What Does an ADHD Reward System Have to Do with Discipline?

An ADHD reward system is an important part of a behavior modification discipline plan for your child. Find out how it works on HealthyPlace.

An ADHD reward system is a vital component of discipline and behavior modification for kids with ADHD. Reward systems are purposeful ways to catch kids doing things right when their ADHD often causes them to do wrong. More than randomly giving a kid a prize for this or that, an ADHD reward system is organized and methodical, and it’s designed to increase desirable behavior. When a reward system plays an integral role in your discipline approach for your child with ADHD, you just might discover that your child is learning how to cooperate and get along.

Myths About Using an ADHD Reward System for Discipline

Even though using rewards for disciplining kids with ADHD has been shown to be effective, there is still some uncertainty about the idea of disciplining by rewarding kids. Some common myths:

  • Using such a system is wrong because it rewards kids for doing what they are expected to do.
  • Rewards teach kids to do good only to get something in return.
  • An ADHD rewards system teaches kids to be manipulative by being good when they want something and then returning to disruptive and defiant behavior…until the next time they want something.

Let’s be myth-busters and debunk these untruths.

Why an ADHD Reward System is Necessary and Effective

Kids with ADHD don’t misbehave on purpose. They are impulsive, hyperactive, and have difficulties listening and focusing because of executive functioning issues in the brain. An ADHD reward system is a teaching tool with a positive outcome. (Discipline, after all, means “to teach.”)

  • For kids with ADHD, rewards help them learn, remember, and do what’s expected of them.
  • An ADHD rewards system teaches kids that they can behave well.
  • Rewards help these kids understand the connections between their behavior and an outcome.
  • Kids with ADHD have to work harder than many other kids to behave correctly. Rewarding them acknowledges their hard work.
  • Rewards help kids develop the ability to override their brain’s executive functioning problems.

An ADHD rewards system makes a positive impact on kids and their behavior, but how do you use it?

How to Discipline a Child with an ADHD Reward System

Rewards are a component of behavior modification, a widely used discipline technique for kids with ADHD. Behavior modification, or behavior therapy, uses clear and understandable rules, consequences for not following them, and rewards for following them. The rewards aspect of discipline can be fun and light-hearted, a welcome relief from the stress that can accompany behavior and discipline.

A token economy is the primary component of a reward system. In a token economy, kids earn small items that they save to buy a bigger reward. Some parents use a jar and give their child marbles, pebbles from a craft store, plastic coins, or other small tokens. Kids put their earnings in the jar and watch as it fills. When the jar is full (it shouldn’t be too big), the child has earned a bigger reward, one that is clear ahead of time.

Some parents use sticker charts rather than a jar, but the principle is the same. A child receives stickers for good behavior and earns a larger reward when the chart is complete.

Another aspect of the reward system is immediate, positive reinforcement. Catch your child being good, and reinforce their behavior with verbal praise, a hug, a surprise treat—anything that alerts your child to the fact that they’re on track and you appreciate it.

Rewards don’t have to be huge or expensive. They should be simple and appealing to your child. They are most effective when kids have a say into what they will earn. Some families use rewards such as:

  • Time to spend with a friend
  • One-on-one time with a parent
  • A special treat like going out for ice cream
  • Choosing a family meal
  • Extra playtime before bed
  • Extra TV time or time for videogames
  • A fun activity

An ADHD reward system has advantages beyond shaping behavior.

Advantages of Using an ADHD Reward System as Part of Discipline

Rewarding your child as part of teaching them behavior and skills like organization offers many advantages. It works so well for kids with ADHD because rewards:

  • Are concrete; with a token economy, kids see their progress
  • Motivate; kids want to do well
  • Improve impulse control as kids progress from wanting instant gratification to waiting to earn a bigger reward
  • Boost self-efficacy, that proud sense of “I did it!”

An ADHD reward system is an important part of discipline. With a reward system you teach your child what to do and how to build life skills.

See Also:

article references

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2022, January 11). What Does an ADHD Reward System Have to Do with Discipline?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 19 from

Last Updated: January 16, 2022

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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