The diagnosis of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in a child can be daunting and, unfortunately, is an increasingly common reality for families in Oklahoma and throughout the United States. The 2017-2018 National Survey on Children’s Health reports roughly 10 percent of Oklahoma students are currently diagnosed with ADHD, higher than the 8 percent national average. A study by the Center for Disease Control identified Oklahoma among the states with the most significant increases in ADHD prevalence.
“ADHD is a neurological condition due to differences in the brain anatomy or ‘wiring,’” explains Cathy Goett, a certified ADHD coach in Oklahoma City who has raised two children with ADHD. “ADHD is not laziness or stupidity. Children with ADHD can be challenging, but many are extremely bright. They just learn differently from the general population.”
If your child has been diagnosed, or you suspect they might have ADHD, you’re probably wondering how to best support them. While not comprehensive or delving into medication, the following strategies can aid in parenting children diagnosed with ADHD, helping kids thrive and embrace their best qualities.
Dr. Lisa Marotta, a child psychologist in Edmond who teaches mindfulness, emphasizes focusing on transition times. Because children with ADHD can have a hard time shifting their attention from one activity to the next, especially those they don’t enjoy. Transitioning from home to school or playtime to homework are opportunities to stop, rest and prepare for the next activity.
Marotta encourages families to try two exercises. The first is “sitting still like a frog,” quieting the mind for one minute and concentrating on isolating sounds around you. The second is “STOP,” which stands for Stop, Take three deep breaths, Observe and Pick the next right thing to do.
“These techniques provide a pause in an otherwise busy brain and body, which can help slow the child down enough to use their better judgment,” Marotta says.
Transition exercises can also be beneficial when kids with ADHD hyper-focus, concentrating intensely on an activity or task they enjoy like gaming, crafting or reading a good book, often at the expense of other things that need to get done. Explaining to a child with ADHD why it’s difficult for him or her to transition can be helpful.
Parents also benefit from a brain break. Marotta recommends downloading the Calm and Headspace apps, which families can use together to practice relaxation techniques, reduce anxiety and promote sleep.
Get serious about sleep
Speaking of sleep, according to a study in the Journal of Sleep Research, up to 70 percent of parents of children with ADHD say their kids have difficulty falling asleep, and it was found that kids with ADHD slept for 45 minutes less a night than children who don’t have ADHD.
A similar study published by the National Institutes of Health reports more than 60 percent of children with ADHD experienced delayed sleep onset, awakening in the night, restless sleep and daytime sleepiness. That’s three times greater difficulty falling asleep than the general population of children. What’s the correlation? The same regions of the brain regulate sleep and attention.
Chronic sleep issues can be debilitating for families, but there are methods that can help. Daily exercise can increase the amount of deep sleep a child experiences. A consistent bedtime every day, even on weekends, regulates a child’s circadian clock to promote better sleep.
While most kids need a bedtime routine, it can be critical for a child with ADHD to wind down the body and brain for as much as an hour before bed. Relaxation techniques enhanced by the apps Marotta recommends, visualizations, calming music, deep breathing or a back rub can prepare the body for rest. A really dark room will keep your child from seeing things that might distract him or her from sleep.
Oftentimes it’s difficult for parents of kids with ADHD to know when to ask for help. Typical behavior for one child with ADHD might be atypical for another. Consult with doctors, therapists and teachers regularly to find the best symptom management techniques that work for your child.
As MetroFamily Magazine assistant editor Lindsay Cuomo, mom of a child with ADHD, explains: “Will the behavior work out on its own or get worse? I am sure that goes for all parenting but often you see other kids similar in age capable of things your child isn’t and the comparison game complicates things.”
For expert advice, parenting strategies and support, Goett recommends the magazine ADDitude: Strategies and Support for ADHD and LD. Based on specific symptoms and conditions, parents can also find customized advice and interactive tools at www.understood.org, including tutorials on teaching a child with ADHD how to tie his shoes, bedtime and chore checklists, sleep regulation ideas and behavior management recommendations.
For school-age kids, Marotta says a collaborative relationship with your child’s teacher is vital to success. She suggests a daily behavior feedback sheet parents can review with their child.
“The teacher may be able to identify predictable problem areas so parents can provide additional practice at home,” Marotta says.
Identify your child’s favorite activities and learning styles and find outlets for their hyperactivity. ADDitude recommends activities like swimming, martial arts and tennis to help manage ADHD symptoms and hone skills such as self-control and discipline.
Take small steps
Dr. Tiji Philip, a pediatrician with Northside Pediatrics in Atlanta, Ga., adds it’s important to remember that children diagnosed with ADHD can present unique challenges to parenting.
“Seemingly simple tasks and chores may be difficult for many kids with ADHD to perform at home,” said Philip, “and it is important to break these tasks and chores down into smaller steps.”
Written steps, along with verbal instruction, can be helpful for kids with ADHD. Break down large tasks into smaller pieces: “Get ready for bed” could become: “First, go upstairs and change into pajamas. Second, brush your teeth and wash your face. Third, set your alarm and get into bed.”
Help forge friendships
Social interaction can be daunting for some children with ADHD, resulting in a struggle to make or keep friends. Difficulty regulating emotions, listening and sensing others’ social cues often make relationships more challenging.
Parents can help initiate conversations between their child and others and serve as a nonjudgemental coach after difficult interactions, asking the child to talk through what went wrong, what the other person may have been thinking or feeling and what they could do differently next time. Praise after positive interactions is imperative.
Reenacting past or potential social situations at home can empower kids with ADHD to think through their behaviors and other kids’ reactions. Short, structured play dates with one child at a time can be less overwhelming than groups, while playing with younger kids can offer a more forgiving atmosphere. Organized sports or extracurricular activities can create built-in playmates with similar interests and a boost of confidence in newly-acquired skills.
Praise the many positives
Goett says it’s key for parents to accept their children as they are, embracing their unique qualities.
“One thing I find so encouraging is kids with ADHD tend to be so compassionate,” said Cuomo. “They don’t always show it in their often pushy behavior but they are so accepting.”
Help your child follow their passions by encouraging their talents and interests. Make them aware of other individuals who have ADHD who have made great contributions to society, Michael Phelps, Walt Disney and Simone Biles to name a few. That ability to hyper-focus can be a tremendous asset in school, work, sports or life in general. The same goes for an ability to persevere when others may give up. Creativity, curiosity, willingness to take risks, innovation and charm are other notable qualities kids with ADHD can celebrate.
“ADHD is a complicated condition,” says Goett. “But with the help of parents, teachers and ADHD professionals, kids can adapt, cope and thrive!”
Tanya Schoor is an enthusiastic freelance writer living in Norman with her husband and son. She enjoys exploring our area and seeking out new adventures with her family. Erin Page is editor of MetroFamily Magazine and a mom of three.