Coaching children and teens with ADHD – It works!, Jodi Sleeper-Triplett, MCCAPDA
For many children and teens with AD/HD, coaching helps them learn techniques to be more focused, stay on task, and improve time management and organizational skills. These skills are the building blocks for success in the future. By initiating the coaching process with school-aged children, we are able to keep students motivated and help them to build self-confidence and self-awareness during the formative years.
Coaching can be successful with children who have the cognitive ability to understand rewards and consequences. The level of understanding varies by age and by the individual child. If the child can understand that completing a task, such as brushing teeth, will result in a sticker or token, a positive reward, it is possible to institute a coaching program. Many times the coaching is most successful when the parents, families and/or school personnel are actively involved in the process.
Together the coach and child collaborate with the “team” to design an appropriate coaching program. This process requires the coach helping the child to explore and identify motivators, in particular external ones that will be appealing to the child.
Readiness for the coaching process is critical to results/success in children. Chronological age is not always the best indicator for children with AD/HD. They may mature more slowly than their peers. It is important to be sure that the child is ready to work independently with an “outsider”. It is recommended that with young children, ranging in age from 5 to 8, that the coaching is done directly with the parents. In turn, the parents will implement the coaching plan and set the structures at home and at school. Choose a coach who has had positive experiences working with the age group in which your child falls. When the child is slightly older, it may be helpful to arrange for coaching sessions with both the parents and the child, separately and as a team.
Teens are drawn to coaching once they understand that a coach is a non-judgmental, supportive partner. Most teens are interested in improving academic achievement and social skills; and in learning new organizational and time management strategies. Coaching can be very beneficial for teenagers. However, it requires involvement from the parents as well. Teens are not going to seek out a coach; the parents usually request services. Therefore, it is important to have them involved from the beginning. As a part of the coaching agreement, the coach, the teen and the parents can agree to terms that will work for everyone involved. Creating and posting a written coaching contract, which includes clear expectations and rewards, is helpful for both parents and teens.
One of the more sensitive areas when working with teens is trust. It can become a problem if not addressed at the initial meeting. There must be a clear understanding of the issues that are to be held confidential between client and coach, and what information is shared with the parents. One solution to this potential problem is a weekly or bi-weekly update with the parents and teen. These updates provide information for the parents to discuss with their teen. Include a review of the goals, which have been previously agreed upon by the parents and the teen.
Suggestions for effective behavioral coaching for younger children are as follows:
– Target a behavior you wish to increase or improve.
– To increase the frequency of the behavior, select a reinforcement that is rewarding/appealing to the child, such as:
Attention and praise – use these as often as possible
Extra free time or special playtime (this may include TV and video game time)
Tokens or stickers to be tallied up for weekly tangible rewards
Special one-on-one time with mom or dad
– Reward behaviors immediately and continuously.
– If the child does not demonstrate the target behavior, reward those behaviors that are very close to the
– Use of positive reinforcement should ALWAYS outnumber the use of any negative consequences. Use
negative consequences only after the positive reinforcement program has had ample time to be effective.
– The child should always be told what to do to avoid the negative consequences and the negatives should
be clearly explained.
– Negative consequences should be delivered in a firm way, without emotion, lectures or long explanations.
– Ignoring inappropriate behavior can be used instead of delivering specific negative consequences, but only
if the behavior can be completely ignored and does not continue to escalate, cause harm or disruption.
Suggestions for effective goal setting for teens:
– Develop a contract. List the goals you wish to increase or improve. Sit down with your teen and work
out this list together. Be reasonable and set goals that are attainable and clear.
– Include a list of rewards and consequences. Be clear about the limits and set weekly or bi-weekly review time to assess progress. Be sure YOU stick to the plan to help your teen stick with the target goals.
– Be sure all parties sign the contract – parents and teen. Post it prominently.
– Use of positive reinforcement should ALWAYS outnumber the use of any negative consequences. Give the positive reinforcement program ample time to be effective.
– The teen should always be told what to do to avoid the negative consequences and the negatives should be clearly explained.
– Negative consequences should be delivered in a firm way, without emotion,lectures or long explanations. The rules are set in the contract.
– To increase the frequency of success, select a reward/motivator that is appealing to the teen. Examples include:
Extra free time Computer time
Time with friend Reduction of work/chores
Dinner out Money for a CD or video
Cash for gas “Chips” toward a large purchase
– Reward progress frequently. Goals are reached in steps/stages. Each step deserves positive recognition. A positive attitude is the key to success. It builds skills, self-confidence and self-esteem.
– If the teen does not demonstrate effort toward the target goals, review the goals. Are they too “lofty”, too difficult? Might it help to restate the goals or provide a new motivational tool? Work it out together, calmly.
Coaching is a beneficial tool for many children and teens. Choosing a coach who has experience working with children and teens, understands the intricacies of the AD/HD brain, medications and co-existing conditions is of the utmost importance. It is essential to work with a coach who has a good rapport with the child or teen. Be sure that the young client, especially teens, interview the coach before the process begins. The connection between coach and client, of any age, is essential for coaching to be a success.
Jodi Sleeper-Triplett is a master certified coach. She is an active member of CHADD, ADDA and of the American Coaching Association.
Beatriz Duda, who attended Jodi Sleeper-Triplett’s coaching courses and workshops at CHADD International Conferences in Dallas (2005) and Chicago (2006), thanks her for this article which was published in Spanish in APDA’s electronic newsletter nº 14, issued on December 22, 2006.