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Science-Backed Treatments for ADHD & Other Disruptive Behavior Disorders

by Caraline McDonnell, BA

Your first step to supporting your child who may be struggling with ADHD or another Disruptive Behavior Disorder, like Oppositional Defiant Disorder or Conduct Disorder, is to get a thorough evaluation done by a mental health professional. Comprehensive assessments are the most helpful tool to help identify problem areas, diagnose, and recommend treatment approaches for each individual child and family.

After your evaluation, you may receive a few recommendations that the clinician determines will be a good fit for your family. Here are the recommendations that are proven to work.

Parent Training

Two of the most effective approaches to treating ADHD have a large emphasis on parent involvement and skills training to effectively support kids. As the most important people in kids’ lives, we teach skills to caregivers so that they have the tools to support their child’s successful and healthy development. The approach used for parent training mainly depends on the child’s age.

Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT)

For kids 7 and under, families are encouraged to engage in Parent-Child Interaction Therapy. PCIT is an evidence-based treatment for young children with behavioral problems that uses live parent coaching to teach caregivers behavioral management techniques. PCIT is completed in two distinct phases.

The first phase focuses on developing skills to support a secure and positive bond between caregiver and child. In this stage we teach caregivers how to use positive attention to improve child behavior.  Strategically using positive attention can effectively address about 80% of behavior challenges in young children. Attention is your superpower!

The second phase focuses on learning proven strategies for discipline to help your child accept limits, comply with directions, and demonstrate appropriate behavior. This will give you a clear and tangible roadmap for what to do during high stress situations. It will also support you and other caregivers in having a predictable and consistent approach to child misbehavior.

Behavioral Parent Training (BPT)

For kids and teens that are older than 7 years old, the recommended intervention is Behavioral Parent Training. BPT uses many of the same skills that you might learn in PCIT, but they are more appropriate for older kids. In a course of BPT, you will learn positive reinforcement methods for improving behavior like positive attention and how to structure and maintain consistent expectations and consequences.

Both BPT and PCIT have been found to be effective for kids with ADHD and other Disruptive Behavior Disorders.

Individual Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

As a result of an assessment, you may also be recommended that your child engage with individual CBT to learn some strategies for organizational management, emotional regulation skills, and relaxation techniques. Oftentimes this is a secondary recommendation after caregivers complete a course of parent training. Parent training can help lay a structure and foundation for individual CBT to be effective, but for most children with ADHD, parental involvement will be critical to any individual course of CBT working since consistency is key.

Summer Treatment Programming

For kids ages 6-12, there are effective interventions that are delivered through summer camps! Summer Treatment Programs for ADHD deliver evidence-based interventions in a camp setting to support kids who struggle with moderate-mild ADHD and related challenges. Many of these programs will provide skills to caregivers throughout the summer. Part of what makes the STP successful is that children with ADHD and DBDs get the opportunity to put skills into practice in a natural setting, where problems with inattention, impulsivity, hyperactivity, and peer social challenges often occur. Rather than having to generalize skills learned in an office or school to a natural environment, which is very hard to do, kids have the opportunity to practice where their difficulties really happen and then to get immediate, corrective feedback, which reinforces their use of skills.

Camp Baker, housed within The Baker Center, is one of these camps that has seen tremendous success!


Sometimes medication may be recommended for kids and teens with ADHD to help them manage their symptoms and take back control over their everyday lives. Stimulants are the most common medications used to address ADHD symptoms, but it is important to keep in mind that a medication that works for one kid may not work for another. If you are considering medication, consult with your child’s healthcare provider. They will be able to assist you in figuring out the right medication and dosage to use.

For kids who do take medication, we still find that combining behavioral therapy approaches with medication can be the most effective way to make positive change.

What Can I Do to Help?

We also know that using certain skills at home can be a good way to start supporting your kid/teen as you wait for an intake assessment. Here are some things you can begin to try!

  • Create a consistent routine at home. Routines and consistent expectations can be very helpful to kids with ADHD. Having a set plan for the day will minimize distractions and increase chances that they can achieve all that you are asking of them!
  • Help your child set up an organizational system! Work with your kid to identify ways that they can keep their schoolwork and chores organized.  The goal is to support them in consistent completion of tasks by decreasing the risk of losing important items and increasing their ability to track assignments and responsibilities.
  • Help them plan for more complicated tasks. Increase your child’s chances of success by breaking down longer and more complex tasks into simple steps. This will help them avoid feeling overwhelmed and decrease the stress of starting a task.
  • Minimize distractions during homework and chore times. Many kids with ADHD can be easily distracted but we can minimize distractions by making sure their workspace is clean and free of toys, TV’s, phones, and other devices.
  • Be clear and specific when giving instructions. Kids with ADHD often get excessive commands when they have difficulty complying. Increase the chances of compliance by providing clear instructions, and by giving only one command at a time.
  • Provide clear choices. To avoid overstimulating your child, give clear options when asking them questions. For example, you can ask if they’d prefer to do their English homework or their math homework, instead of asking them if they would like to do homework in general!
  • Use labeled praise and goals as motivators. Notice when your child is doing things well and be sure to tell them exactly what you liked about it! Praise is a powerful tool in reinforcing positive behaviors. It is important for any goals set to be achievable for kids, and when they are rewarded with a prize when reached, it can be very motivating. The goals can be small, and the prizes can be small too (maybe they get to choose the family dinner or get an additional story at bedtime!)
  • Use consistent and fair discipline strategies. When disciplining your child or teen, it is important to stay calm, and use an even tone of voice. Be up front with your kids about whether you will be using time-outs, or the removal of privileges as consequences for inappropriate behavior. Be sure to tell them what counts as inappropriate behaviors in your home so they know what actions will receive consequences beforehand.
  • Play to your child’s strengths! Notice what your child does well, and what they enjoy doing! Kids with ADHD can often have a hard time in school, so it can be very helpful to have positive extracurriculars built into the schedule where they regularly succeed! This can do wonders for their self-esteem and mood.

Want to learn more?

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023a, September 27). Other concerns and conditions with ADHD. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023b, September 27). Treatment of ADHD. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023c, September 27). What is ADHD?. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Disruptive behavior disorders. (DBD): Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment. (n.d.).
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