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Embracing differences and strengths will help your child manage ADHD

More than 5 million children, ages 3 to 17, have been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), based on the National Center for Health Statistics. While this number is growing steadily, there are many ways to manage your child’s ADHD--and it typically takes more than just one course of action. It is very important for parents and caregivers of children with ADHD to learn about the different tools available to help your child manage ADHD.


Do become acquainted with ADHD medications

ADHD medications include Methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta, Focalin and Daytrana) and Dextro-amphetamine (Dexedrine, Adderall, Vyvanse and Procentra). Understand the time-release mechanisms associated with your child's prescription and teach him/her about these mechanisms in straightforward terms that your child can comprehend. Educating your child about the drug's effectiveness and side effects will make him/her feel more responsible for taking the medication and will increase mindfulness about how the drug influences mood and behavior. This knowledge is empowering and will help your child become a better patient and self-advocate.

Do remember that nutrition matters

Understand the benefits of a diet tailored to minimize ADHD symptoms. What is good for the brain is also good for ADHD. Empirical research supports the following dietary suggestions:

  1. Eat a high protein diet, including beans, cheese, eggs, meat, milk and nuts
  2. Sparingly consume foods such as white flour and rice, candy, and sugary drinks. Eliminate simple sugars whenever possible.
  3. Add lots of complex carbohydrates and whole grains, such as legumes and vegetables, which gradually supply the glucose necessary for the brain to function without a rapid insulin response.
  4. Eat Omega-3 fatty acids, such as those found in cold water fish, walnuts, Brazil nuts, olive oil and canola oil.
  5. Eat small, frequent meals. These are very beneficial in keeping blood sugar levels and mood stabilized--and will even increase the time ADHD medications work.
  6. A daily 100% vitamin and mineral substitute is also recommended.

Do insist upon daily exercise

Structure at least 30 minutes each day of sustained cardiovascular exercise for your child. Daily exercise is perhaps the most effective treatment for ADHD in terms of reducing negative symptoms and the need for/amount of medication. In addition to improving circulation and mental sharpness, exercise provides additional opportunities for socialization and navigating novel environments, which promote neuronal health.

Do make sleep a top priority

Sleep is vital for healthy brain growth and regulation. The ability to sustain alertness is dependent on sleep. Create a set bedtime ritual and stick to it. Keep this ritual positive and stress quiet, quality time with your child. For example, scratching your child's back while telling him a story is one common bedtime ritual that works for many children. Find out what type of attentive, tender connection works best for your child and make it a mutually enjoyable tradition.

Do help your child understand ADHD

As your child’s ability to process vocabulary and scientific processes grow, have an open discussion about ADHD. Explain that individuals with ADHD have less Dopamine than most individuals. Explain that Dopamine is a chemical in the brain associated with movement, motivation and reward-seeking, so people with ADHD often need movement, a great deal of stimulation, and even thrills. Stress that while this is not a bad way to be, it is just different. Share with them that such distinct talents often produce outstanding entrepreneurs, athletes and explorers. It is important to build on the abilities of your children as a way to strengthen their weaknesses.


Do not permit unlimited access to video games

Due to decreased Dopamine (neurotransmitters associated with motor activity, motivation and rewards), children with ADHD often crave video games that offer players intense action, constant and immediate rewards, competition, and thrilling stories that are rare in everyday life. These games do not offer your child the ability to build social skills, postponed gratification or physical exercise, which are known to help reduce the negative aspects of ADHD. Consistent boundaries should be set regarding the amount and type of video gaming that can be played each day. Games requiring gross motor movements, such as X-box Connect and Wii activities (sports, dance, music and fitness games) are better than sedentary hand-held controller games. Because significant research shows that children with ADHD learn more and feel happier when involved in intense physical activity (preferably outdoors and while being social), limiting video games to no more than one hour per day is recommended. Positive reinforcement is best for shaping and sustaining behavior, so parents may wish to use video games as an incentive to be enjoyed after homework and other responsibilities are completed.

Do not stop your kids from moving

Kids with ADHD think best when moving. As a result, incorporate movement with learning whenever possible. For example, your child may enjoy swinging or walking while reading aloud or silently. Reading and discussing homework while riding a stationary bike, treadmill or pilates ball also works well. Another suggestion is to help your child review for tests while tossing a ball back and forth. Have your child ask you questions on the test material because this is empowering and helps them process the material in multiple ways.

Do not lower expectations for your child

Help your child understand that having ADHD creates a different way of processing that comes with challenges, as well as many advantages. With diet, exercise, good sleep habits and mindfulness, medications can be reduced--or even eliminated. Side effects of ADHD drugs (decreased appetite, insomnia and headaches) are dose-dependent, so encourage your child to develop coping strategies built on his/her strengths to accomplish goals and dreams. As your child learns more about his learning style, he will become empowered, and self-control, confidence and responsibility will inevitably increase.

Do not take yourself too seriously

By not taking yourself too seriously, you will have an easier time connecting with your child. It is important to help your child lighten up about mistakes, so he will have the courage to try his very best. Encourage your child to take risks and make the effort to connect with others, but stress the importance of “not always getting it right.”

Do not focus on deficits

There is no gold standard brain--just as there is no standard flower, standard culture or standard race. Individuals with ADHD have brains that are wired differently than most. And nobody disputes the inefficiency of this particular design to accomplish tasks, such as sitting still and paying attention to low-reward activities. But there are two sides of this neurological coin. The flip side is that those with ADHD are often adventurous, have a keen perception of the whole picture, are drawn to abstract ideas, possess remarkable intuition and have lots of energy. Consequently, it is vital to positively reinforce your child’s strengths and create an environment that embraces diversity. Work hard to let your child know that human excellence comes in all packages, and invite your children to be themselves.

Jumping cartoon

Having a diagnosis of ADHD is not a bad thing. It is just different. Help your child embrace these differences, learn to live with them and focus on their strengths, instead of their weaknesses. Remember that there is no golden standard brain.

More expert advice about Kids with ADD/ADHD

Photo Credits: Study of Study by chefranden via Flickr; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas -

Lois Prislovsky, PhDPresident

Lois Prislovsky earned her Ph.D. in educational psychology from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and completed over 138 hours of post-doctorate studies in assessment, cognitive psychology, Lindamood-Bell reading therapy, DIRFloortime metho...

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