My soon to be eleven year old has ADHD. Prior to having my child, like many people I assumed that children with ADHD were just hyper and distracted, but that is only half of the equation. Impulsivity, restlessness, and the advantage of being able to hyper focus when they are interested in a subject are additional traits. For example, my son loved going to the zoo every day as a toddler. He would literally run laps around the zoo, but he could the name every exotic animal, if they were endangered, and point to their homes on a map. He would wake up in the middle of the night and demand to go back to the zoo at 3 AM after being there all day. I began to notice something was different. Other children got tired, napped, would stop talking at some point, my kid was always on the go.
Here's What I've Learned
Rule #1 Don't compare your child to other children.
This may seem obvious, but I was secretly jealous of parents that never had to put their toddler on a leash, or in a car seat so they could take a shower. Be proud of your kid, and safeguard them until they are able to realize there are consequences for risky behavior.
Rule #2 Find Out What Your Kid Really Loves, Then Run With It
A lot of kids love sports, my kid didn't. We kept trying Pee Wee Sports to no avail. Instead he loves music, art, history, paleontology, science, magic, puppetry, and I could go on. We noticed that he was able to focus on subjects he enjoyed, but was uncomfortable in his own skin if he didn't like something. He just couldn't simply feign interest like others. So while we continue to try new things, we make sure he has a lot of time doing the things that engage him.
Rule #3 Healthy Diet
A lot of hyper kids are deficient in magnesium. Make sure your child is getting enough magnesium, zinc, protein, Omega 3, and vitamin B-12 which fights depression. Try getting these nutrients in real food, rather than supplements. We saw a difference after he consumed Omega 3 from fish twice a week, and a tablespoon of flaxseed oil every day.
Rule #4 Routine! Routine! Routine!
This doesn't mean that you have to stick to a do or die schedule. Our schedule changes with seasons, and travel, but we have a schedule. School or camp hours, weekly activities, hygiene, bedtime, time for homework, reading, music practice. Right your child's schedule on a blackboard, Google calendar that you share with them, or on piece of paper. Anxious kids need to see what's happening, or they will ask you what's going on every second of the day. Sometimes kids won't do what they are supposed to unless they see it in writing. Visuals are a great aid.
Rule #5 Set Goals
Talk to you child about their interests, new places or things they would like to try. If they like something, tell them that their interest could be a career later in life. Share with them your own stories of success and failure, and how you got through obstacles to reach a goal.
Rule #6 Educate Loved Ones About ADHD
ADHD is largely misunderstood. Most people don't believe it's real, or that kids with ADHD just need to be disciplined. Family members might even think they can do a better job raising your child, and it may make you feel like you can't talk openly to them about challenges you are facing with your kids. Others downplay ADHD and say things like, "Everyone has ADHD nowadays!" Instead of attacking them for their lack of knowledge on this topic, tell them that it's a problem with the executive function of the brain, but several successful people have it, and it never stopped them from achieving their goals.
Rule #7 Keep Lines of Communication Open With Your Child
Start immediately, be present in your child's life. Read to them, talk to them, listen to them when they speak, and make eye contact with them. Find things you can do with them so you have something in common. Having a shared interest will sustain your relationship in later years, when a lot of parents lose touch with their kids.
Rule #8 Hug Your Child
You probably hug your baby and cover them with kisses, but kids around age nine tend to not want to be babied. Ask for a hug, and respect them if they say no. I give my son high '5's, a pat on the back, and now and then he grants me a hug. I let him know that his parents are his rocket boosters, ready to support him wherever he needs to go. The sky's the limit!
Rule #9 ADHD Is Not A Death Sentence
Don't feel sorry for yourself and your kid. Children with ADHD are never boring. I have learned so much from my son. He inspires me every day. ADHD was once described as driving a Ferrari with bicycle brakes. Kids need to know how to drive their brains which are fast! Their energy level is something that most people wish they had. The ability to hyper focus and dedicate their minds to something entirely is something to behold. I would like parents of children with ADHD to read this article and find hope. I would like parents of "normal children" to read this article and understand ADHD.
Rule #10 Help Your Child Maintain Friendships
Social awkwardness is another characteristic of ADHD. It is harder for children with ADHD to make and maintain friends. This is where you come in as the parent. Network with parents and their children, and plan outings where you know your child will behave. For example, my child is great outside our home. He loves going to plays, museums, amusement parks, the beach. He is always stellar outside. Indoors is a challenge, so when we have playdates, they tend to be outdoors. If it's indoors, I make sure he gets plenty of exercise prior to the playdate so that he is calm.
Rule #11 Birthday Parties & RSVP'S
We've all seen clips on Youtube about kids birthdays where no one showed up, and there's nothing sadder. As a parent, you have to call everyone you invited to your child's birthday personally, and say this: "We are doing an intimate birthday this year, not a lot of people, so I need to know if you are attending blank's birthday." Don't rely on evites, or word of mouth. This means too much to your kid to rely on the whims of flaky people. Same goes for playdates, don't tell your kid about the playdate or who's coming until the last second when they have confirmed.
#12 Excessive Talker? Play Music! Chew Gum!
Children with ADHD tend to talk non-stop. It's almost like they have to constantly keep busy. We noticed that playing classical music, and classic rock curtailed excessive chatter. Also, gum was very helpful.