Helping the ADHD Child

Shown from above, hands holding large puzzle pieces, each piece having a letter on it, together spelling out ADHD.
Here are some first steps for helping a child with ADHD

Managing a child with ADHD requires participation from the entire family. Each member — including Grandpa and Grandma — needs to become educated about this problem, just as they would if a child had diabetes, asthma, or any other significant chronic condition.

Input from the professional(s) involved and from books, tapes, and local support groups can be extremely helpful. The nonprofit organization CHADD provides a variety of services, including printed information (fact sheets, newsletters, educational materials for parents and teachers) and local chapters where parents — and adults with ADHD — can vent, support one another, and share ideas.

Parents of a child with ADHD must be unified and cooperative. The survival of your marriage will require your conscious decision to create a flexible team and firm support. If you are a single parent with an ADHD child, you will need to marshal all the support you can find — from relatives, friends, members of your church, even coworkers — to give yourself some breathing room. In all cases, prayers to God for wisdom and patience should be a vital part of each day.

The following can help restore and maintain order at home:

The ADHD child needs structure and consistency. A predictable routine every day, with specific times for meals, chores, homework, bathing, and bedtime, creates a stable framework for his life. The ADHD child most often wants to do what is right. External structure helps move him in the right direction.

House rules and expectations for behavior should be explicit, understandable, and achievable. It would be unrealistic to expect a child with ADHD to sit quietly through a full-length sermon, go on an extended shopping trip, or dine in a formal restaurant without some difficulty — or total disaster.

Give instructions simply and clearly; avoid giving a chain of directions. A half hour after making a seemingly simple statement such as “Put the LEGOs away, let the dog out, and get your coat,” you may find the ADHD child playing with another toy he spotted while putting away the LEGOs. The dog and the coat will have been long forgotten. If you have more than one thing you want him to do, tell him one step at a time.

Enforce rules and limits consistently and predictably, with consequences appropriate for the violation. For example, if he charges into a busy street on his being warned not to do so, bike-riding privileges should be suspended for a day. If he knowingly mistreats a toy and it falls apart, don’t repair or replace it right away. If he has become too excited or aggressive playing with other children, give him a time-out in an uninteresting spot.

Remember, the child with ADHD may not seem to “get the picture,” and he may actually repeat the behavior for which you just punished him. It is important to make him suffer consistent consequences each time but not to yield to extremes: either giving up, which forfeits your right to be in charge, or reacting with increasingly harsh punishments.

As with all children, pick your battles carefully. Behaviors that put him or others at risk or are overtly destructive need your decisive response. But if you go to the mat with him over every minor annoyance, you’ll be exhausted — and thoroughly depressed — every day.

Offer praise and encouragement. The child with ADHD needs to know he is loved and accepted as an important member of the family, especially because his disruptive behavior, difficulties with schoolwork, and lack of success in other areas such as games and sports will generate negative feedback from several directions. He needs to know that you and others are on his team and always will be.

When he does what he’s told, accomplishes a task, plays well with another child, or makes progress at school, praise him. A special time of ten or fifteen minutes every day with one or both parents can allow some positive attention to be focused on him regularly.

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