior.
Because ADHD has a strong genetic component, it is also possible that therapy could help identify and support other family members who may have ADHD symptoms, too.
Certain parenting styles cannot cause ADHD. However, how caregivers approach parenting a child with ADHD can make a difference in their symptoms and mental well-being.
Parent training can equip caregivers with the tools they need to help their child. Each program varies but may include information on:
- how ADHD affects children
- clear communication
- structure and routine
- positive reinforcement
- building skills and confidence
Punishing children for their ADHD symptoms is never helpful. It may even
Behavioral therapy can include parent training as part of the intervention, but caregivers can also pursue this option on their own.
Some strategies to help a child sleep better include:
- eliminating sources of caffeine, such as tea and chocolate
- encouraging physical activity during the day but not right before bed
- putting the child to bed at the same time each day and waking them at the same time each morning
- putting the child to sleep in a safe, cool room
- making the room dark if the child will sleep in the dark, or using a dim night-light
- keeping screens out of the child’s room
Support at school is a
- a distraction-free testing environment
- more time to complete their work
- one-on-one instruction
- a note-taker
- study skills training
Caregivers can also help children complete chores and schoolwork at home by making other changes. For example, it may help to:
- set aside time for the child to relax after school before moving on to the next activity
- write down a visible checklist for tasks they can tick off as they go
- decide on a finite start and end point for chores
- play to the child’s strengths, giving them tasks they enjoy or find interesting
- turn chores or homework into a challenge or game to help with motivation
There may be situations where people or institutions do not understand ADHD or provide children with the support they need. This is where advocacy from caregivers or other adults becomes vital.
Children with an ADHD diagnosis are legally entitled to extra support at school in the United States. If a school is not providing this support, caregivers can step in to resolve it. It may help to:
- learn about the rights of children with ADHD
- learn what kinds of support they can get at each stage of development
- learn about ableism and discrimination, and how to challenge it
- be a champion for the child, highlighting their strengths
- taking time to celebrate wins, both small and big
As a child gets older, it may help to include them in advocacy so they can begin learning how to advocate for themselves.
Limited studies suggest that nutrition could play a role in ADHD management, but strong scientific evidence is lacking.
For example, a
It is generally advisable to ensure children get a balanced, nutritious diet.
Medication is a mainstay of ADHD treatment for children over age 6 years, but non-drug interventions play an important role too.
If it is not possible or beneficial for a child to take an ADHD medication, they can still benefit from these interventions. Behavioral therapy, adjustments to the home or their routine, and strategies to help with sleep can help manage their symptoms.
Parent training may also help caregivers communicate with their child and manage their behavior. However, if a child or family is struggling, they can talk with a pediatrician about their options.