Meredith, 36, is the mother to two children. Katie, 12, is soft-spoken, reserved and studious; Matty, 8, is creative, curious, and has ADHD.
“I almost feel guilty when I describe Matty like this, but he is exhausting,” says Meredith. “Every day, at the start of every day, I have to brace myself.
“I’m either reminding him to get off the couch or stop trying to climb on the stove to get to the top most cupboard in the kitchen, or I’m reassuring him that people aren’t looking at his hair, or I’m literally running after him.
“I had my kids at 22 and 26, so I was a young mom – I still am,” continues Meredith, who recently allowed her realtor’s license to expire and has decided to stay home. “I practice yoga, and I’m physically fit, and I see a therapist twice a month. I would say I’m pretty healthy.
“But at the end of my day, when it’s just my husband and me in bed, and Matty’s asleep, I admit – I break. I cry. I cry so much. I love my son, and he is special and he is sweet and he is not a bad boy. He’s not violent. He doesn’t scream or get aggressive. But he’s so busy.
“And sometimes, I feel like I just can’t keep up. What keeps me strong is the thought that if it’s hard for me, it has to be harder for him.”
If you, like Meredith, has wondered, “How do I help my child with ADHD?” read on for six useful tips.
First, does my child have ADHD?
The following questions are often used to determine whether or not your child has ADHD. If you answer yes to a significant number of these questions, please consult a licensed mental health professional for an accurate and official diagnosis, which can only be made through a clinical evaluation.
Does my child have ADHD: a quiz
My child often makes careless mistakes. Yes/No
My child has difficulty concentrating or staying in focus. Yes/No
My child often drops one activity for another before finishing. Yes/No
My child has difficulty paying attention when spoken to directly. Yes/No
My child is disorganized, even after being taught organization tools. Yes/No
My child frequently loses personal items. Yes/No
My child avoids activities that require sustained mental effort. Yes/No
My child forgets duties, even after having been reminded. Yes/No
My child is distracted very easily. Yes/No
My child sometimes seems driven by a motor. Yes/No
My child is constantly fidgeting. Yes/No
My child seems to have difficulty remaining seated. Yes/No
My child talks too much, even when he/she has nothing to say. Yes/No
My child interrupts or interferes others often. Yes/No
6 tips on how to help a child with ADHD
There is help for parents of children with ADHD. Even when it seems taxing, tiring, or downright impossible, you can learn how to help a child with ADHD in school, at the playground, and at home. Parenting a child with ADHD can vary from age to age, but the following will help all children, at any age or grade level.
1. Order rules the day. Children thrive on order, whether or not they have ADHD. Routine and consistency is beneficial for the entire family, but particularly for kids with an attention and hyperactivity disorder.
Daily routines help kids and parents get through daily tasks, and they actually help form important bonds. Every family’s daily routine is different, but it’s important to establish a daily routine, a weekly routine, and other routines for irregular events, like holidays or larger family-get togethers.
For kids with ADHD, routine is important because it helps them feel safe. In a predictable environment, kids feel less stressed, and they feel protected and cared for. Routines help them learn skills and responsibility; having chores to do on a regular basis gives them a sense of responsibility and improves their ability to manage larger to-do lists.
Introducing and maintaining routine is a great way for parents to teach kids healthy habits too, like brushing their teeth every day or washing up before dinner. And because routines decrease stress, a daily routine can help improve the immune system too.
And for parents: don’t discount the value of routines for you too! An established routine will help you feel more in control, and decreases the amount of arguments throughout the day.
2. Choose your battles. You’ve heard this term before: pick your battles wisely. With a child who has ADHD, it’s not uncommon to have arguments throughout the day, every day. While you may be sensitive to your child’s hyperactivity, particularly in social situations and out in public, remember that hyperactivity is not always inappropriate behavior.
When hyperactivity is permissible – like at the park, or at a running track – let your child enjoy their energy. At a party, if your child is highly excitable but not hurting anyone, let him go wild! Part of our jobs as parents is to help teach our ADHD child manipulate life in a way that works for them, which includes accepting their own hyperactive tendencies.
“Because Katie is such a quiet kid, Matty’s loudness is just that much more apparent,” says Meredith. “I often have to remind myself that the person judging him most is probably me. He’s not a bad kid – he just has a lot of energy, and it’s a known disorder.”
It’s true: kids with ADHD aren’t bad. The disorder limits the brain from passing information between brain cells, so kids with ADHD have a more difficult time seeing reason than we do. It’s important to remember that daily life and in its constraints will be a challenge for your child, so it’s good for you – and your child – to focus just on what truly matters, and let the smaller things go. If he’s hitting another child, absolutely pull out the discipline and teach him right from wrong. If he’s simply being louder than other kids at a gaming store – let it slide.
