Setting Target Behaviours for Students with ADHD

Setting Target Behaviours for Students with ADHD


Behaviour management is an essential component of a comprehensive treatment program for children with ADHD. This is an area where parents and teachers have a key role to play.

The best way to do this is to set personal goals for the student, identifying the target outcomes that are desired, and track their progress in achieving those goals.

The overall goals and skills that you might focus on could include staying on task, putting in effort, following directions, time-management and organisation skills, being in the proper location, following rules and demonstrating self-control. But these skills need to be encouraged through various different target behaviours.  Some example target behaviours to achieve the goal of staying on task and showing effort might include:

  • Completes homework
  • Turns in at least 80% of homework on time
  • Remains on task until work is completed (no more than one reminder)
  • Works quietly with no more than two reminders or prompts
  • Participates in group activities
  • If your goal is for the student to cooperate and interact appropriately with others some of the behaviours you could target include:
  • Waiting patiently without interruptions or disruptions
  • Using appropriate language
  • Talking in normal volume
  • Accepting directions from staff without argument
  • Getting along with peers

You get the idea! While there are probably many different rules you can think of, you should limit your list to four or five rules and behaviours at any given time.

The target behaviours are likely to change as the child grows up. School-age children tend to focus on peer interaction and school work. For adolescents, you may want to target impulsive behaviours and social outcomes.

Some tips

Children with ADHD respond well to positive reinforcement and encouragement. You should always frame behavioural instructions positively. That means telling the child how you want them to behave, rather than using words like “stop” and “don’t”, so they aren’t discouraged. Rewards like tokens, or a points system could also be an effective way to reinforce positive behaviours.

Another tip is to make rules that are specific, and clearly stated or written. They should also be a measurable goal, so that you can clearly determine whether progress is being made. The goal should be something that the student and caregivers all care about and agree is worthwhile. Of course, the goals must be realistic for the child to achieve. The target behaviour should be something they can do immediately, or that day, rather than something far off in the future.

You can’t rely on the student to remember the rules. It can be helpful to place visual reminders throughout the class room. You might want to laminate a list of rules, or reminders and put them on the back of their bedroom door. It can also be helpful to remind them of the rules each time you begin a new task.

Finally, it is important to keep track of their progress and provide praise rewards as soon as improvements are seen, no matter how small!

Rief, Sandra F. The ADHD book of lists: A practical guide for helping children and teens with attention deficit disorders. John Wiley & Sons, 2015.


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