When I was in medical school I told a professor that if I ever had a child with ADHD I would homeschool him before I gave him ADHD medications. Seven years later my son was prescribed a variant of Ritalin. I cried. He took it. His school life and our home life got easier. And I learned how to be a better parent.
Nearly 1 in 10 U.S. children have been diagnosed with ADHD by a health care professional, about 5.4 million kids. The numbers continue to rise. About two thirds of these children take a medication to treat their ADHD. Medications are effective for treatment of ADHD and I do support their use under appropriate circumstances. But any ADHD treatment plan has to include “behavioral interventions,” in other words, no-fun-parenting. Yes, we have to teach our kids to pay attention. How?
Turn off the TV, especially if it is just on in the background. The average American child is exposed to 232.2 minutes or nearly 4 hours of background TV each day, according to a study published this month in Pediatrics. How can we expect our children to focus on homework, chores, or even a conversation if they are distracted by TV?
Make time for parenting. ADHD kids need a full-time secretary—someone to give constant gentle reminders. When you are the parent of an ADHD kid, that’s your job. All these reminders take time. Double the time you think you need to get ready for school or do chores. It’s usually easier and faster to just pack your child’s backpack for him, rather than remind him six times to do it. Keep reminding him until you sound like a broken record. Yes, this takes twice as long as it should.
Tame your own anger. ADHD kids need a secretary, not a policeman. It seems reasonable to raise your voice when they drop their coat on the floor for the two hundredth time. But it’s your job to ask them nicely for the 201st time.
Get an electronic secretary. Adults with ADHD have usually learned to use smartphones as a secretary and caffeine as a stimulant. Kids with ADHD use parents for reminders and prescription stimulants. Why not let your smartphone be your child’s secretary, too? We set multiple smartphone alarms every day, even for things like getting ready for bed. For more detailed information, see my post, Control ADD or ADHD with a Smartphone.
Get a chore chart and use a reward system. Put all your kid’s daily tasks on the chart, not just chores. Include things like “hang up coat,” “brush hair,” and “stay in chair at dinner.” Chore charts don’t work without reward systems that will motivate kids to actually check things off themselves. For rewards, use computer time, time with friends, or privileges like picking the family dinner. We really love the “Chore Pad” app we have on our iPad that syncs with our iPhones.
Routine, routine, routine. Try to do as much as possible the same way each day. Talk about the schedule every morning and evening.
Six months ago my husband and I took our son off his ADHD medications. His ADHD has not gone away, and most days he still falls out of his chair at the dinner table. But now when he gets back in his chair he at least tries to stay in it for the rest of the meal. He is learning self-control, a skill that will last him a lifetime. I have learned that parenting is good for humility, and I am grateful to my ADHD child for the accelerated course.