How to Help an ADHD Child
Unlocking the potential in your ADHD child will require some work on your part, but it will be well worth it.
What Is My Child Feeling?
At Focus on the Family, we receive letters from children, adolescents and young adults who live with ADHD. One of the most heartrending came from a boy in the seventh grade. Here is some of what he wrote:
When I began the second grade, I went from having a good teacher to a hard one. I did not feel ready for second grade, and felt different from the other kids. Writing words were hard, like writing the Korean numbers. No letters or numbers made sense, and I had trouble remembering everything I learned. I did not understand and remember the directions, and everyone seemed mad at me all the time.
When you're in second grade, you feel pressure to wear cool clothes and hang out with cool friends and do well in school. I began to feel like I was a failure and heard my teacher tell my mom I was at the bottom of my class. What did that mean? I did not know, really, what that meant until the other kids made fun of me and called me "stupid." I felt stupid. I told my mom I was stupid. My pride was hurt because I didn't feel like the other kids, or I didn't feel like I belonged. Everyone seemed to have fun and school stuff was easy for them.
I had one friend like me, and we started a club only for kids like me. My teacher told my parents that I might have a learning disease, and should have some tests. I had a tutor everyday after school, and I learned the stuff real good at night, but at school I could not remember what I'd learned or the right way to do problems.
In fifth grade I still had trouble learning, and people, especially my teachers, were getting more and more mad at me for forgetting. Sometimes, I would forget all the stuff and have fun. Sometimes I would not. Mostly, not.
My mom tried really hard to help me remember things, and she was starting to get mad at me, too. They told me I was not trying. The teacher told my mom I was lying about not remembering and that I was lazy. I'm not lazy. I'm just so tired of people telling me to try harder. I did not blame them for my disease, so why does everybody blame me?
He goes on and describes a terrible thing that happened at school when he was forced by a teacher to pick up trash because he wouldn't do his homework. Kids started calling him the "Trash Man" and the name stuck.
I wish I could say that this is the only letter like this we have received at Focus on the Family. Unfortunately, it is not. These young people, without proper parental and medical care, can easily become defeated — first academically, then emotionally, socially and spiritually. With prayer and proper care, these specially gifted kids can have academic success. They can discover who God created them to be and find what He has in store for them.
Successful management of ADHD involves a range of options. The first and foremost, after diagnosis, is education. The person living with ADHD is usually greatly relieved to learn that he has an identifiable, treatable condition. They are gratified (as are their parents) to learn that they've done nothing wrong. This condition is not caused, but you are born with it. It's part of your design and make-up. Best of all, God can and does use ADHD in His particular and peculiar plan for your life.
One organization that may be able to help is CHADD (www.chadd.org*), which provides an incredible amount of evidence-based and trustworthy information. They can offer the seeds, at least, for parent support groups. This organization, and others, can help you gather information.
However, let me share a caution here. Parent support groups, if not carefully done, can turn into gripe and whine sessions. That is not helpful and is sometimes harmful. All of us need someone to gripe to on occasion, no doubt, but unless there's some direction to the group, such as, "Okay, now we've heard everyone's complaints, what can we do about it?" it just stays at the complaining level. Then the kids pay the price. I've seen parents come home from such a group and get all over their child because of what they talked about at the support group. That's not helpful for the parent or the child.
Discipline and Structure for the ADHD Child
One of our constituents wrote to Focus on the Family saying, "We have a 5-year-old son who has been diagnosed with ADHD. He is difficult to handle, and I have no idea how to manage him. I know he has a neurological problem; I don't feel right about making him obey like we do our other children. It is a big problem for us. What do you suggest?"
Dr. Dobson responded to this mother: "I understand your dilemma, but I urge you to discipline your son. Every youngster needs the security of defined limits, and the ADHD child is no exception. Such a child should be held responsible for his behavior, although the approach may be a little different."
According to Dr. Dobson, "most children can be required to sit on a chair for disciplinary reasons. However, the ADHD child would probably not be able to remain there. In the same way, spanking may actually be ineffective with highly excitable children. As with every aspect of parenthood, disciplinary measures for the ADHD child must be suited to his or her unique characteristics and needs."
Here are 18 suggestions from a book by Dr. Domeena Renshaw entitled The Hyperactive Child. Though her book is now out of print, Dr. Renshaw's advice is still valid:
- Be consistent in rules and discipline.
- Keep your own voice quiet and slow. Anger is normal. Anger can be controlled. Anger does not mean you do not love your child.
- Try to keep your emotions cool by bracing for expected turmoil. Recognize and respond to any positive behavior, however small. If you search for good things, you will find them.
- Avoid a ceaselessly negative approach: "Stop." "Don't." "No."
- Separate behavior, which you may not like, from the child's person (e.g., "I like you. I don't like your tracking mud through the house.").
- Establish a clear routine. Construct a timetable for waking, eating, play, television, study, chores and bedtime. Follow it flexibly when he disrupts it. Slowly your structure will reassure him until he develops his own.
- Demonstrate new or difficult tasks, using action accompanied by short, clear, quiet explanations. Repeat the demonstration until learned, using audiovisual-sensory perceptions to reinforce the learning. The memory traces of a hyperactive child take longer to form. Be patient and repeat.
- Designate a separate room or a part of a room that is his special area. Avoid brilliant colors or complex patterns in decor. Simplicity, solid colors, minimal clutter and a worktable facing a blank wall away from distractions help concentration. A hyperactive child cannot filter overstimulation.
- Do one thing at a time: Give him one toy from a closed box; clear the table of everything else when coloring; turn off the radio/television when he is doing homework. Multiple stimuli prevent his concentration from focusing on his primary task.
- Give him responsibility, which is essential for growth. The task should be within his capacity, although the assignment may need much supervision. Acceptance and recognition of his efforts (even when imperfect) should not be forgotten.
- Read his pre-explosive warning signals. Quietly intervene to avoid explosions by distracting him or discussing the conflict calmly. Removal from the battle zone to the sanctuary of his room for a few minutes can help.
- Restrict playmates to one or two at a time because he is so excitable. Your home is more suitable so you can provide structure and supervision. Explain your rules to the playmate and briefly tell the other parent your reasons.
- Do not pity, tease, be frightened by or overindulge your child. He has a special condition of the nervous system that is manageable.
- Know the name and dose of his medication. Give it regularly. Watch and remember the effects to report back to your physician.
- Openly discuss with your physician any fears you have about the use of medications.
- Lock up all medications to avoid accidental misuse.
- Always supervise the taking of medication, even if it is routine over a long period of years. Responsibility remains with the parents! One day's supply at a time can be put in a regular place and checked routinely as he becomes older and more self-reliant.
- Share your successful tips with his teacher. The outlined ways to help your hyperactive child are as important to him as diet and insulin are to a diabetic child.
Adapted from Why ADHD Doesn't Mean Disaster by Dennis Swanberg, Diane Passno and Walter L. Larimore, M.D. A Focus on the Family book published by Tyndale House Publishers.