ADHD affects millions of children and adults who suffer from impulsivity, hyperactivity, and inattention. The resulting lack of focus can be very disruptive in everyday life at school and home, affecting your child’s academic performance and social skills. The following 10+1 practical tips from professionals and parents are designed to overcome these problems.
Tip #1: Sleep is Vital
Children with ADHD have higher rates of obstructive sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome than other children. Kids with ADHD also tend to be sleepier, and some children become more active when they are sleepy to compensate for being tired. The beginning of the school year is a great time to assess sleep disorders, and how much sleep your child does best with, then make sure they continue to get the sleep they need from fall to spring. Especially important is to turn off electronics for the hour before bed, and do something calming in low light.
Dr. Catherine Darley is a naturopathic sleep specialist in Seattle who particularly enjoys helping children and their families sleep well. Catherine can be visited online at The Institute of Naturopathic Sleep Medicine, or followed on Twitter.
The most important thing that kids need for back to school is sleep. Too many kids do not get the sleep they need. Sleep apnea has similar symptoms as ADHD. The out of control energy and inability to sit still and concentrate. If a kid snores and has these symptoms get them tested for sleep apnea. It is way too often overlooked by MD’s who are too ready to prescribe medications.
As a dentist who treats sleep apnea I have found that snoring and sleep apnea is overlooked in kids. Many times this is caused by large tonsils and the treatment can be as simple as tonsillectomy. And their behavior changes once they can sleep at night.
Kids are not supposed to snore!!!
Tip #2: Develop a Before-School Routine
Come up with (and stick to) a before-school routine and plan ahead of time. Pick out school clothing and pack backpacks the night before along with your child. Also, decide on what they’ll eat for breakfast and lunch (or give them their lunch money) so there are no discussions about it in the morning. Planning everything out will make things go much more smoothly in the morning and set things off on the right foot, which is something all ADHD children need.
Tip #3: Work with Your Teachers
Don’t beat your head against the wall and frustrate your child by doing business as usual. Get really clear about what makes your child tick and let the teachers know and ask if they are willing to let you adapt the homework to what they are in to. Chances are they may be open to it. When my husband went back to school at 25, this is what we did with each and every class. Physics, we asked if he could read a book on the physics of football instead of dropping an egg. English, we replaced a random American biography we all just pull off a shelf of available ones and, instead read the biography of John Wooden. In psychology, he substituted a sports psychology twist to an experiment on intrinsic motivation on the field instead of looking at children in a classroom. ADHD can be focused when the child is interested in the subject so work with your teachers to make it a great year, if this does not work, look into homeschooling full or part time to really focus in on your child’s interest and let them learn in the area they love the most, because all academics can be taught in the context of our interests.
Jamie Beck is a former CSU Career Counselor and has a Master’s Degree in Human Services with an emphasis in macro level social systems and a concentration in family and work settings. Visit Jamie’s website here.
Tip #4: Communicate and Create a Supportive Environment
More than one in 10 children between 4-17 years old are diagnosed with this disorder, which includes symptoms such as impulsivity, hyperactivity, and inattention. The resulting lack of focus is a serious behavioral challenge for students. Three tips may help:
- Limit computer usage, TV viewing and video game play to one hour per day.
- Create quiet environments for children to concentrate and make decisions.
- Communicate with your children. Listening and talking are essential for the development of interpersonal and language skills.
Tip #5: Be Accommodating but Firm
Parents with children with ADHD may struggle with reigning in the behaviors of their children. What is the best way to discipline ADHD children?
- Ensure that you have created an environment that is suitable for the change you seek. (For example, if you want your child to sit still and do his homework, you should ensure that you have turned off all background noise, minimized activity near your child, etc.)
- Clearly state your expectations. (For example, “You need to stop yelling.” or “You need to sit down and do your homework.”)
- When the undesired behavior persists, calmly and lovingly maintain your expectation. Let your child know what is to come if he persists further. (For example, “I have asked you to stop yelling, yet you are still yelling. If you raise your voice to me again, you will need to go into your time-out room for ____ minutes.”) Do not waiver, negotiate, or give in to your ADHD child. If you capitulate due to the extremes of ADHD behaviors, your child will learn that extreme behavior will get him what he wants, even despite your objections.
- When the undesired behavior still persists, calmly and lovingly carry out the promise you made in #3 above. (For example, by escorting your child to the time-out room.)
- Repeat the above sequence consistently . . . your child will likely come to understand your expectations and the consequences if he does not comply, and he will likely develop sufficient desire not to experience the outcomes that he will choose to comply.
- When your child chooses to behave according to your expectations, calmly, lovingly, and generously praise him.
If the above course of action does not generate a successful outcome for you and your child, you are well advised to consult with your pediatrician.
Tip #6: Encourage Your Child to Read
Encourage kids with ADHD to read for pleasure, especially boys. This type of reading strengthens verbal cognitive skills, and it also reduces stress and helps develop vocabulary, empathy, imagination and intellectual curiosity. When kids with ADHD balance their daily activities with 20-30 minutes of reading what they want (comic books, graphic novels, nonfiction books, joke books, series, etc.) and how they want (in a fort listening to an audio book, under the covers with a flashlight, sprawled out with a digital reader, etc.) they will gain reading’s amazing benefits and build literacy confidence for the new school year.
