10 Tips for Raising a Child with ADHD
*Note: I am not a doctor. I am a mom with an ADHD child.*
Our daughter, Lylah, was diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyper-activity Disorder) last year. Before the diagnosis, she was always super energetic and talked non-stop. We noticed the hyper-activity when she was about 4 years old, but we just decided it was because she was a young kid and that's what they do/how they act. It wasn't until we moved to our new neighborhood, made new (awesome!) friends, and saw how much more energetic Lylah was compared to the other children that we thought something may be different with her. Parents would comment about how Lylah was a "ball of energy" and ask "how do you keep up with her?!" Matt and I would just smile and say "it's exhausting!" And it WAS! Dealing with Lylah was so demanding all day long. She was constantly on the go and constantly wanting to play, dance, jump, run, skip, talk, do cartwheels, etc. It didn't matter that she had just swam for 4 hours at the pool; when we got back home, she wanted to keep on going! She would ask a question and not wait for the answer before she'd ask another question or start talking about something else. Car rides were really tasking for us because she would talk non-stop. Even at this point, we thought this was just because she was comfortable at home and was just an energetic kiddo.
But then we decided to talk to her teachers. Both her kindergarten and first grade teachers were amazing for Lylah! But they did let us know that Lylah has trouble controlling herself. She talked excessively in class and she definitely had more energy than most of the other kids in her class. This was when we decided that we needed to see a doctor about it.
After surveys and tests, Lylah was officially diagnosed with ADHD. We chose to put her on a medication to help with it (lowest dose possible) and it has been life-changing! Not only has the medicine helped her calm down a bit, but we have also been able to understand her better. When she is talking a lot, we can better be patient with her because she's not doing it to be annoying. It's just her brain going a mile a minute - she can't help it.
We were also able to figure out things we could do to be better parents for Lylah now that we had this diagnosis (we tried before, but we just couldn't figure it out). For some reason, having it diagnosed was a relief for me. Here are the things we do for Lylah. I hope these tips can help you with your ADD/ADHD child, too.
1. Have structure.
For the most part, we stick to a daily schedule every day. Wake up, breakfast, getting ready for school is the same daily. We eat dinner, have bath time, and do bedtime routine at the same time everyday. This helps Lylah to know what to expect. Also, when we are giving instructions, we speak in a calm and clear voice and we sometimes even have Lylah repeat the instructions back to us so we know that she understands them. Before you give instructions, make sure your child is focused on you - make eye contact - so you know that they are listening.
2. Have a quiet place for your child.
Lylah has two places she can go: her desk downstairs for homework or to create/draw and upstairs in her bedroom. Having these quiet spaces allows her to be calm and focused on the tasks she has to do. These places can also help when she is having a hard time and needs to calm down.
3. Keep your home neat and organized.
Modeling an organized home helps Lylah to understand that when things are in their place, they are easier to find. I feel this will help her in the future for school: bookbags, homework, binders, etc will be in their place.
4. Allow your child to do things for themselves.
This is hard for me because I like to be in control, but it is so important for her to know that she can do things on her own. This gives her a sense of independence and it can heighten her self-esteem. The key here is to support your child. The more you do for your child, the less they think they can do for themselves. Set them up for self-made success.
5. Be calm
When Lylah is throwing a fit, she goes all out. Yells at me, runs, screams super loudly, throws things. She can't always help this. Even after teaching her other ways to handle her feelings, she still sometimes gets in these fits. When this happens, it is important for me to stay calm. I say "when you calm down, we can talk about this" and then go into the next room. When I hear that she is sitting or laying in one spot, I go in, sit/lay next to her, rub her back and talk to her calmly. This helps her SO MUCH because then she stays calm and can understand why the behavior that just happened was not ok. She can learn from her mistakes. And she knows that I won't freak out and, more importantly, that I still love her. It is so important that parents of ALL children show that they are unconditionally loved.
6. Praise often
Just this morning, I gave Lylah praise for going upstairs to brush her teeth without griping about it for 2 minutes beforehand (which is what usually happens). Even small things like this can help her feel successful, proud, and can give her the incentive to make that positive choice again in the future. That being said, do not go overboard with the praise - kids are smart and they will know when you're faking being truly proud of them.
7. Have rewards and consequences
We use a reward chart. When Lylah makes good choices all day, she earns a sticker. The stickers go toward a bigger reward - when she gets enough stickers, she gets the reward. Lylah chose all of the rewards she wanted to work toward. Advice: ALWAYS FOLLOW THROUGH WITH THE REWARD.
We also have consequences for poor choices. These vary depending on the choice she makes.The two things I will advise about consequences: 1. relate them as close as you can to the "offense" - for example, not doing her chore does not equal a consequence of a time-out. A more relatable consequence might be that she now has to do 2 of her chores before she can go play. 2. ALWAYS FOLLOW THROUGH WITH THE CONSEQUENCE (if your child is acting up at McDonald's and you threaten to leave if they don't get it together - you better leave if they don't get it together! I've done this - packed up the food and left. That behavior hasn't happened since.).
8. Ensure movement. Ensure sleep.
Lylah is enrolled in dance class. On the days she doesn't have class, she practices at home or goes outside to play. Or she has a friend come over to play. Not only does movement help channel her energy, but it also makes her more tired at bedtime. Many ADHD kids have trouble sleeping at night. Ensure that your child is getting adequate sleep by having a routine at bedtime and a set lights-out time. We also layer blankets on Lylah for sleep. Her doctor recommended a weighted blanket and we haven't gotten one yet; so we just layer. This helps her to feel 'hugged' and comforted and can help her stay asleep.
9. Ensure a healthy diet.
Many ADHD kids struggle with eating. Some of the ADHD medicines are appetite suppressants and so kids aren't hungry for most of the day. We ensure that Lylah eats a healthy breakfast every morning and a healthy dinner every night. We also have Lylah take a multi-vitamin every morning. I pack her a lunch for school, but I cannot control whether or not she eats that. Most of the time, Lylah comes home from school and needs a snack right away (she gets all kinds of "hangry!") and even then she is famished by dinner. We eat a lot of chicken and vegetables at dinner time and there is usually nothing left on her plate.
10. Take a break.
Having children can be tough; having a child with ADHD can be tougher. It is ok to say you need a break. I've been known to tell Lylah "mommy needs a short break" and then go into my room or the kitchen without her for a few minutes. You could also take turns with your spouse sometimes. Ask a friend or grandparent if they can watch your child for a bit. Also, make sure you set aside time with your spouse. You can talk openly about how to parent and what values you want to instill in your children. Or you can just be together and watch a movie without talking. Either way, having an ADHD child can be tough on marriages so making time for just you two can help a lot.
*Note: I understand that ADHD diagnoses can be controversial topics. Please know that Lylah truly does have ADHD - it is not a sleep disorder. We did our research, talked with doctors, and had Lylah go through tests that she hated just so we could get the right answer. I write this post in the hopes that I can help parents like me.*