Life with a child diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can sometimes be overwhelming. Often, children with ADHD struggle with behaviors that can be disruptive to others such as difficulty paying attention, sitting still and controlling impulsive behavior. Their inability to focus can affect learning and friendships while also placing a lot of stress on the family. However, it is important to remember, a child with ADHD is not intentionally being difficult or lazy, they are often trying as hard as they can to focus.
While there is no cure, the below tips can help families support a child with ADHD.
Learning all you can about the disorder will help you better understand how it affects your child. This information will also be important as you work with their pediatrician to develop a treatment plan to meet your child’s specific needs.
Fortunately, there is a lot of information on ADHD out there from support groups to websites and books. Just be sure your source is reputable. Generally, websites registered by government and educational institutions are credible. Additionally, nonprofit websites such as CHADD can be excellent resources, just be sure to take time to review the site for signs of reliability.
Talk to your child about their diagnosis. No matter what age, it is important your child understands why they may feel different or have difficulty managing their symptoms. When a child understands their diagnosis, they are more likely to work on skills to improve self-control.
Be sure to use words they can understand and encourage questions to diffuse potential fears and anxieties about their diagnosis. Explain ADHD is a condition they are born with, it is not something they caused, but they need to work to manage it. Remember, one conversation is just the beginning. As your child grows, conversations will continue to be important in order help them cope with new challenges.
Children with ADHD often have difficulty maintaining their focus. The predictable and repetitive nature of a daily routine is helpful because it takes much of the guesswork out of their day and allows them to focus on one thing at a time.
Consider establishing routines around waking up, homework, meals, playtime, and bedtime. This may include designating a time and quiet space for homework – keep in mind children stay more focused when an adult is nearby, so be sure to keep them in sight.
To be effective, routines should be regularly followed by all adults that care for your child including grandparents and babysitters.
It is important to correct all children when they misbehave; however, due to their lack of impulse control, children with ADHD often receive a lot of correction and criticism in school and at home. Constant critiques of their behavior such as “sit still, focus, and stop doing that” can be discouraging and wearing on their self-esteem.
Praise not only boosts self-esteem but can also encourage repeated good behaviors. Praise should be sincere, immediate and specific. For example, rather than saying “good job” or “thank you” be more specific such as “wow, you did a great job listening when I asked you to set the dinner table” or “thank you for staying by my side at the store.”
It is well known that consistent physical activity is important to overall health and well-being. For this reason, I recommend all kids participate in at least 60 minutes of moderate to intense physical activity every day. However, children with ADHD especially benefit because exercise burns excess energy and stimulates the brain by boosting dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin levels—all of which affect focus and attention. If you sense your child needs a break, especially with tasks that require lengthy concentration such as homework, encourage them to get up and move for three to five minutes.
Sitting still, listening and concentrating for long periods of time are necessary classroom skills children with ADHD often struggle to manage these behaviors. To help your child succeed, work with their teacher to determine realistic goals for improving weaknesses such as rule following, peer relations and academic success. When working with their teacher, be sure to share your child’s strengths and problem areas as well as strategies that have worked at home to keep them on track.
Encourage teachers to share their observations. At times it may be hard to hear feedback about your child’s behavior but try not to take them personally. Instead, use these conversations as opportunities to focus on solutions. Like you, teachers want to see your child do well. If your child’s ADHD is getting in the way of their ability to learn, ask if your child would be eligible for special services through an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or a 504 special education plan.
Behavior therapy is an effective treatment option that helps the child strengthen positive behaviors and eliminate problem behaviors. I often recommend parents also participate in behavioral parent training to learn skills and strategies to help their child consistently manage ADHD symptoms.
At times, caring for a child with ADHD can leave parents feeling frustrated, stressed, and embarrassed. It is important to remember, you are not alone. The CDC estimates 6.1 million children have been diagnosed with ADHD. However, with the right treatment, support, time and patience, children with ADHD can thrive like their peers.
About the Author
Alicia Fernandez-Garcia, MD, FAAP, is a board-certified pediatrician with Healthcare Network. For information about Healthcare Network’s visit healthcareswfl.org or call 239.658.3000.