I've seen that there are so many parents like myself struggling with how to provide the best care to our ADHD children for optimal results. I am blessed because I have worked hard to give my ADHD kid the assistance he needs and the results have been tremendous. My son went from being highly aggressive, disruptive and in constant time outs. He would complain that kids didn't want to play with him and parents would either glare or yell at me on the playground. My kiddo also had lots of trouble focusing in school.
Fast forward to today and now he has friends, he loves sports, rarely gets put into a time out anymore and does well in school. The difference in my child is actually pretty huge.
This journey wasn't quick or easy but it can be done and some of the results are immediate, which will make it worthwhile right out of the gate. My son is living proof. So that said, I thought I would share some of the tactics I've used to help the kiddo be a successful, meaningful, happy member of the community.
MedicationSome kids' ADHD symptoms can be managed without medication but my child is not one of those kids. I give him 10 mg of Metadate CD and it has made a world of difference. Before medication, he lacked impulse control which resulted in him hitting, pushing and scratching children, mostly when he was really excited. He also had trouble focusing in school. Now that he takes meds, he can control himself and focus better in school. I've seen the dramatic difference and so have my friends.
I only give my son enough medication to make it through the school day and just deal with the crazy child when he's home with me in the evening. That way he is able to sleep at night. I've heard that insomnia is a symptom of medication and I definitely want my child sleeping at night. Right now he sleeps like a ROCK so that's good.
Just so you know, the idea of medication initially scared me because I heard about all these terrible side effects. However if you can keep the dosage low, there are no side effects, at least with our meds. Also, you need a top-notch medication like Metadate. I'm lucky that our insurance covers its cost because I've heard that not all parents' insurance plans qualify. I'm sorry to hear that. I was lucky in that the first med we tried works wonders for my kiddo but I do understand that for some families, that is not the case. Please be patient and work with your doctor to get your child the help he/she needs. The child will thank you for it in the end.
DietWe are gluten free, dye free and I limit the amount of processed sugar my child can have. We are heavy into the Paleo lifestyle (lots of protein, fruits and veggies and very organic). This has worked wonders for my kiddo and also allows us to keep the medication dosage low, so that we don't have any issues with side effects. Even before I started the medication, I noticed a difference in his behaviors. He was still impulsive but not nearly as aggressive. So the clean diet has eliminated about 60% of the problem and the low dosage of Metadate does the rest.
Just an FYI, if you're going for a clean diet, you'll need extra time at the grocery store because you are now going to be reading every. single. label. This takes times. Also, you'll need to know where all the truly healthy food is shelved and this also adds to the time you need. It's confusing and time consuming, but so worth it in the end.
VitaminsI give my son a dye-free multi-vitamin called Yummi Gummy Bears. Yes I know that there is sugar in the gummies but it's such a small gummy and the kiddo thinks it's a treat because it tastes so yummy. I just have to make sure he brushes his teeth well after eating one.
Side note: I had tried out the Omega-3 and DHA gummy but discovered it made my son super sleepy. I noticed it but thought at first he was just fighting off a bug or something. But then it became so bad that his Kindergarten teacher actually emailed me to say he was "foggy" in school, so I immediately stopped giving it to him. I don't know why this happened but I just wanted to let people know in case you experience this for yourselves.
Magnesium vs. MelatoninSome ADHD kids have trouble sleeping and I've discovered that Magnesium is a GREAT cure for insomnia. My son doesn't suffer from insomnia but I have all my life. I've started taking magnesium every evening and now sleep SO well. I've also discovered that it has cured my migraines, which I had been getting daily due to the changing seasons. I have read that 50% of migraine sufferers have a magnesium deficiency so there's apparently a known correlation. So if you have migraines, you might want to try magnesium as well.
Side note: Some parents choose to give their kids melatonin for sleeping but I've read you should not do this on a daily basis. It takes away the body's ability to naturally get tired on its own. Plus, kids will eventually build up a tolerance and will need a higher and higher dosage. I've read about kids getting nightmares from the higher dosages so I stay away from all that. Magnesium is definitely a much better way to go.
