Lifestyle and home remedies
Because attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder is complex and each person with ADHD is unique, it's hard to make recommendations that work for every child. But some of the following suggestions may help create an environment in which your child can succeed.
Children at home
- Show your child lots of affection. Children need to hear that they're loved and appreciated. Focusing only on the negative aspects of your child's behavior can harm your relationship and affect self-confidence and self-esteem. If your child has a hard time accepting verbal signs of affection, a smile, a pat on the shoulder or a hug can show you care. Look for behaviors for which you can compliment your child regularly.
- Take time to enjoy your child. Make an effort to accept and appreciate the parts of your child's personality that aren't so difficult. One of the best ways to do this is simply to spend time together. This should be a private time when no other children or adults interfere. Try to give your child more positive than negative attention every day.
- Find ways to improve self-esteem and a sense of discipline. Children with ADHD often do well with art projects, music or dance lessons, or martial arts classes, such as karate or tae kwon do. But don't force them into activities that are beyond their abilities. All children have special talents and interests that can be fostered. Small frequent successes help build self-esteem.
- Work on organization. Help your child organize and maintain a daily assignment notebook and be sure your child has a quiet place to study. Group objects in the child's room and store in clearly marked spaces. Try to help your child keep his or her environment organized and uncluttered.
- Use simple words and demonstrate when giving your child directions. Speak slowly and quietly and be very specific and concrete. Give one direction at a time. Stop and make eye contact with the child before and while you're giving directions.
- Try to keep a regular schedule for meals, naps and bedtime. Use a big calendar to mark special activities that will be coming up. Children with ADHD have a hard time accepting and adjusting to change. Avoid or at least warn children of sudden transitions from one activity to another.
- Make sure your child is rested. Try to keep your child from becoming overtired because fatigue often makes ADHD symptoms worse.
- Identify difficult situations. Try to avoid situations that are difficult for your child, such as sitting through long presentations or shopping in malls and stores where the array of merchandise can be overwhelming. Help your child learn social skills by recognizing or rewarding positive interactions with peers.
- Use timeouts or appropriate consequences for discipline. Timeouts should be relatively brief, but long enough for your child to regain control. Children can also be expected to accept the results of the choices they make. The idea is to interrupt and defuse out-of-control behavior.
- Be patient. Try to remain patient and calm when dealing with your child, even when your child is out of control. If you're calm, your child is more likely to model that behavior and become calm too.
- Keep things in perspective. Be realistic in your expectations for improvement — both your own and your child's. Keep your child's developmental stage in mind.
- Take a break yourself. If you're exhausted and stressed, you're a much less effective parent.
Children in school
- Ask about school programs. Schools are required by law to have a program to make sure children who have a disability that interferes with learning get the support they need. Your child may be eligible for additional services offered under federal laws: Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 or the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). These can include evaluation, curriculum adjustments, changes in classroom setup, modified teaching techniques, study skills instruction, use of computers, and increased collaboration between parents and teachers.
- Talk to your child's teachers. Stay in close communication with teachers and support their efforts to help your child in the classroom. Be sure teachers closely monitor your child's work, provide positive feedback, and are flexible and patient. Ask that they be very clear about their instructions and expectations.
Coping and support
Caring for a child with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder can be challenging for the whole family. Parents may be hurt by their child's behavior as well as by the way other people respond to it. The stress of dealing with ADHD can lead to marital conflict. These problems may be compounded by the financial burden that ADHD can place on families.
Siblings of a child with ADHD also may have special difficulties. They can be affected by a brother or sister who is demanding or aggressive, and they may also receive less attention because the child with ADHD requires so much of a parent's time.
Many resources are available, such as social services or support groups. Support groups often can provide helpful information about coping with ADHD. Ask your child's doctor if he or she knows of any support groups in your area.
There also are excellent books and guides for both parents and teachers, and Internet sites dealing exclusively with ADHD. But be careful of websites or other resources that focus on risky or unproved remedies or those that conflict with your health care team's recommendations.
Techniques for coping
Many parents notice patterns in their child's behavior as well as in their own responses to that behavior. Both you and your child may need to change behavior. But substituting new habits for old ones takes a lot of hard work. It's important to have realistic expectations. Set small goals for both yourself and your child and don't try to make a lot of changes all at once.
To help manage ADHD:
- Structure your child's life. Arrange things so that your child's life is as predictable, calm and organized as possible. Children with ADHD don't handle change well. Predictable routines can make them feel safe and help improve behavior. Give your child a few minutes warning — with a countdown — when it's necessary to change from one activity or location to another.
- Provide positive discipline. Start with firm, loving discipline that rewards good behavior and discourages destructive actions. Also, children with ADHD usually respond well to positive reinforcement, as long as it's earned. Rewarding or reinforcing a new good behavior every time it occurs can encourage new habits.
- Stay calm and set a good example. Act the way you want your child to act. Try to remain patient and in control — even when your child is out of control. If you speak quietly and calmly, your child is more likely to calm down too. Learning stress management techniques can help you deal with your own frustrations.
- Strive for healthy family relationships. The relationship among all family members plays a big part in managing or changing the behavior of a child with ADHD. Couples with a strong bond often find it easier to face parenting challenges than those whose bond isn't as strong. It's important for partners to take time to nurture their own relationship.
- Give yourself a break. Give yourself a break now and then. Don't feel guilty for spending a few hours apart from your child. You'll be a better parent if you're rested and relaxed. Don't hesitate to ask relatives and friends for help. Make sure that baby sitters or other caretakers are knowledgeable about ADHD and mature enough for the task.
To help reduce your child's risk of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder:
- During pregnancy, avoid anything that could harm fetal development. For example, don't drink alcohol, use recreational drugs or smoke cigarettes.
- Protect your child from exposure to pollutants and toxins, including cigarette smoke and lead paint (found in some old buildings).
- Limit screen time. Although still unproved, it may be prudent for children to avoid excessive exposure to TV and video games in the first five years of life.
If your child has ADHD, to help reduce problems or complications:
- Be consistent, set limits and have clear consequences for your child's behavior.
- Put together a daily routine for your child with clear expectations that include such things as bedtime, morning time, mealtime, simple chores and TV.
- Avoid multitasking yourself when talking with your child, make eye contact when giving instructions, and set aside a few minutes every day to praise your child.
- Work with teachers and caregivers to identify problems early, to decrease the impact of the condition on your child's life.