TOP TEN TIPS FOR PARENTING A CHILD WITH ADHD
Educational Consultant and Advocate, LLC
Whether you are a parent of a child newly diagnosed with ADHD, or you’re an old pro, sometimes a quick check to see what techniques are out there is a good idea. Some of these tips are oldies but goodies and some are new, but in looking at different websites, I compiled a Top Ten list I hope you can use!
NUMBER 10: Educate Yourself about ADHD
There are plenty of wonderful websites and support groups out there that can help you to understand your child’s diagnosis of ADHD. Use them. Websites offer the most up to date information on programs and strategies that work for children, teens and adults with ADHD. Local support groups target different ages and will often offer groups for adults with ADHD and for parents of children with ADHD. If your child sees a psychologist/psychiatrist, use them as resources as well. They may have inside information on a group that is the perfect fit for your family!
Additionally, educate your child. There are plenty of misconceptions about children with ADHD. They are lazy or unmotivated. They are aggressive and socially immature. They are poor students. And, my favorite, if they just tried harder, they would be just fine! None of these are necessarily true. Your child may be feeling very unsure of themselves, often disappointed in themselves and those around them and may be made to feel as though they are choosing their behavior. Educating them is a key step in helping your child to understand their disability and puts them on the right track to understanding their differences and making good choices as to how to help themselves overcome their symptoms.
NUMBER 9: Stay Positive!
Remember that your child is battling a disorder that is exhausting. His or her behavior is not intentional, so recognize that. Focus on the positive attributes of your child and celebrate their accomplishments, no matter how small. Don’t sweat the small stuff is an over-used cliché, but is worth considering when raising a child and young adult with ADHD. If you choose your battles wisely, you will be in good shape. Remember that your child has been in school all day doing his or her level best to hold it together, concentrate and do their work. When they get home, you may want them to do chores, homework and settle into the night’s routine. Understanding that this may not all happen as you like and that something may be left undone is okay. Cut your child a bit of slack and recognize what they have been able to accomplish that day. If you keep things in perspective, maintain a sense of humor and realize that tomorrow is time enough to get the other stuff done, you will find yourself able to relax, connect with your child in a more positive way, and be able to open up lines of communication that can include ways to mange all those things that need doing!
NUMBER 8: Be Healthy!
Taking care of yourself is key to being able to effectively take care of your child. Eat well, get exercise and find ways to reduce stress. Take a yoga class, go for a nightly walk or even just take a bath. All these things can help to reduce stress. As the care-giver for your family, you need to be healthy in order to take good care of them. Ask for help when you need it! Joining a support group where you can get ideas or simply vent frustrations is not a sign of weakness! If you are tired, or impatient, or sick, you are not going to be able to continue to provide the structure and support you have carefully set up for your ADHD child. Take offered help from family and friends and make time for yourself. It is not being selfish. In fact, it is helping you and your child maintain the positive relationship you want to have!
Making sure your child or teen is healthy is very important as well. Staying away from foods and drinks with excess sugars and preservatives is a plus. Natural, organic foods are always best. Exchange soda for water, and fresh fruit for fruit roll ups. Consider adding a daily vitamin or mineral supplement. Also, since some children with ADHD do not eat regularly, providing them with several small meals throughout the day may be beneficial.
Exercise is also very important for the ADHD child. Studies show that exercise improves concentration, decreases anxiety and depression and helps with brain growth. Exercise also helps kids sleep better, and better sleep can help to minimize symptoms of ADHD!
NUMBER 7: Speaking of Getting Some Zzzzs…
Bedtime a nightmare? Can’t get them to stick to the schedule, fall asleep or stay asleep? Decrease TV time and increase outdoor activity. Fresh air does wonders for enhancing sleep. Take caffeine out of the diet. It’s not just soda, but chocolate milk and certain foods and drinks that may contain caffeine and will deprive your child – and you – of sleep! Take the time to decelerate. Use the last twenty minutes to a half hour to spend reading with your child prior to bedtime to create an atmosphere of calm and serenity essential for sleep. Consider the use of aroma therapies or relaxation tapes to help put your child to sleep. And be consistent! Stick to the nighttime routine and bedtime schedule. Inconsistent bedtimes and sleep patterns will exacerbate symptoms of ADHD.
NUMBER 6: Embrace Structure and Organization!
Establishing a routine is great. Sticking to it is the tough part. We all lead busy lives and it is not easy to follow a routine on a daily basis. Life somehow gets in the way! However, if you do your best to be neat and organized, it sets a good example for your child. Using schedules that are posted in a prominent place in your house, works for many families. These schedules can take the form of a weekly or monthly calendar that outlines the appointments and activities that the family will need to take into account and work around. Simplifying your child’s schedule is also a good idea. While “downtime” is an ADHD child’s parent’s worst nightmare, filling every waking moment with an activity is taxing as well. A couple of well-chosen activities designed to highlight their abilities and maximize their activity level are a great way to let them burn off energy and work on social skills.
