CDC: Treatment of ADHD

ADHDtreatment525When their child is diagnosed with ADHD, parents often have concerns about deciding the best way to help their child. It is important for parents to remember that ADHD can be successfully managed. There are many treatment options, so parents should work closely with everyone involved in the child’s life—healthcare providers, therapists, teachers, coaches, and other family members. Taking advantage of all the resources available will help parents guide their child towards success.

My Child Has Been Diagnosed with ADHD – Now What?

This information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides you with information about treatment options for ADHD:

  • Behavior therapy, including training for parents
  • Medications
  • School accommodations and interventions

For children 6 years of age and older, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends both behavior therapy and medication as good options, preferably both together. For young children (under 6 years of age) with ADHD, behavior therapy is recommended as the first line of treatment, before medication is tried. Good treatment plans will include close monitoring of whether and how much the treatment helps the child’s behavior, and making changes as needed along the way. See the recommendations page to learn more about the AAP recommendations for treatment of children with ADHD,

Behavior Therapy, Including Training for Parents

What is behavior therapy?

Research shows that behavior therapy is an important part of treatment for children with ADHD. ADHD affects not only a child’s ability to pay attention or sit still at school, it also affects relationships with family and other children.  Children with ADHD often show behaviors that can be very disruptive to others. Behavior therapy is a treatment option that can help reduce these behaviors. It is often helpful to start behavior therapy as soon as a diagnosis is made.

The goals of behavior therapy are to learn or strengthen positive behaviors and eliminate unwanted or problem behaviors. Behavior therapy can include behavior therapy training for parents, behavior therapy with children, or a combination. Teachers can also use behavior therapy to help reduce problem behaviors in the classroom.

  • In parent training in behavior therapy, parents learn new skills or strengthen their existing skills to teach and guide their children and to manage their behavior. Parent training in behavior therapy has been shown to strengthen the relationship between the parent and child, and to decrease children’s negative or problem behaviors. Parent training in behavior therapy is also known as behavior management training for parents, parent behavior therapy, behavioral parent training, or just parent training.
  • In behavior therapy with children, the therapist works with the child to learn new behaviors to replace behaviors that don’t work or cause problems. The therapist may also help the child learn to express feelings in ways that do not create problems for the child or other people.

Behavior therapy for young children: Training for parents

The 2011 clinical practice guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend that doctors prescribe behavior therapy as the first line of treatment for preschool-aged children (4–5 years of age) with ADHD.  Parent training in behavior therapy has the most evidence of being effective, but teachers and early childhood caregivers can use behavior therapy in the classroom as well.

Why should parents try behavior therapy first, before medication?

Behavior therapy is an important first step because:

  • Behavior therapy gives parents the skills and strategies to help their child.
  • Behavior therapy has been shown to work as well as medication for ADHD in young children.
  • Young children have more side effects from ADHD medications than older children.
  • The long-term effects of ADHD medications on young children have not been well-studied.

Learn more about behavior therapy.

Behavior therapy for school-age children and adolescents

For children over the age of 6, behavior therapy is an important part of treatment. The AAP recommends behavior therapy together with medication. The type of therapy that is effective for young children, parent training in behavior therapy, may also be effective for children with disruptive behavior through age 12.

Research evidence points to the effectiveness of several types of behavior therapies for older children:

  • Parent training in behavior therapy
  • Classroom behavior management
  • Peer interventions that focus on behavior
  • Organizational skills training
  • Combinations of behavior treatments

Read about effective therapies.


Medication can help children with ADHD in their everyday life, and medication treatment may be an effective way to manage ADHD symptoms. Medication is an option that may help control some of the behavior problems that have led to trouble in the past with family, friends and at school.

Several different types of medications are FDA-approved to treat ADHD in children:

  • Stimulants are the best-known and most widely used ADHD medications. Between 70-80 percent of children with ADHD have fewer ADHD symptoms when they take these fast-acting medications.
  • Nonstimulants were approved for treating ADHD in 2003.  Nonstimulants do not work as quickly as stimulants, but they can last up to 24 hours.
  • Medications can affect children differently. One child may respond well to one medication, but not another. The doctor may need to try different medications and doses, so it is important for parents to work with their child’s doctor to find the medication that works best for their child.

More information on treatments is available from the following sources:

National Resource Center on ADHD

National Institute of Mental Health

Parent Education and Support

CDC funds the National Resource Center on ADHD (NRC), a program of Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) The NRC provides resources, information, and advice for parents on how to help their child.  Learn more about their services.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention |Treatment of ADHD, | Public domain, Last Reviewed: August 9, 2022
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Care Coordinators can arrange a free 30 minute Care Consultation so you can explore options with an expert. We invite you to call or email our Care Coordinators at 650.688.3625 or to set up an initial Parent Consultation appointment.

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