If your child recently received a diagnosis of Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), you might be experiencing many common and conflicting feelings right now. You might be relieved to finally have a reason for some of your child’s behaviors. You might be worried about what teachers or other parents will think and you may be concerned about giving your child a “label.” You might also be wondering what types of treatments are right for your child.
First of all, you know your child better than anyone else. Children with ADHD can be brilliant, creative and fun to be around. They can be friendly, funny, and curious. They can grow up with special talents, interests and abilities and they are already developing their own personality traits that make them special in their own way.
Your child’s brain works in a very unique way that might lead to some specific challenges. Here are a few things to expect:
- Your child may be forgetful at times.
- Your child may seem extremely hyper at home and school and find it difficult to sleep at night.
- Your child may try very hard to follow rules, but may get distracted and forget to listen.
- Your child may be very smart, but have trouble sitting still long enough, or concentrating hard enough to do homework.
- Your child may have trouble with numbers and some fine motor skills, like holding a pencil and writing with good penmanship.
- Your child may do or say impulsive things that make peers frustrated and annoyed.
As a parent, you may feel like you have good days and bad days and will need to find the best treatment for your child. Most children with ADHD benefit from a combination of psychiatric medication and behavioral strategies. Upon diagnosis, it is best to talk to your child’s pediatrician about a referral for a psychiatry evaluation.
To help your child navigate the challenges of ADHD, he/she might need some specific behavioral strategies at home and at school. Here are a few recommendations:
- Be patient! Take some deep breaths. Be calm when you speak to your child.
- Tell your child EXACTLY what you want him/her to do. Give one instruction at a time. Focus on what you want to be done, instead of what is not supposed to be done. For example, instead of saying, “Stop jumping on the couch,” It is better to say, “Put your feet on the floor” or “You need to sit with your bottom on the couch.” Be very specific. Have your child repeat it back to you so you know he/she was listening.
- Make a colorful poster with four to five simple house rules that your child can see. For example: “Use gentle hands” or “Follow directions the first time mom asks you to listen.” Have a family meeting so your children know the rules. Have your children help decorate the poster or draw pictures to remind them of the rules.
- Use specific and consistent consequences for any house rules that are broken. For example, use a “time-out” if your child is aggressive. Point to the house rules and be clear: “Rule number one is no hitting. Time-out for hitting.”
- Use routines. Your child will benefit from a regular and predictable schedule. He/She may still need reminders, but if your child knows what to expect, it’ll be a little bit easier. Remind him/her what’s coming next in the day, for example, “In a few minutes, we’re going to get ready for school.”
It is also important to keep open communication with your child’s teacher and work together to use the same strategies at home and at school. Ask for a daily progress report so you can praise and reward your child for good behavior at school.
Help your child learn to recognize when he/she needs to calm down. Think of a special cue word or prompt. For example, placing your hand on your child’s shoulder may be a cue for him/her to calm down and listen to you. It may be difficult for a young child to learn to regulate feelings, but you can make it easier by using gentle reminders.
Remember that having ADHD can be just as frustrating for your child as it is for you. Focus on your child’s strengths. Work on building your child’s self-esteem by using positive words that affirm how special he/she is to you. Think about all the things your child does well! Choose activities you both like to do and spend some quality time together.
Start every day fresh. No matter what happened yesterday, today is a day to try again to work on listening, paying attention and following instructions.
“Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?”
–L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
Raising a child with ADHD can be significantly challenging. What are some common frustrations and solutions that come along with this diagnosis?
Joanna Love is a Licensed Professional Counselor who provides in-home therapy to families of very young children with significant behavior and emotional problems.