Challenging behaviours in children and teenagers can sorely test even the most tolerant parent – bring into the equation a diagnosis of ADHD and the level of exasperation and overwhelm can go through the roof. The one thing to keep in mind is that it is highly likely that your child is just as frustrated as you are. Just because they don’t always do the things everything that they are asked to do, this doesn’t mean that they don’t want what you want – A HAPPY AND HARMONIOUS FAMILY LIFE.
In the UK ADHD is the most common behavioural disorder with an estimated 2-5% of school aged children and young people affected. ADHD is normally diagnosed somewhere between the age of 3 – 7 years and although it used to be more common in boys this is changing and there is only about a 1% difference now – more and more girls are being diagnosed. There are several reasons why this may be so and better left for another article. There is still no definitive cause of ADHD but research does show that it tends to run in families and that behavioural expression is different in boys than girls – some boys with hyperactivity may climb anything and everything whereas some girls will likely be seen daydreaming (in and out of the classroom).
Common behavioural symptoms of ADHD are widely reported and include inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsivity with symptoms such as restlessness and fidgeting, distractibility and a short attention span. Not surprisingly it is quite common for some children to exhibit symptoms of depression and anxiety at varying times. To complicate matters even more, there are many hybrids of ADHD –some children will also have, for example, one of the following: dyspraxia, oppositional defiant disorder or dyslexia. Some children diagnosed with ADHD….actually just have a learning disability!
One of the main difficulties for young people with ADHD to overcome is their ability to control what they pay attention to and not their ability to pay attention per se. During new or creative tasks such as constructing with Lego bricks or playing video games sustained focus is not a problem. So the question is what can parents do at home to help improve concentration in children with ADHD? The answer is that there are many practical strategies which parents can utilise in order to provide help their child to focus and improve their ability to maintain concentration in the moment and more importantly, over time so that they can learn how to improve and sustain concentration on more mundane tasks in general.
Providing structure and regular and repetitive routines is paramount as this will make it easier for the ADHD child to learn the nuts and bolts of a task. Whether it is getting out of the house on time, tidying a bedroom or even doing homework – structure and routine provides the foundation on which to build. By adopting a ‘goal setting’ approach it is then possible for a task or chore to be broken down into the smallest of steps and why not make use of technology to make things even easier – with ‘selfies’ being the latest craze, why not use your phone camera to snap your child at every step of a task so that they can readily access a reminder of the order of things if they begin to lose focus. Imagine how useful this could be first thing in the morning when your child is getting ready for school in the morning!
ADHD children always have bundles of excess energy so for the successful completion of any chore around the home or even homework so it is always a good idea to pre-plan an activity ideally outdoors in order to burn up some of that excess energy beforehand.
To help the ADHD child complete a task successfully there are two very important things to consider. Firstly it is necessary to break down each task (home work for example) into small manageable chunks. Secondly and perhaps the most important thing to think about is the way in which the instructions for a particular task are delivered. Make them short and simple.
Any instructions should be kept brief and use simple language which is clear and unambiguous. Remembering that the aim is to avoid anything that is likely to be perceived by the ADHD child as mundane a top tip is to vary the tonality of your voice – use fun and creativity and consider using a topic that is of real interest to them to convey the information and to sell the task to them!
For homework tasks, in addition to the above suggestions there are more specific actions that you can carry out to support and aid the ADHD child’s concentration. If at all possible decide on one room in your home which offers the most opportunity for quiet and calm and ideally simple décor and clutter free. Keep distractions at bay by ensuring that only the materials required for the homework are on the table. A good idea is to encourage the use of colour pens or highlighters to emphasize written instructions and given that ADHD children can ‘tune out’ with little difficulty, devise a fun quiz scenario to test what verbal instructions were heard – correct answers rewarded with stickers perhaps. Depending on the age of the child and quantity of work assigned plan regular breaks with agreed play opportunities. Timers are a great tool for ensuring a fair measure of time on task prior to a break.
Asking the ADHD child to describe what it looks and feels like to be distracted is a great way to gain some insight into their world. How do they know it is happening?
And then, in the same way as a timer can be used to mark the end of a period of work, get the child to shout out (a previously agreed) key word or phrase when they sense that their mind is beginning to wander (could be a fun thing for the whole family to do). Notice the frequency and distance between distraction periods and use this in planning timed periods of activity for future tasks.
Of course a lot of patience and support is required with lots of praise and positive reinforcement to both reward and drive motivation.
Acknowledgement of achievement is really important so there should be opportunities for the ADHD child to earn rewards. Crucially these should always be honoured and at the time that they are earned and never delayed. It is also a good idea to vary rewards as this will help to keep motivation high and from one task to another. The other side of the same coin applies when things aren’t going as well as would be liked and the rules and discipline of a positive parenting approach will provide the necessary balance but regardless of which end of the spectrum the ADHD child is at, consistency is all important!
A word to the wise at this point – keep in mind that balance and compromise should be the watchwords always. If perfection is constantly sought, misery and disappointment and a whole lot of stress are all that will be found. You can afford to be kind to yourself sometimes……because you’re worth it (hmm…sounds familiar).
The fact is that many children with ADHD are highly intelligent and/or artistically gifted in some way in areas such as sports, art or even music. It is all too easy to focus on all the challenges and negative behaviours that ADHD brings and completely overlook all the amazing gifts or strengths that ADHD children have.
ADHD children invariably have very creative and imaginative minds and it is the very act of day dreaming with all its possibilities or the butterfly mind which sees 10 different TV screens at the same time (and struggles to focus on one) that gifts them the ability to see things from a different perspective, notice a subtlety that other’s without ADHD may miss completely. They have an inherent flexibility of thought making them natural ‘out of the box thinkers – natural problem solvers free to consider many different options. Their boundless energy and spontaneity – their sense of fun and enthusiasm can be infectious turning even the mundane into interesting driven by a strong determination to achieve……..your child is handing you the key, open the door and find all you need to help them achieve and succeed.