Regarding magnesium, you could give a supplement or give your child (or yourself) a lavender Epsom bath of no longer than 20 minutes (or else you start to sweat it back out). Epsom salts are full of magnesium and so a bath is a healthy, relaxing way to get the magnesium you or your child needs to sleep.
ExerciseMy very active son needs tons of exercise. If he doesn't get exercise starting first thing in the morning, he often gets himself into trouble. Unfortunately, "first thing" to my child is often 6am so as a mom who is NOT a morning person, this has been rough. I've had to change my own ways in order to accommodate the needs of my child and I do it because that's what we moms do. So if you find your ADHD kiddo acting out in the morning, make sure they're getting the exercise they need to provide an outlet for all that energy. The saying, "idle hands are the devil's workshop" is SO very true for ADHD kids!
My son goes to the before-school program at 7:15 every morning. He LOVES it. Why? Because he gets to run around the gym for an hour before he has to sit for several hours at a time. It gets all that little boy hyper energy out so that he has the ability to sit still for the rest of the day.
SportsMy kiddo is active in the town's U6 soccer league and also takes swimming lessons at the YMCA. Side note: Soccer only worked well once we started medication because he needed that impulse control that medication provided. He stopped hitting and pushing the other kids, made friends, scored goals and felt great about himself. The fall session of soccer has ended but we are already signed up for the winter session, which starts in January.
Swimming was great even before we started medication. Quite honestly, my son cannot hit or push kids if he's swimming because he needs both of his hands just to keep himself afloat. Plus, it wears him out, which is pretty huge for a hyperactive kiddo. If you're having trouble with energy and impulse control for your ADHD kid, I highly recommend swimming as an activity.
Become an ally with your child's teacherYour child spends a good chunk of his or her day at school and the teacher is a big component of whether your child will fail or succeed in life. You need a strong relationship with your child's teacher. You may not always agree with them but you do need to listen to them. And you need to know how to effectively communicate with them so your child's needs are met without creating any animosity. Too many parents go into school demanding to get their way and that is not the way to handle the situation.
Work with your school and don't fight them unless they are blatantly disregarding the needs of your child. This does happen of course and there are resources out there to help you if that does happen. However I think the first effort at working together needs to occur with open communication.
Setting your child up for success in the classroomAlso, remember that your child is only one of at least 15 kids that the teacher oversees. If your child is hitting other kids and can't be controlled in the classroom, it disrupts all the other kids and that certainly isn't fair to anyone. Do what you need to do to make sure that your child is calm and focused before entering the classroom. That includes ensuring they have enough sleep at night, have a healthy, protein-filled diet (no artificial dyes and processed sugar!) and medication, if necessary. You as a parent have a role to play in ensuring the success of your child in the classroom. Take that responsibility seriously.
The right school servicesMy son is in an integrated Kindergarten, which means the class size is smaller and there is more focused attention. This has worked wonders for my kiddo because he is getting the help he needs to succeed in his school work.
Individual Education Plans (IEPs) vs. 504sWe are also in the process of getting testing for my son for special education services. His doctor at Children's Hospital thinks he will qualify for an IEP because of his ADHD and so I've got a mountain of paperwork to fill out right now, sitting on my dresser. I will take care of that this weekend.
I honestly don't know anything about a 504 but have read that they exist. I know you can have an IEP or a 504 but not both. But that's really all I do know. If you want to learn more about this option, you will need to research that on your own.
Structure and routineI have discovered that the structure and routine of school makes a huge difference in my son's behaviors. I actually paid a boat-load of money for a nanny over the summer, thinking that my son needed a break from all that routine but it turned out that this wasn't the best choice for him. It was crazy expensive for me and my son's behaviors actually got worse because he didn't have a strict routine anymore. Once school started again, he was so much better behaved and honestly, really quite happy. He tells me he loves school and that thrills me. And it's a lot cheaper for me too. So win-win all around.
