Parenting is a challenging task, even under the most ideal circumstances. Add a diagnosis like Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or other behavioral issues, and the challenges multiply. Yet, many parents have walked this road before you, and there is ample guidance available to help you navigate this journey.
What is ADHD
First, let’s understand ADHD. It is a brain-based medical disorder that impairs the functioning of a child’s attention and activity level, with symptoms often starting before age 7. The disorder can affect a child’s schooling, job prospects, and relationships.
Take Ryan, for instance, a bright 12-year-old with a penchant for doodling. Despite his potential, his grades took a nosedive. His teacher reported him daydreaming and failing to turn in homework on time. He struggled to keep friends and often lost things. These issues, while seemingly ordinary, are tell-tale signs of ADHD.
ADHD is a medical condition that stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. A person with ADHD has differences in brain development and brain activity that affect attention, the ability to sit still and concentrate or focus, and self-control. ADHD can affect a child at school, at home, and in friendships.
How rare is ADHD
ADHD is not a rare occurrence. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reports that up to 11% of children in the U.S. have some level of ADHD(1). It’s important to note that having ADHD or behavioral issues doesn’t spell disaster. Many successful people, like Simone Biles, the most decorated American gymnast, and entrepreneur Richard Branson, have triumphed despite these diagnoses(2)(3).
What causes ADHD (and what does not)
The exact causes of ADHD remain somewhat elusive, but research has uncovered several factors that might contribute to this condition. Indeed, there is robust evidence suggesting a strong genetic component to ADHD. A child who has a parent or relative with ADHD is at a higher risk of developing the condition(9).
In addition to genetics, other risk factors may play a part in the development of ADHD. For example, children born prematurely or with low birth weight appear to have a higher likelihood of having ADHD(10). Furthermore, exposure to environmental toxins, such as high levels of lead, or maternal use of drugs, alcohol, or tobacco during pregnancy can increase the risk(11).
However, it’s important to dispel some misconceptions. ADHD is not caused by spending excessive hours in front of screens, nor is it a result of flawed parenting. It’s also a myth that consuming too much sugar can lead to ADHD(12). These misunderstandings can add to the stigma and misunderstanding that surround ADHD, making it crucial to approach this topic with factual information.
The Impact on Different Life Stages
In school, kids with ADHD often struggle to stay focused, leading to lower grades, missed assignments, and difficulties in making friends. Inattention may also lead to problems following instructions, leading to underachievement(4).
Fast forward to job hunting or maintaining employment, those with ADHD may struggle due to inconsistent performance, impulsivity, and issues with organization. This can also lead to emotional concerns such as low self-esteem and depression(5).
In relationships, ADHD can cause misunderstandings. Impulsivity can lead to saying things without thinking, forgetfulness can be mistaken for carelessness, and difficulty listening can appear as disinterest(6).
However, it’s important to remember that every cloud has a silver lining, and ADHD is no exception.
The Silver Lining
ADHD can also bestow gifts. Many with the condition display creativity, resilience, and an ability to think outside the box(7). Branson, for instance, credits his ADHD for his adventurous spirit and out-of-the-box business thinking(3).
Strategies for Success
As a parent, you can play a pivotal role in shaping your child’s journey. The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health suggests these evidence-based strategies(8):
- Behavioral Parent Training: Parents learn skills to guide their child’s behavior, such as setting clear expectations and consequences.
- Classroom Management: Teachers use praise, comment cards, or token systems to encourage positive behavior.
- Organization Training: Children are taught skills like using an agenda, breaking tasks into smaller pieces, and using color-coded binders.
- Medication: Certain medicines can help decrease ADHD symptoms in children. Always consult with a healthcare provider to discuss benefits and risks.
In some more practical terms, these are 10 things parents can do to support their child who has ADHD or other behavioral disorders:
- Establish Routines: Predictable daily routines can help children with ADHD to better manage their tasks and reduce feelings of chaos.
- Use Clear, Concise Communication: Simple, direct instructions can be much more effective than long explanations.
- Organize Your Home: Create specific, consistent places for your child’s belongings to help them stay organized.
- Encourage Physical Activity: Regular exercise can help reduce hyperactivity and improve focus(13).
- Healthy Diet: A balanced diet can support overall health and well-being, although it doesn’t directly cure ADHD.
- Ensure Adequate Sleep: Lack of sleep can exacerbate ADHD symptoms. Establish consistent sleep routines(14).
- Provide Positive Feedback: Positive reinforcement can motivate children to practice good behavior(15).
- Set Clear Expectations and Consequences: Create structure and boundaries to help your child understand the consequences of their actions.
- Support with Homework: Break tasks into manageable parts and provide support when needed.