Design a quiet space for your ADHD child for them to do their homework. Make sure they have all their needed materials there so that they are not up and down trying to find things. Make the space away from family activity, but close enough where you can keep an eye on them. Make sure that this is a designated homework space and is not used for anything else. Use a timer for homework assignments. You set the timer and let the child know they have “X” amount of minutes to complete a task. Do not let them see the timer as they will then just watch the time pass, but give them updates every once in a while to let them know how much time they have left to complete the work.
Don’t give a set of directions and assume that your child knows what is expected or that they will even remember the directions moments later. “Go clean your room.” Is a great example of this. What does that look like? Where does one begin? What is expected? Better to say,” We are going to clean your room. The first thin I want you to do is to pick up the clothes off the floor and sort them into two piles, clean and dirty.” Once that feat is accomplished, move to the next step. Providing a picture of what you want a clean room to look like is also a good way to help a child understand expectations for organization. Checklists can also be a great way to put more of the ownership on the child as they get to cross off the items as they are completed. I have often asked parents to consider getting several small white boards and placing one in the bathroom for morning/evening routines, one in the bedroom for organizational tasks, one by the front door that has them checking to make sure they have everything they need prior to leaving the house for school or a sports activity. How many times have you had to turn the car around to go back because something was forgotten? One more white board on the fridge that outlines any chores that need to be done is customary as well.
NUMBER 5: Provide Consistent Rules and Immediate Consequences and Rewards
Allowing your child to help create the rules will give them a sense of accomplishment and ownership. Post these rules where your child can see them and make sure the language is such that they easily understand them. Don’t make too many rules as your child will become overwhelmed and feel as though it is impossible to follow all of them.
Consequences and rewards should also be decided upon by both you and your child. It is important for the ADHD child to understand implicitly what happens when rules are followed and when they are not. Both rewards and consequences need to be given immediately after the rule is followed or broken. Try to reward more often than not. Children with ADHD are always being corrected, remediated or receiving complaints about their behavior. They seldom receive praise. Load them with it when you can. That smile, positive comment or hug or pat on the back goes a long way! A sticker or a healthy treat also works wonders and your child will respond by trying their darndest to do the right thing again to make you proud! Change up the rewards so your child does not become complacent. The ADHD child easily becomes bored remember!
Remove your child from situations that can trigger inappropriate responses. If it is unavoidable and an inappropriate behavior is triggered, talk to your child after the consequence is given to elicit ideas about how things could have gone better and what to do next time. Role playing trigger scenarios can help a child with ADHD to practice learned strategies prior to having to use them in a real world situation.
NUMBER 4: Address Your Child’s Needs in the School Setting
ADHD is a brain disorder that impacts every aspect of your child’s life. School settings are often where manifestations of ADHD symptoms are first seen. Keep close contact with your child’s teacher ad discuss implementing some RTI (Response to Intervention) strategies in classroom and unstructured settings within the school. If your child’s school does not use RTI, consider requesting a meeting with your child’s teacher, guidance counselor and school administration to discuss a Section 504 Accommodation Plan. This plan is designed to allow a student with a documented disability, such as ADHD, accommodations within all areas of the school to help address concentration, organization, test-taking strategies and anxiety. If the symptoms are such that your child is unable to access school curriculum without specially designed instruction, the team may consider testing and observations to determine eligibility for an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Whatever the intervention, it is important for you to make the school aware of your child’s diagnosis and work closely with them to implement appropriate accommodations in order for your child to be successful.
NUMBER 3: Medication Is Not the Only Cure
While certain medications boast high level of effectiveness in treating a person with ADHD, medications are not always the answer. Many children with ADHD also have additional diagnoses ranging from anxiety to learning disorders to executive functioning disorders. Medication does not address such issues. Only by providing a comprehensive approach to your child’s diagnosis of ADHD will you be able to successfully treat all the effects of this disorder. Additionally, some people do not take well to medications. Losses of appetite and sleep, as well as upset stomachs, are just some of the side effects of medications. Discuss what holistic, organic approaches are available with your pediatrician in addition to the medications that are out on the market.
Number 2: Allow For Fidgeting!
There are several wonderful “fidgets” out there on the market designed with the ADHD child in mind. However, a simple squeeze ball works just fine. Rule number one, though; don’t throw it unless someone has said it’s ok!! Velcro, the rough part, attached to the underside of a school desk is good for kids to run their fingers over. An elastic around their wrist or one of those rubber bracelets is good, too. Telling an ADHD child to sit still and not fidget is simply not going to work. Allowing the child to run a lap around the house will go further to relax them that to sit in time-out for five minutes. In school, allowing them to run errands or stand in the back of the room are successful strategies. Sitting on a therapy or stability ball also helps the concentration of an ADHD child as they have to engage their core muscles and concentrate to stay on the ball. Many teachers have stability balls in their classrooms for just that purpose.
NUMBER 1: Do Not Lower Your Expectations
Walt Disney. Michael Phelps. Justin Timberlake. Michael Jordan. Jim Carrey. Will Smith. John F. Kennedy. Albert Einstein. All had ADHD. Imagine if their parents and teachers had lowered their expectations of them? The ADHD child usually has average to above average intelligence. With the right supports, unconditional love and high expectations, they can achieve their dreams.
Have no doubt!