Is your child hungry, tired or over-stimulated? Is he/she getting enough positive attention from you? Or is your child in need of exercise and thus acting out? Many times an outburst can be avoided if you realize what your child needs and act accordingly. Yes, sometimes that's very hard to do because hey, you want to focus on yourself occasionally. But if you do, just know that your kiddo will probably act out in reaction. No one said parenting an ADHD kid was easy.
Take care of basic needs first
Get help when you need it
There are times when your child's needs are bigger than you. That's when you need to get outside help. For example, my family receives weekly in-home therapy to help me manage my son's impulsive behaviors at home. My son also attends weekly play therapy to help him work through his issues and he also has a therapeutic mentor, which is kind of like a Big Brother but comes with a social worker degree. These services have been huge for us as a family and I can honestly say that Christopher is a much different, much better child today than he was when he came to live with me two years ago as a foster child. I am also a better parents because of it. I can't rave enough about the services we've received.
ADHD is a diagnosis, not an excuse and you as a parent need to set firm boundaries and follow through on punishment, as appropriate. Your child needs to respect you as a parent and also needs to understand the consequences of their actions, if they break the rules.
We follow the 1-2-3 Magic plan and it works well for us. If I start counting "mississippi's", my son knows to stop whatever he's doing before I get to "5 mississippi's", or else he will face the consequences. The consequences generally mean he loses out on something he loves so you may have to take away whatever that reward is a few times before your kid realizes, hey, mom isn't kidding. It's no fun to listen to your child scream and cry but once again, no one ever said parenting an ADHD kid was easy.
If my child is feeling over-stimulated and acting out he gets a time out in his room. I set the timer on the stove for 5 minutes (one minute per year of his age) and if he tries to come out early, I add a minute to the timer. That has worked well to calm him down but also give me a few minutes to calm down as well. Hey, sometimes we parents need as much of a break as the kids do!
Lots and lots of love, encouragement and patienceADHD kids often lack self-esteem because of their behavioral issues and inability to focus in school. They want to be good but just don't always know how to be. So that's where patience and extra amounts of hugs and kisses come in, to make sure our kiddos know we still love them no matter what they do. My son feels insecure sometimes and he needs a lot of extra reassurance that I will always love him, forever and ever. Just this morning at 6am he starts jumping on my bed and I told him as calmly as I could, "if I get mad at you, I will yell and you don't want that. So please stop jumping on my bed before I get really angry". The kiddo immediately stopped jumping but started crying, saying I didn't love him anymore. I needed to reassure him that of course I still love him but that he needs to listen to mommy too. That worked and he went into the other room to watch Henry Hugglemonster on Disney Jr. I got another 30 minutes of sleep after that, so all was good. Win-win all around.
Get Time for yourself when you need itBeing a parent of an ADHD kid can certainly be exhausting and sometimes you need some fun time as well. That's why I love babysitters! I've got a weekly babysitter who comes every Monday night, who plays with my son and allows me to go shopping, out to dinner with friends or to the gym. Whatever it is I choose to do, it's always about ME. Sometimes we need that and you should never ever feel bad about looking out for your own needs. I think taking a break helps make me a better parent.
Remember...you're only human
Raising an ADHD kid is tough! In writing all the stuff above about how I'm able to help my son, I want you to know that it's not all sunshine and roses. Sometimes I'm tired or stressed or just running late and I will yell at my son. Nothing vicious...just more along the lines of, I TOLD you to put your shoes on! Do it NOW!!" Some days I feel overwhelmed by life and those are the days I just want to cry. And you know what? That's okay too. Something else I've been battling lately is that I'm just reeeallly tired. Like all the time. My little "alarm clock" wakes me up at 6am every day, regardless of the day of the week and unfortunately, he doesn't come with a snooze button. When he's ready to go, it's time to get up. And right now, I'm feeling so worn out because of it. So we're going to have a quiet afternoon today. The thing is, you do the best you can and try to be kind to yourself when you can't be Super Mom 24x7.
These are just a few of the ways I am able to best care for my ADHD kiddo but honestly, I could write a book on the subject. And maybe someday I will! In the meantime, I hope these tips were helpful and be sure to share any feedback on what works for you and your ADHD family.