- Seek Professional Help: Behavioral therapy, psychoeducation, and, in some cases, medication can be beneficial.
For People with ADHD:
And here are some practical things that people with ADHD can do to manage it:
- Create Structure: Try to follow a routine that makes the most of your productive times.
- Break Down Large Tasks: Large tasks can seem overwhelming. Break them down into manageable pieces.
- Use Tools to Stay Organized: Consider using calendars, planners, or digital apps to keep track of responsibilities.
- Regular Exercise: Physical activity can help manage symptoms of ADHD(13).
- Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques: Activities like yoga, meditation, or deep breathing can help improve focus and reduce impulsivity(16).
- Healthy Diet and Sleep: Ensure a balanced diet and get plenty of rest. Both can have an impact on your overall mood and energy levels.
- Seek Support: Don’t hesitate to seek professional help. Therapists, coaches, and support groups can provide strategies and encouragement.
- Levitate Towards Strengths: People with ADHD often excel in creative and dynamic tasks. Find what you’re good at and passionate about, and pursue it.
- Self-Compassion: Understand that it’s okay to have bad days. Be kind to yourself.
- Advocate for Yourself: Learn about your condition and don’t be afraid to ask for accommodations at school or work.
While ADHD does pose challenges, with the right strategies and support, people with ADHD can navigate their lives successfully, leveraging their unique strengths and capabilities to their advantage.
Let’s revisit Ryan. His parents worked with his teacher to establish a token system for good behavior and assignment completion. At home, they set clear expectations for homework time. His mother enrolled him in an art class, channeling his love for doodling into a structured, rewarding activity. These changes didn’t transform Ryan overnight, but over time, his grades improved and he started making friends.
Your child, like Ryan, can lead a fulfilling life with ADHD. Remember, it’s not about eradicating the diagnosis, but about teaching your child to thrive despite it.
In conclusion, dealing with ADHD or other behavioral issues isn’t easy, but armed with the right knowledge and strategies, you can help your child turn potential stumbling blocks into stepping stones.
(1) AAP. (2020). “ADHD: Clinical Practice Guideline for the Diagnosis, Evaluation, and Treatment of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in Children and Adolescents.” Pediatrics.
(2) NBC News. (2016). “Olympic Gold Medalist Simone Biles Talks About Her ADHD”.
(3) Entrepreneur. (2018). “8 Successful People With ADHD”.
(4) DuPaul, G. J., & Stoner, G. (2014). “ADHD in the schools: Assessment and intervention strategies.” Guilford Publications.
(5) Barkley, R. A., & Fischer, M. (2010). “The unique contribution of emotional impulsiveness to impairment in major life activities in hyperactive children as adults.” Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.
(6) Wymbs, B. T., Pelham, W. E., Molina, B. S., & Gnagy, E. M. (2008). “Mother and adolescent reports of interparental discord among families of adolescents with and without ADHD.” Journal of abnormal child psychology.
(7) White, H. A., & Shah, P. (2006). “Uninhibited imaginations: Creativity in adults with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.” Personality and Individual Differences.
(8) NIMH. (2020). “Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): The Basics.”
(9) Faraone SV, Perlis RH, Doyle AE, Smoller JW, Goralnick JJ, Holmgren MA, Sklar P. (2005) “Molecular genetics of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.” Biological Psychiatry.
(10) Linnet KM, Wisborg K, Agerbo E, Secher NJ, Thomsen PH, Henriksen TB. (2006) “Gestational age, birth weight, and the risk of hyperkinetic disorder.” Archives of Disease in Childhood.
(11) Froehlich TE, Lanphear BP, Auinger P, Hornung R, Epstein JN, Braun J, Kahn RS. (2009) “Association of tobacco and lead exposures with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.” Pediatrics.
(12) Wolraich ML, Lindgren SD, Stumbo PJ, Stegink LD, Appelbaum MI, Kiritsy MC. (1994) “Effects of diets high in sucrose or aspartame on the behavior and cognitive performance of children.” The New England Journal of Medicine.
(13) Gapin JI, Labban JD, Etnier JL. (2011) “The effects of physical activity on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder symptoms: the evidence.” Preventive Medicine.
(14) Cortese S, Faraone SV, Konofal E, Lecendreux M. (2009) “Sleep in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: meta-analysis of subjective and objective studies.” Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.
(15) Fabiano GA, Pelham WE, Coles EK, Gnagy EM, Chronis-Tuscano A, O’Connor BC. (2009) “A meta-analysis of behavioral treatments for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.” Clinical Psychology Review.
(16) Mitchell JT, Zylowska L, Kollins SH. (2015) “Mindfulness meditation training for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in adulthood: current empirical support, treatment overview, and future directions.” Cognitive and Behavioral Practice