If you’ve just been told that your son or daughter has ADHD, it may bring relief to finally have an explanation for your child’s erratic behavior, which seems to be driven by an internal combustion engine.
On the other hand, the diagnosis may bring questions on how best to parent your child.
Dr. Eiman ElSayed and Dana Gant, APRN at Pediatric Care of Four Corners have come up with these strategies that help maintain calm in the home when a child has ADHD.
Structure and routine
Children with ADHD exhibit weak executive functioning, which refers to mental skills important to learning. These kids tend to be disorganized, and have trouble staying on task. To counter these deficiencies, it’s important to have an external framework that provides the structure your child needs to succeed.
Establish a set routine for school days and personal care. Use visual cues to keep your child on track when getting up and going to bed. Develop a chart together of the steps they need to complete to be ready for school in the morning and before going to bed at night. Hands washed? Check. Teeth brushed? Check. You get the idea.
Use a timer to help your child move from one activity to another. For example, give them 10 more minutes to play before going to bed. They can even set the timer. The ring is the external framework that signals it’s time to move to the next step in their day.
Was your child called “Eveready” in kindergarten or preschool, in reference to seemingly never-ending activity, as if driven by a battery? Physical activity helps wear off some of the “fidgets,” aids concentration, and helps your child sleep better at night. Sports or other activities that engage them in movement most of the time, like basketball and soccer, are likely going to be a much better fit than those with extended down time like softball.
Many children with ADHD respond well to martial arts training, which requires increasingly long sequences of movements and the ability to remember them, so the brain and body are totally engaged. Most important, help your child find an activity they really like so they gain a feeling of competence and skill as they progress.
Sleep can be a challenge for children with ADHD because stimulants taken during the day may still be affecting your child at bedtime. Work with your child’s doctor to find a medication that doesn’t keep your child awake at night. When your ADHD child doesn’t sleep well, it can heighten their symptoms.
With an ADHD child, rules really matter. Write clear, easy-to-understand rules for behavior and post them in a central place like the kitchen. Visual cues are a strategy you can use to help your child follow the rules; a behavior chart with stars for positive behavior is a common tool. Give a heads-up or use a timer to transition from one activity to another. Use a hand signal or a word to remind them to speak respectfully or stop and listen.
Make sure your child knows the consequences for breaking a rule. At home, taking away a privilege like screens is a usual consequence. If you’re away from home, sometimes consequences may involve others, such as removing your child from a play date if they cannot share after intervention.
It’s easy to become too task-oriented with an ADHD child. Remember to praise appropriate behavior. ADHD children receive more criticism in general than other children because they often talk loudly when they’re supposed to be quiet, step out of line when they’re supposed to be in line, and so on. So concentrate on smiling at your child and praising them when you catch them behaving well.
Children with ADHD have trouble with social skills because they’re impulsive, have poor listening skills, and may be slow to understand social cues. To combat these deficits, set expectations before going to an event or a social outing. Explain what they can do in a given situation (for example, talk quietly) and what they can’t do (talk loudly or shout).
Role-playing in advance to demonstrate expected behavior helps your child remember how they should behave. Your doctor may recommend a social skills group if you see that your child has trouble making and keeping friends.
Coordinate with your child’s school
Having a positive school experience may be harder for an ADHD child due to a short attention span and the greater difficulty to sit still. Ask for a meeting with the teacher and other school professionals to help determine if your child needs an individualized education plan (IEP). The plan can provide your child with specific accommodations, such as extra time on tests, seating in the front of the room, and other aids.
Call 863-201-8949 to book an appointment at Pediatric Care of Four Corners for professional mental health treatment that helps your child navigate their world.