Your 4th grader, Aiden, is having a tough year. He’s always been a bit energetic, but now his teacher is calling almost weekly to let you know that his “enthusiastic” and “passionate” nature has become a bit disruptive. Aiden is a bright boy and has always done well in school, but recently his grades have been slipping. At home, Aiden alternates between running around, talking loudly and bothering his siblings. He happily goes to church on Sundays, but spends most of his time spacing out, fidgeting or “going to the bathroom”. Your suspicions of ADHD are confirmed after a trip to a neurologist. In fact, now that you are learning more about ADHD, you are starting to wonder if your spouse (and maybe some grandparents and sisters-in-law) have ADHD as well.
1. Don’t panic. Maintaining a positive, accepting attitude and outlook is essential. If you approach your child’s diagnosis with anxiety, fear or hopelessness, your child is likely to adopt similar attitudes. Children with ADHD often suffer from low self esteem and feel like failures because they try so hard in the classroom but do not yield successful results similar to their non-ADHD counterparts. You can help by celebrating your child’s good qualities while adopting a positive attitude when tackling the ADHD symptoms.
2. Learn all you can about ADHD. The internet can be a great resource, just be sure you are reading from credible websites. There is also a ton of online support for parents and even siblings of kids with ADHD. Talk to other parents of children with ADHD. Consider joining a support group for parents of children with ADHD.
3. Inform your child’s school. Children with an ADHD diagnosis are entitled to extra help, like a 504 or IEP plan. Additionally, informing and educating your child’s teacher’s about their diagnosis can help them understand your child better, and have more patience for him/her.
4. Inform your child that he she/he has ADHD. You can’t begin to work on and change what you don’t acknowledge. Informing your child will help him/her own the diagnosis and management of their ADHD. Most children feel relief and validation when they find out that there is a name and an explanation for why they’ve always felt “different”. Most children won’t or can’t verbally express that they feel frustrated, spacey, wound up, etc. Giving it a name takes away a lot of that frustration. Also let your child know that their ADHD doesn’t define them, and that lots of successful people have ADHD. Sir Richard Branson, Walt Disney, John F. Kennedy, Michael Phelps, Terry Bradshaw, James Carville and Paul Orfalea (founder of Kinkos) all have ADHD.
5. Don’t punish a child for behavior that is beyond their control. Example: Aiden was reminded twice already to clear his dinner plate and put it in the sink. It’s still sitting on the table. Remind Aiden again, and this time go with him to ensure he follows through. Praise him for doing it. Reminders and rewards are the best tools in your arsenal for a child who is distractible and impulsive. Punishments will just reinforce for the child that they are “bad” and can’t succeed. (BTW, that doesn’t mean there aren’t times when a child needs consequences. It’s just beyond the scope of this article.)
6. Provide a lot of structure. Children with ADHD often have trouble with executive functioning. (e.g. – time management, getting started on projects, finishing projects, being on time for things – etc.) Running a structured home with prompts and reminders (e.g. your computer time is over in 5 minutes) can help a lot. This also models for your child what they will eventually need to do for themselves.
7. Consider stimulant medication, but don’t over estimate it’s importance. There’s no doubt that, for many children with ADHD, the right medication makes a huge difference in behavior. But by no means is medication the only thing that makes a difference. Do your research and consider if a trial of medication could be right for your child.
8. Never stop believing in your child – and their success. For a child to feel loved and accepted, they need to know that their parents have confidence in their abilities. Once parents learn to look at the gifts of ADHD — things like exceptional energy, creativity, and interpersonal skills — they can see the strengths inside their child.