Parenting a child with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can be overwhelming at times. But you’re certainly not alone in navigating the complexities that come with understanding your child’s behavior.
ADHD is the most common behavioral disorder in children, with its prevalence rising. According to a national 2016 survey, the estimated number of children ever diagnosed with ADHD is about 6 million.
While there is still much research to be done to better understand ADHD and how to treat it, there are plenty of experts and families that have trailblazed the way in figuring out how to better manage daily life both at home and through clinical treatment.
ADHD is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder that can sometimes be difficult to recognize. Any child can exhibit individual symptoms of ADHD, which is why doctors use several different criteria to evaluate a potential diagnosis.
Some common signs and symptoms of ADHD in children include:
These symptoms make it difficult for children to succeed in school and maintain stable relationships. And as children grow into adolescence, these can translate into difficulties with reading social cues, time management, maintaining personal hygiene, compromising with their friends, and helping out with chores.
Moreover, ADHD is divided into three types of diagnoses:
The exact symptoms your child exhibits will determine which type of ADHD they may have. For example, if your child has the most trouble with staying focused, organized, and present they may have the inattentive type. On the other hand, children who are hyperactive or impulsive will have more symptoms relating to impatience, fidgeting, trouble sitting still, talking a lot, and difficulty playing quietly.
As aforementioned, any child can exhibit these symptoms without actually having ADHD. If you believe you child is clearly exhibiting several or more of these symptoms, talk to you doctor to see about an evaluation.
If your child has been diagnosed with ADHD, the most pressing question you may be asking yourself is what you can do to create an environment where your child can succeed in their daily tasks while also feeling comfortable in expressing their creative and playful personalities that come with having ADHD.
Here are some common methods to help maintain a balance of structure and expression for your child:
First and foremost, have patience. Children with ADHD don’t joyfully and willingly act out. They feel frustrated at times, too. They want to sit still, play quiet, and follow their parent’s instructions, they just don’t always know how. It’s not as natural for them.
Highlight their good behavior by responding to your child in positive and supportive ways. This could look like setting clear and achievable goals for your children—such as finishing homework on time or sharing with their friends—with the expectation that if they achieve that goal they will get to do or receive something special. You could also create a chart that they get to put fun stickers on to visually show their successes. Be creative with it.
When your child does make mistakes, strive for compassion and understanding. Explain to them why that behavior is undesirable, provide appropriate consequences, and forgive them. If you create an environment with healthy communication and an emphasis on their successes rather than their failures, they’re more likely to feel empowered and motivated to keep doing better.
For a mind that already overstimulates itself, having too many activities and expectations can exacerbate a child’s issues with focusing. Create a routine but keep it simple. Have predictable rituals for meals, homework, play, and bed so that your child always knows what to expect. And while you should avoid too much idle time, try not to enroll your child in too many after school activities. Stick to one or two hobbies they enjoy, then allow some free play time each day for your child to let out steam.
Speaking of letting out steam, make sure your child is getting enough exercise. Movement is one of the easiest and most effective ways to reduce symptoms of ADHD, as physical activity boosts the “happy” chemicals in your brain such as dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. In fact, the science behind some ADHD medications is similar to how exercise affects your brain—except exercise is free and doesn’t require a prescription.
Activities such as dancing, martial arts, gymnastics and skateboarding are great for children with ADHD. Team sports are an added plus, as the social element keeps them interested and helps improve their social skills.
Studies show that what and when you eat can make an impact on your ADHD symptoms. For example, scheduling snacks and meals no more than three hours apart helps keep your child’s blood sugar leveled to minimize irritability and improve focus. Additionally, including protein and complex carbs in each meal or snack will help your child feel more alert while decreasing hyperactivity. Other great nutrients to incorporate into your child’s diet include:
Maintaining a regular sleep schedule is vital in managing ADHD symptoms. However, many children with ADHD have a hard time falling asleep, even if they aren’t actively taking stimulant medications. The following tips can help maintain a healthy sleep schedule:
While creating a healthy and stable environment at home can make a great impact on your child’s symptoms, pairing those techniques with effective clinical treatment can also make a positive difference for your child. A couple of the most common treatment options include:
Before medication, your doctor may recommend behavioral therapy for your child. Behavioral therapy can be very effective in helping your child learn how to replace inappropriate behaviors with healthier habits. It can also help your child find effective coping mechanisms and better ways to express their feelings and frustrations.
In turn, parents can also receive behavior management training to take home with them. This can help give parents more guidance as to how exactly they can create stable routines and positive reinforcement at home. Additionally, this can help parents figure out their own coping mechanisms for dealing with the stress on their end that comes with raising a child with ADHD.
There are two main types of ADHD medications: stimulants and nonstimulants.
Stimulants are the most common type of prescription for children because they are fast-acting and effective. According to the Centers for Disease Control, between 70-80% of children who take stimulant medications have fewer ADHD symptoms.
Nonstimulants do not work as quickly as stimulant medications. However, their effects can last up to 24 hours, whereas some stimulants last just several hours depending on the specific type.
Like most mental and behavioral health medications, it can take some time to find the best specific drug and dosage for your child. Be patient and work with your doctor to find the right balance between benefits and side effects.
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