4 Things Parents of an ADHD Child Want You to Know

Do you know a grade-schooler who gets fidgety and distracted? Maybe the child acts out, and can’t seem to follow directions or finish tasks. These could be signs of ADHD – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

This disorder affects millions of children in the United States, yet a definitive cause of ADHD has not been found. Studies have shown ADHD may run in families and could have a genetic link.

ADHD might get worse or better by parenting styles – but this does not cause the disorder. Eating too much sugar, being lazy or having allergies also does not cause it. But those who experience the hyperactive, inattentive behaviors of a child with ADHD may have misconceptions about this disorder. Here are four key points parents wish you knew:

#1. A child with ADHD processes information differently in their brains.

When seeing a child in perpetual motion or who is disruptive, you may wonder if he is just undisciplined. Parents of children with ADHD already know their offspring thinks and acts differently than most other kids, and they’re trying hard to figure out what to do about it.

ADHD is a disruption of thought processes that affects the child’s ability to self-regulate. And it interferes with his ability to act with the future in mind. He has issues with how fast he can process information and with planning ahead or staying focused (executive functions).

Most parents of an ADHD child work closely with teachers and counselors – and spend many exhaustive hours, days and months researching the disorder on their own. Parents also take their ADHD child for evaluation by a behavioral health specialist, who may take up to six months or longer to study him in different settings.

#2. Behavior therapy is a preferred line of treatment for young kids.

It turns out that behavior therapy is the preferred first line of treatment for ADHD in young kids, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Listed below are some behavioral intervention programs that could help:

a) Parent programs show moms and dads strategies to help their ADHD kids become more successful.

  • “Catch kids being good:” In this method, grownups are taught to notice and praise kids when they are doing the right thing.

  • Use of a “time-out” needs a different approach for a child with ADHD symptoms. Usually, parents give the child one minute of time-out for each year of their age (i.e., 6 mins. time-out for a 6-year-old without ADHD). Specialists suggest using the 30% guideline for kids with ADHD. This means their social/emotional maturity may be 30% lower than others their age (i.e., 6-year-old with ADHD could have a 4-min. time-out).

b) Teacher programs include how to give clear, step-by-step instructions to ADHD kids. The programs also advise teachers to tell the ADHD children what rewards they’ll get for paying attention for a specific amount of time.

c) In therapeutic recreational programs, children with ADHD interact at summer camps or similar places. These camps have activities like arts & crafts and sporting events. They also offer “behavioral awards” for things like following directions.

#3. Medicine & behavior therapy help some kids. For others, medication may not be right.

In cases where ADHD has been clearly diagnosed, a combination of behavior modification and medicine could be the right solution. While treatments do not cure ADHD – they can make a difference in how severe symptoms become. When the child is diagnosed early and treatment is started, there may be a better outcome.

There are other things to be aware of regarding medication for a young child with ADHD:

  • The decision whether to medicate a young child depends on the particular case, age of the child, severity of the ADHD, and whether there are other behavioral issues or health conditions.

  • Studies by Weir Cornell University in New York showed that when Ritalin (a commonly the prescribed ADHD medication) is given on a long-term basis to a child age 3 or younger, the developing brain might be negatively impacted.

  • Researchers at University of Florida College of Pharmacy also found that drug treatment for a young child with ADHD is not clearly supported by evidence.

#4. Children with ADHD face academic and socialization issues at school.

These kids have to work hard to fit into social and academic structures set for most other kids.

- They have many gifts that may go unrecognized – ranging from thinking “outside the box” to extra passion for their interests. Yet, their enthusiasm often becomes troublesome for teachers and students.

- Studies showed that some teachers and parents make fidgety kids “sit still.” But by doing so, they interfere with the child’s ability to pay attention and learn.

- There are ways to “facilitate their movement” so kids with ADHD can maintain the level of activity they need to stay alert. Research found that when kids with ADHD are moving, most actually perform better.

Skills kids with ADHD need to develop

With ADHD, the child’s brain works differently. The standard classroom model does not fit the ADHD child. Kids with ADHD need help with organization, socialization, and following instructions in the classroom.

Luckily, many teachers in grammar schools can devote time to these matters. Here are approaches that could work well to improve an ADHD child's behavior:

  • It helps if the teacher takes time to show the child how to use the school materials. Children with ADHD tend to be “visual learners” and do better if they can practice organization skills.

    • Show the child how to organize and find his school papers in folders. This can prevent his backpack from becoming a small trash pit.

    • Use Reward, not reprimand! A child with ADHD tends to function better if he is rewarded for appropriate behavior than if he is punished for acting out. He will do more of the behavior for which he receives positive reinforcement.

  • Help the child fix mistakes – by showing what he should do instead of focusing on what went wrong.

  • The ADHD child does well when “selective attention” is used – to boost the behavior desired. This means focus on the behavior you want with praise and don’t draw attention to the behavior you don’t want!

The ultimate goal is for the ADHD child to learn to control his behavior to become more successful. You can become part of the solution!