Helping a Child with ADHD
Many parents these days wonder if a child’s behavior issues are a symptom of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). But finding out for certain can be a process that takes time and money. As it happens, though, there are good things you can do right now.
Think of it this way: If your child is diagnosed with ADHD, she will likely be prescribed a stimulant like Ritalin and will also be enrolled in a program of behavior training to help her learn new social skills. But you might decide against medication, in which case the behavior training will be the only therapy. Or your child may not be diagnosed with ADHD at all, so you will have to figure out how to manage her behavior on your own without any therapy of any sort. Either way, right now – before you have a firm diagnosis or even if you never get a firm diagnosis – you can create your own program of behavior training for your child and help her become more self-controlled starting today.
The ADHD child has difficulty with impulse-control and delayed gratification. He has trouble with persistence and attention. So these are the areas you can work on in everyday ways. You work on these by setting your child small tasks that are within his abilities and celebrating small successes. You stay ready to help out by providing support when he starts to waver. Small successes add up to new good habits.
So instead of asking your child to help out by setting the table, you ask him first to put a plate at every place. When that is done correctly you smile and ask him if he thinks he can put a fork on the left side of every plate. Then you ask if he can put out the table knives… and so on. You help him to be persistent, to pay attention to what he’s doing, and to control his impulses to play with the silverware by making the tasks small and short and not very hard.
When you help him with his homework, or ask him to put away his toys, or suggest that he could feed the cat, you do the same thing: break tasks down into easy pieces that pretty much ensure success.
In social situations, review ahead of time what your child should do, even role-playing the action if you think it’s necessary. So if you’re going to a restaurant for dinner, talk ahead of time about using a quiet voice and staying seated. Ask her what she’d like to bring along to play with while she waits for her food, so she’s not tempted to play with the table settings. At the restaurant, make quiet reminders of the earlier conversation or quietly excuse yourselves for a reminder talk away from the other diners. The idea here is not to punish but to teach… and to make your child’s chances of success almost guaranteed.
This also means that you won’t put your child in social situations where you know he’ll have so much difficulty he can’t be successful. If you know your child can’t manage good behavior at a wedding, then don’t take him. You and he both will be happier if he’s at home with a babysitter.
These simple ways of guiding your child’s behavior will increase his ability to pay attention, to be persistent, to control himself, and to wait his turn. Every child needs these skills, whether she has ADHD or not. So don’t wait for a diagnosis. Start teaching your child now how to be better behaved with simple tasks that guarantee success. Start today.