Having a child with ADHD can be frustrating and overwhelming at times, but there are things you can do to make life easier for you – and your child.
In my opinion, ADHD is a terrible term. As I see it, ADHD is neither a disorder, nor is there a deficit of attention. I see ADHD as a trait, not a disability. When it is managed properly, it can become a huge asset in one’s life. I have both ADHD and dyslexia myself and I wrote the book Positively ADD with Catherine Corman to profile a collection of fabulously successful adults with ADHD.
As I like to describe it, having ADHD is like having a powerful race car for a brain, but with bicycle brakes. Treating ADHD is like strengthening your brakes–so you start to win races in your life.
2) Keep things in perspective. Sure, your son or daughter might do things that embarrass you at times. Remember, though, that most of time it is not intentional, and in a few years, you’ll likely have some funny family stories to share.
3) Be flexible. Don’t expect your child to get every little thing done perfectly every day. Compromise. Being willing to let the small stuff slide will make life a lot less stressful. As they say, “choose your battles wisely.”
4) Take care of yourself. Stress is contagious. If you are anxious and are losing your temper, chances are, your mood is going to rub off on your child. Make time for yourself every day. Wake up before your children do if that’s what it takes to get some time alone. Get in a little meditation or yoga, read a book, or sip on a cup of tea on your porch. For more ideas, see 21 Easy Ways to Reduce Anxiety.
5) Find support. Your child’s doctor, therapist, and teacher should be understanding and supportive and able to offer you advice and ideas. There are also organized support groups for families of children with ADHD. If you can’t find a group, consider starting one yourself.
6) Adopt a pet. Animals make great companions for children – they teach kids responsibility, help them get more exercise, and provide unconditional love. A growing body of research shows the value of this bond in child development. In fact, pets can improve YOUR mental health too. If you can’t have a cat or dog, no worries: studies have shown that merely watching fish swim lowers blood pressure and muscle tension.
7) Create a schedule. Children with ADHD do well with a consistent routine. Establish predictable rituals for the morning, meals, schoolwork, and bedtime.
8) Establish deadlines. Use clocks and timers to increase your child’s awareness of how long it takes to complete certain tasks like homework, chores, or getting ready for bed. Don’t be overly rigid, though – allow enough time for your son or daughter to complete each task.
9) Allow free time. While schedules and timers can help you and your child manage your day with less stress, allow your child quiet time to relax and engage in activities he or she enjoys. Childhood passes so quickly…let them be KIDS while they can.
10) Good sleep is crucial. Many children with ADHD (and their parents) have trouble sleeping. The National Sleep Foundation provides some concerning statistics on ADHD and sleep:
One study found that children with ADHD had higher rates of daytime sleepiness than children without ADHD. Another study found that 50% of children with ADHD had signs of sleep disordered breathing, compared to only 22% of children without ADHD. Research also suggests that restless legs syndrome and periodic leg movement syndrome are also common in children with ADHD.
For children with ADHD, poor sleep (too little sleep or symptoms of sleep disorders) may profoundly impact ADHD symptoms. But, on the bright side, one study found that treating sleep problems may be enough to eliminate attention and hyperactivity issues for some children.
Medications commonly given to children with ADHD can be a double-edged sword: while they can make life during daytime hours more manageable, they can interfere with sleep (see REM Sleep Crucial for Young Brain Development; Medication Interferes for more information).
Help your child get better sleep by establishing a soothing, consistent bedtime routine. Reading, listening to relaxing music, or taking a warm bath before bed can help your son or daughter wind down and sleep better. Electronic devices can interfere with sleep, so establishing a rule that they cannot be used in bed or shortly before bed may help your child unplug and get better rest.
11) Daily exercise is important. REALLY important. Studies show that children with ADHD who exercise on a regular basis experience significant improvement in cognitive functioning, behavior, and academic performance. John Ratey, M.D., an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, says exercise is a form of medication – and in some children, it can replace stimulants. In an interview with ADDitude, he explained:
Exercise turns on the attention system, the so-called executive functions — sequencing, working memory, prioritizing, inhibiting, and sustaining attention. On a practical level, it causes kids to be less impulsive, which makes them more primed to learn.
Two recent studies showed that constant movement in children with ADHD may improve their cognitive performance. All that squirming and fidgeting helps them learn.
12) Avoid labels. Calling your child “lazy,” “hyper,” “spacey,” or any other negative label doesn’t help matters at all – in fact, it is damaging to self-esteem. When challenges arise, address the issue itself. If your child forgets to do something, instead of calling him “forgetful” or “spacey,” explain why it is important to remember to complete certain tasks, and help your child develop strategies to improve.
13) Encourage healthful eating. While the role of diet in ADHD hasn’t been researched a lot, many experts say limiting or eliminating sugar, artificial flavors and colorings, soda, and caffeine can help control symptoms. Some say that whatever is good for the brain is likely to be good for ADHD. A diet that is high in protein, low in simple carbohydrates (such as candy and products made with white flour), and high in vegetables and fruits can be beneficial. Including omega-3 fatty acids in food or supplement form can also boost brain health. The Feingold Diet has been around since 1976, and many people have said it helped improve their child’s ADHD symptoms dramatically.
14) Focus on the positive. Your child is a unique individual and has talents and positive traits that should be acknowledged. Catch your child doing good things and be generous with praise and encouragement.
15) Be a source of comfort and love. Last – but definitely not least – be the person your child knows he or she can turn to for guidance and support. Positive, healthy connections are essential for all human beings, but especially so for children. Give hugs, attention, respect, and affection generously.
No matter how challenging some days get, remember that childhood doesn’t last forever. Treasure these years, and make the best of them.
Dr. Hallowell shares his first rule of parenting here. It’s powerful, so give this short video a view.