October is ADHD Awareness month, and here at Crossroads Family Counseling Center we see many children and adults who struggle with ADHD. In the United States, ADHD affects as many as one out of ten children. Children with ADHD may struggle in school, at home, and other places where their attention is needed, and they are being asked to complete tasks. Parents, teachers, family members, and caretakers oftentimes have a hard time handling children with ADHD when their symptoms are getting in the way of completing daily activities and responsibilities. We wanted to share some general tips and reminders for those who are interested in learning more about ADHD in children, or those who care for a child with ADHD:
- The hallmark symptoms of ADHD are inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Most kids are inattentive, impulsive, and hyperactive at times. But for a diagnosis of ADHD, these symptoms must interfere significantly in multiple places, such as at school and at home. This is a childhood disorder, meaning the symptoms must be present before adolescence. The symptoms can start in preschool, but most kids aren’t diagnosed until later in childhood. The symptoms may change over time, with hyperactivity and impulsivity being more pronounced in young children, while high-schoolers and young adults often display more difficulty with attention. Many children (perhaps as many as half) will outgrow their symptoms but others do not, so ADHD can affect a person into adulthood (Braaten, 2017).
- There are great treatments available for children with ADHD. There are a variety of research-backed therapies that can help relieve symptoms of ADHD. Some of the most effective approaches combine several therapies, for example:
- Medication: Many parents are fearful of trying medication, but ADHD medications are some of the most well-studied across all areas of medicine. Stimulant medications (such as Ritalin, Adderall, or Concerta) are the most commonly prescribed. These drugs stimulate the parts of the brain that are understimulated. These parts of the brain are related to thinking and attention. The goals of these medications are to reduce hyperactivity/impulsivity and increase focus/attention.
- Behavior therapy: Behavior therapy teaches the child to be aware of, monitor, and eventually modify disruptive behaviors. The therapist will teach social skills, such as waiting your turn, reading facial expressions, sharing, asking for help, and reacting appropriately when teased. Cognitive behavioral therapy emphasizes mindfulness, and teaches a child to be aware of her thoughts and emotions as a way of improving attention and focus.
- Education and training: Knowing oneself, or one’s child, can help parents understand how ADHD and its symptoms affect the family unit. Parents and teachers can learn tools that can help the child learn new, pro-social, and positive behaviors. Adults can learn how to cope with inappropriate behaviors and encourage positive ones. This can help reduce ADHD symptoms.
- ADHD coaching: A coach can help students with ADHD work toward goals, see change as a positive thing, improve productivity and functioning, and keep a student accountable. This is particularly useful for older kids.
*These tips pulled from Braaten (2017).
- Positive Reinforcement, structure, and consistency goes a long way with children affected by ADHD. Children who struggle with ADHD often get messages from caretakers or teachers that they are “bad” and cannot follow the directions in the same way that other children can who do not have ADHD. Children internalize these messages, and it makes it even harder for them to succeed and do well in social situations. It is important that parents, caretakers, and teachers reinforce positive behaviors. Praise the child when he or she does something well, or is able to find a new way to get things done even while managing their ADHD. Structure is also very important for children with ADHD, which sounds kind of backwards for children who have a hard time following directions and maintaining their attention. However, when children know the expectations and the consequences for not following through with those expectations, it is easier for them to follow directions. The same idea goes for consistency. Children need to know the expectations and outcomes whenever it is possible for parents or teachers to communicate that information to them. When the rules change and bend for every situation, it makes it difficult for children with ADHD to continue following directions.
- Play with your child! Many times ADHD seems out of control in children when they have been sitting in class most of the day, or they have been cooped up with no outlet for their extra energy. It is helpful for children to have time set aside for just play. Parents can engage in a special play time with their child to allow the child to use up some of that energy, and connect with them. This is a good time to continue giving your child positive feedback and really engaged with their playful side. Play is also good for adults, so really it is a win win for everyone!
- It is not their fault, and it is not your fault. It is important for parents and teachers to remind themselves that sometimes a child with ADHD has little control over their actions or reactions. As mentioned in Braaten (2017), “kids can’t overcome symptoms of ADHD by “trying to concentrate harder” or by willing themselves to “pay attention.” Brain imaging studies have shown that people with ADHD have structurally different brains than people without ADHD.” This can be hard to remember when it seems that the child is being defiant or rambunctious on purpose. There are many times when children with ADHD have little control over their behaviors. Parents also need to be reminded that it is not their fault that their child has ADHD, and it is not a result of bad parenting. ADHD is brain based and is not a result of parenting actions, or anything the parent could have done differently.
ADHD affects so many children, so it is important that we learn about the effects and the actions we can take to help these kids. To learn more about October’s ADHD Awareness month, head over to https://www.adhdawarenessmonth.org/. If your child is struggling with ADHD and you are interested in therapy services at our center, please feel free to give us a call at 703-380-9045 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We have many trained therapists ready and willing to work with children and their families struggling with ADHD!
Braaten, Ellen. (2017). 5 things parents and teachers need to know about ADHD. Harvard Health Blog. Retreived from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/5-things-parents-and-teachers-need-to-know-about-adhd-2017102712643
Written by: Kasey Reichard, Marriage and Family Therapy Intern specializes in working with children, adolescents, parents, adults and families and play therapy. Kasey is working towards completing her Masters of Science in Marriage and Family Therapy at Virginia Tech University. She is also a graduate from Florida Atlantic University with a B.A. in Psychology and a minor in Sociology. She is currently under the Supervision of Sheri Mitschelen, LCSW, RPT-S