My name is Alex, and I have ADHD. I have had it since I was 6 years old. I did not outgrow it. Rather, ADHD and I have come to something of an understanding. It was not always easy for me.
Growing up in the ’90s, there was good awareness of ADHD, but our knowledge of the disorder has evolved since then. We’re more aware of ADHD symptoms in kids, treatment is improving and many myths are subsiding. Parents, teachers and children have more resources than ever at their disposal to confront it.
From my experience and from what I have learned, there are a number of things moms and dads should keep in mind when parenting an ADHD child.
The most important thing a parent can do for a child with ADHD is be their No. 1 advocate. This means getting proactive about the disorder at a young age. Seek medical and psychological advice. Take this information and relay it to teachers and school counselors openly.
Parents, counselors and teachers form the core of a child’s support system in school. Successful communication ADHD in children fosters a better learning (and home) environment for kids to thrive.
2. Manage medication
Medication is often the bedrock of treating ADHD symptoms in kids. Both child and parent should be aware of what kind of medication is being taken, when it needs to be taken, and – this is critical – how the medicine affects the child.
Growing up, I was first prescribed Ritalin. This was effective when I was very young (ages 6-11), but as I got older, I needed medication adjustments. My doctors, with parental approval, switched me to a sustained-release form of the drug Concerta. But as I got older, I began to realize that different doses of medicine had a different effect on me. I felt anxious. I sometimes lacked an appetite.
I relayed this information to my parents and doctors and was able to find a dose that better suited me. Smaller children will not be this self-aware, of course, so parents should pay close attention to how a drug impacts their child.
3. Openly discuss ADHD
Do not let ADHD in children become stigmatized. There is teasing in school. Medication should not be an elephant in the room, but it often is for kids with the disorder. To avoid negative feelings about the disorder and to foster greater self-confidence and self-assurance, parenting an ADHD child requires open talk. Cast it as something entirely normal. Reinforce the positive aspects of treatment, of taking medication and the “perks” of having the disorder (and there are many!).
Never try to hide the fact that your child has ADHD to anyone: Children will absorb this message and feel a sense of shame about their disorder, like it is something that should not be discussed. It should be. The more comfortable children feel about talking about the disorder – about having ADHD – the more likely they are to accept treatments.
4. Seek alternative options
School can be difficult. Kids with ADHD are extremely intelligent, but the efficiency of their attention can be poor at times. When a child is not motivated in a particular class (me, I hated math. Always did. Probably always will), this is an even bigger issue.
When it comes to ADHD symptoms in kids, seek help. That could include tutoring services, focus coaching, seeking out 504 accommodations to allow your child more time to complete assignments in the classroom and reaching out to teachers to help monitor a child’s progress.
5. Understand and adjust
No case of ADHD in children is exactly the same. That means each kid will learn (and live) differently. Find out what gets through to your child. Find out what does not. Encourage good habits when they appear.
6. Encourage exploration (with persistence)
Children with ADHD may bounce from interest to interest, activity to activity, idea to idea rapidly. This is completely normal. In parenting an ADHD child, allow this exploration to happen naturally. Do not hover. But also be aware of developing strengths.
Observe which activities the child is most successful with. Encourage your child to more fully pursue those things while not discouraging other interests or pursuits.
7. Frame ‘you’re different’ positively
Having ADHD has its disadvantages. But it also comes with a remarkable upside. Children with ADHD can be gifted in music, working with tools, acting or athletics. Focus on supporting your child in developing those gifts. My parents always encouraged and praised my creativity. I found (and I still do!) music to be an excellent outlet for getting out energy and creating something of my own.
I also had sometimes-quirky study habits. Framing these habits positively, appreciating the quirks, can help those with ADHD feel good about accomplishing tasks. For instance, I used to spread papers across the floor so I could look at each document or assignment in succession and visualize information. In some cases I might find the quietest corner of the library, away from anyone else, and dive into homework or a book.
As long as those methods were working, I was allowed to pursue them as I pleased. This allowed me to see the benefits of living with ADHD and gave me more confidence.
8. Establish a concrete routine
Routines are hugely important in helping with those ADHD symptoms in kids. Growing up, routines kept me on course. I would wake up, eat breakfast, watch some cartoons, take my meds, hop in the shower and then head to school. This grounded me. If the routine changed, I had a hard time regaining my concentration. I became more easily flustered. Encourage a daily routine. Help to implement it and, where possible, avoid a chaotic morning.
9. Use visual aids
Seriously, keeping track of information can be really hard. If someone gives me a list of 10 things to do, I’ll remember three or four. Having a concrete list of tasks is extremely helpful.
Technology is now key in parenting an ADHD child – and can help keep you kid on track. Setting up a calendar on the refrigerator or setting one on a child’s phone can be beneficial. Visual aids can work with learning as well. Parents should seek out technology like videos, games or phone apps that allow their child to get more hands-on with a subject. Kids with ADHD often respond well to this form of learning.
10. Discover peak focus
As a child, I was largely at the mercy of my impulses. But as I got older and became more self-aware, I started recognizing when and how I worked best in school and at home. This point cannot be emphasized enough: be aware of your child’s peak focus hours and encourage them to monitor this themselves.
For me, my best hours were always between 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. In truth, that remains true to this day. When it comes to ADHD in children, the traditional school day can put these kids in a bit of a disadvantage – as peak hours may not coincide with that schedule. Help implement a work routine for your child that can take advantage of those peak hours, maximizing productivity.
11. Encourage healthy social habits
Setting up clear parameters for social interaction can be helpful. If a child with ADHD knows what to expect from a social situation, they may have less anxiety about it. It is obviously not possible to control how your child will act in a given situation, but if they know what is appropriate, they are far more likely to engage in a way that is acceptable.
My experience growing up with ADHD was extremely positive. Having accepted the disorder early on, I learned to work with it. I know my limitations. I know my strengths. It took some trial and error, but with the guidance of my parents and teachers, I eventually thrived.
Every child’s experience with ADHD is unique, but with the right tools and the right people in their corner, those with ADHD can be successful. And parenting an ADHD child can be a really rewarding experience, too.