Tips for Managing ADHD in the Classroom: Dealing with Impulsivity

By Dr. Mary Rooney, Ph.D.

“Why don’t you think before you act?!” Students with ADHD hear this over and over from teachers, parents, and even peers who are frustrated by their impulsive behavior. Acting without thinking about the consequences is actually a defining feature of ADHD for kids who have the impulsive symptoms of the disorder. Putting on the breaks and acting thoughtfully and patiently is not something that students with ADHD can do regularly without support. Fortunately, consistently using targeted behavioral strategies in the classroom can go a long way toward reducing impulsive behavior.

  1. The Daily Report Card. A well-structured daily report card or personalized positive behavior system is the backbone of any successful classroom behavior management program for kids with ADHD. Impulsive behaviors like talking out of turn or rushing through work can (and should) be included as behavior goals on a daily report card. Daily report cards only work well when they are designed and used correctly. For tips on creating effective daily report cards for kids with ADHD see my previous posts on the topic (insert links to posts here).
  2. Hold that thought! Most kids with ADHD struggle with resisting the impulse to shout out answers to questions before they have been called on by the teacher.  Help students with ADHD resist calling out by encouraging them to “hold their thoughts” in a notebook where they can write them down instead of shouting them out. While students might not be able to capture every thought in writing, this exercise provides an opportunity to resist the urge to call out every time. In addition, adding a daily report card behavior goal of, “raise a quiet hand and wait to be called on,” puts a reward system in place that will encourage impulse control.
  3. Waiting is not easy. Impulsive students often feel like they need to be first at everything – first in line, the first to make it to the rug for circle time, the first to try a new activity, etc. Ask your students with ADHD to count to 5 before jumping into an activity. Initially, you may have to help by counting along with them either out loud or silently with your hands. Eventually students will remember to count independently, and will continue to do it on their own if they are praised or rewarded for the behavior often.
  4. Faster isn’t always better. Getting started on classwork and staying on task are challenges for all students with ADHD. On top of this, many students with ADHD rush through their work and make careless mistakes. Reduce this impulsive behavior by reminding the student that the goal isn’t to simply finish the assignment, it’s to finish the assignment accurately. Praise students for behaviors that reflect patience and thoughtfulness, like careful handwriting, answering questions in the correct order, and double checking answers before turning in assignments. Check in with the student while they are working and praise their effort. Kids with ADHD will work more methodically and accurately when they know an adult is monitoring them.
  5. Higher engagement = lower impulsivity. Students with ADHD struggle with downtime in the classroom. As soon as boredom sets in, impulsive behaviors increase dramatically. Consider giving your students access to an engaging filler activity if they finish assignments and quizzes early (after double checking their work of course!), to reduce impulsive behaviors while they are waiting for their classmates to finish.

Impulsivity can be one of the more challenging aspects of ADHD to manage in the classroom. When impulsivity interferes with a student’s performance and peer relationships, then the student needs classroom accommodations and supports to help him or her change his or her behavior. Creativity and consistency are the keys to implementing successful behavioral strategies and reducing impulsivity in the classroom.



Mary Rooney, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco. Dr Rooney is a researcher and clinician specializing in the evaluation and treatment of ADHD and co-occurring behavioral, anxiety, and mood disorders. A strong advocate for those with attention and behavior problems, Dr. Rooney is committed to developing and providing comprehensive, cutting edge treatments tailored to meet the unique needs of each child and adolescent. Dr. Rooney's clinical interventions and research avenues emphasize working closely with parents and teachers to create supportive, structured home and school environments that enable children and adolescents to reach their full potential. In addition, Dr. Rooney serves as a consultant and ADHD expert to Huntington Learning Centers.


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