Having a child diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) can be challenging. Compared to other children without ADHD, they can sometimes be more difficult to discipline, and struggle more with school and academics. In my family medicine practice, I often get questions about what causes ADHD, treatment for ADHD in children, and parenting a child with ADHD.
Children with ADHD can have challenges staying focused, following through with directions, or acting impulsively. They also may have more difficulty in relationships with friends compared to children without ADHD. The good news is that there are many things that parents can do, in addition to medications and following up with their doctor regularly, to help their child with ADHD.
Behaviour therapy and environmental changes have been well studied in children with ADHD, and are recommended to help children learn to function with their disorder. ADHD is manageable, but not curable. It is helpful to implement some techniques in your parenting style in hopes that your child will learn how to manage their own symptoms, as symptoms of ADHD may continue into adulthood.
To parents with children who have ADHD, I often recommend parents try to:
Have a Daily routine:
Maintain a consistent daily schedule so your child has a predictable routine. Even people without ADHD can become more irritable or moody when their routine is thrown off. Try to keep the time they wake up, eat breakfast/lunch/dinner, go to school, and go to bed fairly constant.
Keep distractions at homeschool to a minimum (ie: limit noise and toys in the home).
When giving your child with ADHD choices, try to offer them 2 or 3 options (ie: you can have chocolate or pie for dessert rather than “what would you like for dessert?”) Children with ADHD can have difficulties making decisions when faced with too many options.
Help Keep Track of Important Items:
Provide specific and consistent places for the child to keep his or her schoolwork, toys, and clothes, as forgetful kids will often lose important items and become distraught.
Use Positive Reinforcement Style of Parenting:
Use a Positive Reinforcement model of parenting. Identify and reward positive behavior. Identify your childs negative behaviors, and be careful not to unintentionally reinforce them, or focus the bulk of your attention on them. (See my post about positive reinforcement in parenting!)
Try To Remain Calm When Disciplining:
When disciplining your child, try to remain calm and avoid yelling. Instead, use methods such as removing your child from the situation and giving a time out.
Help Your Child Break Down Tasks into Easy Steps:
When your child is faced with a task, remove any distractions such as noise or activity. Break down the task into easy-to-follow steps (ie: “Could you please take your backpack, go up to your room, empty your homework on your desk, and then come back downstairs and meet me in the kitchen”), . Some parents create a chart or checklist to help their child stay on top of the steps involved in their task.
Help Your Child Stay On Task:
As many children with ADHD continue to have symptoms of inattention and difficulty focusing into adulthood, it is important to help them learn tools that they can use themselves to stay on track and check in with themselves routinely. Checking in on your child at routine intervals (ie: every 15 minutes) while they are doing a task can help them stay on track and teach them to check-in and recognize getting off-task.
Encourage Your Child’s Positive Sense of Self:
Because children with ADHD can sometimes be disruptive in school, they can grow up with the ingrained idea that they are “bad kids” that are “not good at school.” Even if your kid has ongoing ADHD symptoms, try to reinforce the fact that they are good kids who are trying hard. All children need to have the encouragement of being successful and congratulated throughout their childhood. This helps develop a sense of self-esteem, which will foster confidence. Find activities in which the child can be successful (ex:, hobbies, sports) and encourage them to participate, and praise their efforts and talents.
It is important to teach your child early about their ADHD so they can learn skills to cope and adapt to it. Teaching them early about how to navigate around their challenges with inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity will encourage their transition to becoming well-adjusted and successful adults.
Understanding ADHD. Information for parents about attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. American Academy of Pediatrics, Elk Grove Village, IL 2001.
Subcommittee on Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Steering Committee on Quality Improvement and Management, Wolraich M, et al. ADHD: clinical practice guideline for the diagnosis, evaluation, and treatment of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in children and adolescents. Pediatrics 2011; 128:1007.