3. Get right to the point. Repeat. For a child with ADHD, following and remembering a long, complex list of instructions of very difficult. Even giving a single command – simple as it might be to you – might feel overwhelming for a kid with ADHD, if the task at hand is what they might consider a major one.
A good practice is breaking down a bigger task into smaller chunks, so that your child feels accomplished every step of the way. Instead of saying “Clean up your room!” try giving your child a list of smaller things to do that will eventually result in a nice, clean room. You can start with, “Please put all your dirty clothes in the laundry basket,” followed up with another request, like “Now please put all your colored pencils back in the box and in your drawer,” when the first task has been completed. If you make a long list of things to do all at once, like “Put your clothes away, put your pencils back, put your toys back on the shelf, make your bed and throw out your garbage,” your child may not only feel overwhelmed, but he or she may not likely remember everything on the list.
But sometimes, even giving your child one instruction at a time isn’t enough. So make sure to ask your child to repeat back each step you give. An even easier way to make sure you understand one another is to write instructions down. Ask your child to read the written, step-by-step list with you, crossing off each step as they’re finished.
At Meredith’s home, chalkboards abound – they have a chalkboard in the kitchen, in Matty’s room, and in the playroom. “In each room, we have Matty’s List,” she explains. “Every day, he checks off what responsibilities belong to him, and after he goes to bed, I erase the checkmarks and we start again the next day.”
4. Give unconditional love. Praise and encourage your child, even (and especially when) he or she is struggling with completing a task.
Task completion is difficult for kids with ADHD, which is why it’s so important to continually and constantly utilize positive reinforcement. The child will learn over time that all assigned tasks, big or small, are worth completing.
While bribing a child isn’t suggested, a positive reward system is a great way to inspire a child to follow through. You wouldn’t say to a child, “I’ll give you $5 if you tidy up this mess,” but rather, “Once we’re done baking this cake together, we can have some for dessert!”
Even when a task hasn’t been completed successfully, still make sure your child is reminded that he or she is loved. Say things like, “That was a really good effort!” and “Hey, next time you’ll be even more awesome at this!” Even without a hyperactivity disorder, sometimes kids don’t complete tasks or projects the way you (or they) envisioned they would. But perfection isn’t the name of the game here. It’s that they tried, and that they’ll try again.
5. Check it off. Like Meredith mentioned earlier, checklists are king in their household. Checklists provide kids with a list of their own responsibilities, which help build and encourage independence.
A written list, whether it’s on a big poster board on the wall or in a notebook, provides the child with a visual reference. It eliminates the risk of the child forgetting what he or she is supposed to do, and even if distraction becomes an issue, brings the child back to his or her responsibilities.
For a child with ADHD, it’s a good idea to make this visual list attractive and cheerful. Create the list together using colors your child likes, and encourage him or her to cut out or draw images and include them on the list. You can use chalk, colored pencils, stickers or magnets to check off each task.
While a routine and checklist are ideal, sometimes things just won’t get done on time. Gently and kindly remind your child of the things that are still left to do, but don’t forget to use that positive reinforcement to celebrate the things that have been completed. Try not to adhere to any order or use restrictive time frames; let your child complete the tasks in any order they wish, and expand the time frame you’d like the tasks to be done so it’s realistic for the child and acceptable to you.
6. Give your child the gift of free time. Routines, checklists and order are fantastic tools for parenting a child with ADHD, but it’s also 100% appropriate – and necessary – to allow your child to enjoy free, unstructured down time too. Allow your child to be spontaneous and yes, even hyper, as long as they’re not hurting anyone or disrupting anything.
All children need and relish in the chance to run, play and feel free. Our society runs on being busy – we’re busy attending school, busy working, busy even doing the things that are intended to be a break from school and work! Your child with ADHD needs that free time to play, even as you try to teach them routine and order.
With all these tips above, there’s one more thing to remember. Advocate for your child. Be his or her biggest fan and leader. There are many educated experts in this field, and there are also many people – teachers, parents and other caregivers – who know someone with ADHD. They may think they know what’s best for your child, and they may have the very best intentions. But you know your child best, which means that while you can be appreciate of others’ concerns and suggestions, only you know what will work for your child and your household.
If you are a parent or guardian of a child with ADHD, and you need more guidance on how to help them with their hyperactivity, visit www.hopetherapyandwellness.com and book an appointment today.
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