Try these methods to help your child manage ADHD without taking meds.
By Jen Laskey
If your child has been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), he or she is not alone. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that in a classroom of 25 to 30 schoolchildren, at least one is likely to have the disorder. ADHD poses a particular challenge for parents. “In a way, ADHD requires you to be even more of a parent than the average mom or dad because your kid is more active and has less control over his or her behavior than other children,” says Kathryn Brandt, M.D., of the Family Medicine Institute in Augusta, Maine. Here are 12 ways to help your child with ADHD achieve his or her full potential.
1. Learn as much as possible about how ADHD affects your child, and how you can troubleshoot and structure situations to make life easier for your kid. Remember, not all kids who are hyperactive, inattentive, and impulsive have ADHD. This is why both Brandt and her colleague Cheryl Seymour, MD, recommend having your child formally tested and assessed by pediatric specialists if ADHD is suspected. They also encourage you to work with trained professionals to learn strategies and skills for helping your child overcome the difficulties associated with the disorder.
2. Seymour stresses the significance of self-care when dealing with ADHD. “One of the most important things you can do for your ADHD child — and the rest of your family — is to take care of yourself,” she says. “Dealing with ADHD is often stressful, and finding an outlet for your own stress will help keep you from taking it out on your child.” Consider seeking individual counseling or joining a support group for ADHD parents. You can also take up a hobby, practice relaxation techniques, meditate, or even work out – exercise is a great stress reliever.
3. Try to patiently explain instructions to your child in simple and direct terms, and break tasks down into specific steps. “It’s not enough to give a single command like ‘Brush your teeth,’ because a child with ADHD will get distracted on the way to doing that task,” says Seymour. “Try breaking the task down: ‘I want you to go to the bathroom, take out your toothbrush, wet it and put toothpaste on it, and then brush your teeth.'” This will help your child stay focused and be better able to understand what is expected of him or her.
4. If your child has a regular routine, he or she will know what to expect each day. So wake your child at the same hour every morning, keep meal and play times consistent, and allow time for getting ready for school in the morning and going to bed at night. Account for homework, chores, TV time, and computer or gaming activities when developing this routine. Make sure your son or daughter is aware of any additional weekly events that will disrupt the schedule. If you need to make any changes to the routine, be sure to alert your child in advance. Some experts also suggest posting the schedule where your child can check it.
5. Because kids with ADHD are prone to losing things, you can help your child stay organized by designating places for his or her clothes, shoes, school stuff, toys, and so on. Be sure to encourage your child to always return things to their correct spot. You can also organize schoolwork with accordion folders, binders, or color coding for each subject. Even if you don’t consider yourself to be a particularly organized person, do your best to maintain organization in your home to set a positive example for your child.
6. Too many options can overwhelm children with ADHD, so present your child with only two options when it comes to things like getting dressed, choosing snacks, or picking out a movie, storybook, or game. You may also consider limiting playmates to one or two children at a time, because a child with ADHD is likely to become overstimulated when playing with more than just a couple of friends.
7. The world is full of enticements that will sidetrack your child’s attempts to focus. So do your best to limit any kind of distraction that could disrupt homework or study time. For example, turn off the television, remove toys and games from your child’s study area, and keep the workspace tidy. Also, train your child not to stray from your instructions. For example, if you’ve asked your son to go to his room, pick up his toys, and put them away, make it clear that this is not an opportunity to play with the toys. The mission is just to put the toys back where they belong.
8. Children with ADHD tend to have an impulsive nature and have difficulty developing social skills, so they need to be watched more closely than other kids their age. Keep playmates to a minimum and supervise your child’s social interactions. Step in and guide him or her when necessary, and be sure to reward good behavior. If trouble starts — for instance, your daughter grabs toys from her sibling — the NIMH suggests giving your child a short time-out in a quiet place to calm her down.
9. Encourage your child to find something he or she is good at. It could be a sport, music, drawing, creative writing, martial arts, or even cooking. Honing a child’s natural talents can boost his or her confidence and help him or her develop valuable social skills. Just be sure to remain sensitive to any special needs. For instance, if team sports are too competitive, encourage your child to try something that’s more individually focused, like swimming or karate. If learning to play an instrument frustrates your child, singing, dancing, or one of the visual arts might be a better choice.
10. A great way to keep your child’s attention focused on learning is to make the process fun. For instance, connect boring facts to interesting trivia, invent funny stories that make details easier to remember, make up silly songs, act out historical events, and supplement homework with relevant movies, stories, or trips to museums. Do your best to involve your child’s teachers in this attempt. Let them know how you’re approaching homework so they can support your efforts.
11. “You must be rigid when dealing with ADHD,” says Brandt. “You can’t expect a child with this disorder to apply what’s learned in one situation to another; you have to keep teaching the same lessons until your child learns them.” Because of this, discipline can sometimes feel futile. However, there are helpful methods to use with children who have ADHD. For example, fight the urge to discipline your child constantly, and save stronger punishments for truly abominable behavior. Avoid yelling, spanking, or losing your temper — it’s better to remove your child firmly from a disruptive situation and give him or her a time-out. Many experts also suggest using a points or token system with rewards and penalties. Emphasizing good behavior and rewarding the completion of simple tasks have been shown to help modify the behavior of children with ADHD.