Hillary Tubin is a former literacy educator, founder of Boy-Responsive Literacy Consulting, LLC and the author of Boys and Books: What You Need to Know and Do So Your 9- to 14-Year-Old Son Will Read. Her passion and specialty are helping discouraged parents re-shape reading at home so their sons choose to read in their spare time. Visit her website here, or follow her on Twitter.
Tip #7: Use Analog Clocks
Children, especially those with ADHD have difficulty accurately assessing the passing of time. They also tend to be visual learners. For ADDers of all ages, the visual representation of time that you get from an analog clock is very helpful for learning to judge how much time they have for a certain task or how close they are to ‘time to go.’ Even young children can understand that when the big hand is on the 5, it’s time to eat breakfast and when the big hand is on the 8, it’s time to get in the car!
— Open Forest (@openforestnet) August 25, 2016
Tip #8: Organize Things
Get rid of the clutter and designate homes for your families’ belongings. Accomplish these two steps and you will dramatically improve daily life for you and your family. Additionally, create a streamlined exit strategy. Schedule time to declutter and organize your mudroom or hallway. You will shave minutes off your morning if everyone knows where to locate their belongings. Designate hooks and an area for each child’s backpack, jacket, sneakers etc. Train them to put their belongings in their spot as soon as they come through the door in the afternoon. You are instilling a life-long organizing habit and saving yourself (and them) hours of looking for things.
Janet Bernstein is a certified professional organizer who specializes in working with ADHD clients and the owner of The Organizing Professionals based in Philadelphia. Visit her website here, or follow her on Twitter.
Tip #9: Calm Your Body
Children with ADHD need help calming their bodies in order to stay on a task, as well as some children with ADHD may have sensory related struggles (e.g. hyper or hypo-sensitivities to movement, touch, sound, etc.). The child and parent can both benefit from calming strategies due to the frustrations that come with ADHD.
For the child: deep breathing/take a break to help process & calm before reacting; organized motor activities: if he/she missed any developmental motor stages, revert back to completing the exact organized movements; prone (superman) exercise; chair pushups; cross crawls; jumping jacks; left-right discrimination movements just to name a few that can be completed in 1-2 minutes before returning to a classroom task, homework, etc.
For the guardian: deep breathing/take a break to help process & calm before reacting; speak to the child at eye level and wait for a response; identify the child’s strengths. Have your child complete the above quick movement breaks (you also do it with him/her), but also try to complete longer “organized” tasks with your child at least one time a week. Organized movement is the most important aspect. Set up an indoor or outdoor obstacle related to something that helps with motivation. Let your child help design/plan an obstacle. If your child likes shooting a basketball, have him/her bounce the ball a specific number of times with the right hand, left hand while walking in a specific pattern, before shooting at the target. There are endless activities that can help to modulate the body. It is important to grade the activities in ways that keep them fun and challenging, but not frustrating, with decreased motivation.
Kyle Heebner is an occupational therapist who specializes in pediatrics in the school-based setting and home environments. Visit Kyle’s website here.
Tip #10: Use Engaging Learning Media
Back to School ADHD tips for parents: If your child struggles with long textbook assignments, try using a more engaging learning format like video. Short 5-8 minute video lessons that cover all major K-12 subjects and can be a great textbook substitute or an easy review of material previously covered in class. The short animated videos explain complex topics in a simple to understand way. Learning something new is less overwhelming if you keep lessons short, plus it makes it easier to retain the information.
Adrian Ridner is the CEO and Co-Founder and Jennifer McHam a director of Study.com, an education website used by over 25 million students, parents, and teachers. The animated videos bring concepts to life and provide an easy, low-cost way for students in K-12 to learn any subject and excel academically. Visit the Study.com website here, or follow them on Twitter.
Tip #11: Practice Potty-Training at Home
- Don’t use a mini potty, use a seat-reducer on an adult-sized toilet. Often kids with ADHD will get distracted and will pee a little then race off to the next activity. Placing a child on a normal-sized potty reduces the temptation for them to race off so quickly.
- Put some blue food coloring in the toilet water. When they pee the color of the water will change (to green) and that change alone can help them focus on what they’re doing.
- Let them be part of the process. Don’t do everything for them. Teach them how to push down and pull up their pants, teach them how to take one sheet of toilet paper. Their budding independence and excitement can be used in learning new skills, one at a time.
- Let them flush the toilet. It helps them understand the whole process and helps to extend their attention on the pottying process.
These 10+1 practical tips can help any child with ADHD symptoms to organize their life and space better, minimize distractions, get enough rest, and improve their focus on the task at hand.
It is also important to consider that ADHD has a strong genetic basis in the majority of cases, as a child with ADHD is four times as likely to have had a relative who was also diagnosed with attention deficit disorder. This means that if your child is diagnosed with ADHD, it is likely that you or your partner also have similar symptoms. In adults, common symptoms are trouble getting organized, marital trouble, high distractibility, poor listening skills, restlessness, anger outbursts, lateness, and difficulty starting and prioritizing tasks.
For adults, there are also some easy and straightforward techniques and exercises to reduce ADHD symptoms and effects, which typically also benefit parenting skills and relationships. View this presentation for more information about an online course for adults with ADHD, or read more here.
In a large proportion of children with ADHD, symptoms persist into adulthood, which is often experienced as a chaotic lifestyle, and an increased risk of substance use, dysfunctional behavior, depression, anxiety, and relationship problems. In many adults, ADHD remains undiagnosed and untreated. However, it is never too late to screen for ADHD symptoms and get your life on track.