Coaching The Preschooler With ADHD

Our four year old displays all the symptoms of ADHD and we are dealing with all the questions that come with it. He loses control over his behavior at social gatherings and especially around other kids. We need guidance about what to bring him to and what to skip.

Parents raising young children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are confronted by a continuous question of balance. How can they provide their child with opportunities for growth and happiness while ensuring that their child's high levels of impulsivity and energy don't undermine these valuable childhood experiences? Preschoolers with ADHD may find it very difficult to control themselves with peers despite the presence of adult authority. Tears and negative reactions on the part of other children, and disapproving glances from other parents, leave many parents with angst and aggravation.

If this is a familiar dilemma read on for strategies on how to support your ADHD preschooler without restricting life's opportunities.

The behavior of young children with ADHD is inherently variable and tied to situational factors. Impulsive behavior tends to crop up when environmental stimulation is either at the low end (boredom) or the higher end of the continuum (overly stimulating). This is because the child has great difficulty modulating their impulses' response to events. Parents can anticipate the degree of stimulation present in different environments and plan accordingly. In boring circumstances, such as restaurant meals and long car drives, ensure that a portable and potent "interest engager" is taken along. In highly charged environments, such as birthday parties and amusement parks, plan for frequent "calm down breaks" so emotional equilibrium can be restored.

Ideal situations engage their minds, warm their hearts and structure their body movements without placing too great a temptation upon their impulsivity. Finding this balance requires creativity and planning. In large gatherings it may require parent involvement in coordinating games of interest rather than allowing the random exuberance of free play. In other circumstances there might be an older child, such as a cousin or neighbor, who takes a nurturing and guiding interest in the ADHD child. The critical ingredient is that the child feels attended to and positively attached to the person in the role of "shepherd of the flock." Redirections are offered without the stinging effects of reprimands and plenty of verbal and physical signs of affection are given for appropriate behavior.

Behavior problems due to hyperactivity can be curtailed through opportunities for the release of energy. When ADHD preschoolers are denied frequent physical movement they are more likely to nudge classmates, provoke siblings, and show signs of restlessness and irritability. These behaviors have negative social consequences yet can be minimized by parental foresight. Allow children to run or ride bikes before school and take supervised "release my energy breaks" no matter where the family might be. Predetermine where these areas are located upon arrival somewhere so that the child can later tell you s/he needs their energy break.


Develop an incentive system so your child keeps positive goals in mind and knows that you value their efforts at self-control. One method is to allow them to color in a light bulb each time they display appropriate "thinking side" behavior in a triggering environment. Provide small tangible rewards as they accumulate enough bulbs.

Dr Steven Richfield is an author and child psychologist in Plymouth Meeting, PA Contact him at 610-238-4450 or

Ed. note: Detailed information on parenting skills here.

Visit Dr. Steven Richfield's site The Parent Coach, right here at HealthyPlace

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Last Updated: 28 March 2017

Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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