Do you have a child that has been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD? Today, I'm tackling this popular topic by helping you understand what a diagnosis of ADHD is, and what you can do to help you AND your child manage ADHD in a positive way.
ADHD stands for "Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder." Prior to May 2013, this disorder was broken up into 2 distinct diagnoses:
1) Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)- A diagnosis consisting of an individual that struggles to maintain attention and/or concentration.
2) Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)- A diagnosis consisting of a person who struggles to maintain attention/concentration AND who has an inability to sit still (i.e. the person is "hyperactive").
After May of 2013, the American Psychiatric Association published the latest edition of the DSM 5, in which they combined both of these disorders into one diagnose (ADHD).
Regardless of whether or not your child struggles from inattention or hyperactivity (or both), the end result is the same: your child has been diagnosed and now you, as the parent, have no idea what to do. There is a high likelihood that you have been told by teachers, doctors, or a therapist that your child could benefit from ADHD medication. Although most children who suffer from ADHD will notice a big improvement from taking medication, it isn't your only option.
Parenting children who have ADHD can be really difficult. Luckily, there are some key principles that can make working with children who have ADHD a whole lot easier, and can even eliminate the need for psychotropic medication all together! Whether you want to try and avoid medications, or you find that medications don't seem to completely solve the issue for your child, learning behavioral techniques and parenting strategies to manage a child with ADHD is a smart idea that most doctors and therapists would recommend. Furthermore, these tips can be useful for school teachers having to manage children with these disorders in the classroom. So let's talk about my 3 tips for managing children with ADHD.
All Children Thrive on Routine... Especially those with ADHD
My first tip is to establish a routine. You're probably thinking "Well duh! Everyone knows that!" But despite "everyone knowing this," you'd be surprised how few people actually engage in this. Routine and structure are important for ALL children, but are imperative for kiddos with ADHD. All kids struggle with concentration and attention. The younger the child, the smaller their attention-span. Young children also struggle with change. Switching from one activity to another with little warning or prompting can trigger tantrums in toddlers and "anger outbursts" in older children. This has to do with the normal level of anxiety that all children experience daily in their subconscious mind (this could be a whole blog post on it's own, so we won't delve into that here). Children with ADHD are particularly prone to "tantrumming" behavior. Part of this has to do with their struggle to maintain attention, and the other component is their natural dislike for sudden change.
It seems paradoxical, doesn't it? You would think that a child who struggles to pay attention wouldn't mind "changing things up," right? As counter-intuitive as this may seem, it is nonetheless true. Minimizing a sudden change in activities helps to reduce that natural anxiety that children feel and thus, reduces that chance of anger outbursts. Furthermore, when kids know what to expect next, as well as how long they need to remain focused on a particular activity, concentration is improved! So get started on providing a structured routine for your child from morning until night. Include time for homework, hygiene rituals (such as bathing), dinnertime, breaks, playtime, etc.
Give Only 1 Request at a Time
My second tip is to break it all down! When we speak to our children, we have a tendency to give multiple commands and tasks at one time. Let me give you an example:
"Tommy, it's time to go. Quickly! Go brush your teeth, and get your shoes on, and don't forget to grab your backpack!"
Does this sound familiar at all? In this example, there are 3 tasks being given to the child (i.e. brush teeth, put on shoes, and get backpack). We could even argue that there is a 4th, unspoken task that has been given to the child (i.e. get your butt to the car quickly!). That one is hidden in the portion that says "...it's time to go...."
Most parents give tasks like this. As adults, we are used to it. We multi-task all the time, and have 100 things to remember in the back of our minds all day. We have spent our whole lives practicing and developing this skill. But we need to remember that it is exactly that... a skill. Our kids don't necessarily posses this skill from birth. As such, we need to break down our requests, and give them ONE AT A TIME. All children will benefit from this, but kids with ADHD especially need to have tasks broken down into small parts in order to be successful. Doing this will increase the likelihood of having your requests followed through the FIRST time you ask!
The 4 W's: Be CLEAR When Speaking or Making Requests
Finally, my last tip is to make sure you are CLEAR when you want something from your child. Remember my example above? Do you remember when I stated that there was a 4th, unspoken request? That task wasn't clear, was it? Kids are terrible at "reading between the lines." They don't pick up on sarcasm well, they don't always predict what it is we expect from them, and they certainly don't complete tasks that aren't explicitly given.
Being clear in your expectations and time-frame that you want the task completed will dramatically improve compliance from your kiddos. Try to include the 4 W's into your directives: Who, What, Where, and When. Here is an example of a good, clear directive:
"Tommy, in 5 minutes, I need you to put on your shoes by the front door."
In this example, Tommy (The Who) has been given one directive (The What: put on shoes) with a clear expectation of when (The When: in 5 minutes) and where (The Where: the front door) the task should be done. This directive is clear with the 4 W's of the situation. Although Tommy may not follow through with this directive perfectly, the likelihood of the directive being followed through in the manner expected by the parent is greatly increased.
Obviously, these tips won't change your child's diagnosis or eliminate tantrums or anger outbursts, or will miraculously change your life with your child. They should, however, help control the situation and improve your life while parenting a child with ADHD. There are many other parenting strategies and behavioral techniques you can try, but these 3 should help get you started. For more assistance, don't feel ashamed to reach out to a therapist. They have a wealth of knowledge on the subject, and can help you find the best solution for you and your child! Happy Parenting!