Aug 9, 2014

3 tips for an ADHD friendly home.

More than a year ago I wrote a post talking about our decision to not medicate our son who was diagnosed with ADHD.  Now, 18 months later, the struggle continues.  As he enters middle school in two days (as a 6th grader), the symptoms don't seem to be getting any better, and I am not so sure he will "grow out of it" like some children diagnosed with ADHD can.

Children who have ADHD typically struggle with executive function: the ability to think and plan ahead, organize, control impulses, and complete tasks.  This means that you have to take over as the executive for your little one, while intentionally creating an environment that trains your child to acquire those skills.

Living with a small person who has ADHD can be exasperating.   One day over the summer I spent the better part of the day alternating between nagging my son and following him around; closing doors he opened, picking up socks he dropped, putting away milk he got out, during off televisions, lights and radios he left on and generally feeling overwhelmed by his inability to follow through on ANYTHING.

At the end of that very long day, I was venting to my husband about the hopelessness I felt and he gently reminded me that I had gotten really lax on our schedule over the summer.  Suddenly I realized that I carried some of the responsibility for my son's distracted mind.  The house was cluttered, our schedule nearly non-existent and my son was on a "see"-food diet, he saw the food, and he ate it. {So much junk!}

If you are looking for a way to deal with your child's ADHD, with or without medication, Cognitive Therapy or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy might work for you.  Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a simple way to create new patterns of behavior or "systems" for daily tasks that allow children to learn executive skills with success.  In simpler terms, it is providing a "frame-work" for independent success for your child.  To read some more about this, check out this article from "Additude Mag". Here are 3 tips to create an ADHD friendly home.

1. Create a healthy culture in your home

Evidence shows that eating a healthy diet and getting plenty of exercise can help manage the symptoms of ADHD.   If everyone in your family are eating healthy foods (fiber and protein are really important) and exercising together, it will make a huge difference!  Healthy foods and regular exercise both help your mood, so you may be less inclined to get furious at your child.

Exercise can make the difference for your child with ADHD.  Taking a bike ride or walk as a family may give you an opportunity to have fun together and more relaxed interactions, which is important when your child is frequently being nagged for their negative behavior.  

2. Establish structure and stick with it
We want our children to be successful.  A child with ADHD is more likely to succeed in completing tasks when the tasks occur in predictable patterns.  Creating structure in your home is the most important job you have, so your child knows what to expect and what they are expected to do.

Plan - Establish simple and predictable patterns for every aspect of their day.  Morning, meals, homework and bedtime should happen at the same time every day in the same way.  Bedtime is especially important.  Children with ADHD can struggle with sleep and bedtime, but they desperately need adequate sleep to cope with their symptoms during the day.  Stay away from stimulating activities like television and video games 2 hours prior to bedtime to help your child begin to wind down for bed.

As an adult with ADHD, I did this naturally as a way to cope with my distracted brain.  It is somewhat counter-culture to have an established schedule, but it is worth it!  My son's structured schedule (which I started with him as an infant) kept him off of medication.

Time - Teach your children how to read a digital clock early on and make sure there are clocks in every room of your house.  Following a routine is easier when you know what you are supposed to be doing.  Timers are helpful for short-term tasks; like cleaning a mess up or doing an assignment.  Kids are more likely to stay focused if they know they only have to focus for 15 minutes at a time.

Peace - Keep your home clutter-free and organized.  It isn't easy, but the more cluttered and disorganized your child's environment, the more difficult it will be for them to focus on what is really important.  Create a clutter free and quiet space for them to do homework, preferably without a television or window in their line of sight.

Simplify- A child with too many after-school activities is more likely to be distracted and "wound up" than if they have protected "down-time" to enjoy their routine.  You may need to remove one or two activities from your child's schedule if those things are keeping your up late and destroying your ability to maintain a structured routine.

3. Set clear expectations and rules
Consistency is key to every parenting dilemma, but is doubly important when dealing with your child who has ADHD.  Spell out family rules and expectations in advance and post them where your child can see them.  The use of Chore Charts, Behavior Contracts and Behavior Charts can be especially effective.  I posted our family rules, the descriptive list of chores and our chore chart here for an example.

Accountability is extremely important for children with ADHD.  Providing clear expectations and the rewards and consequences of his behavior has helped my son immeasurably with follow-through on tasks.   With this comes the incredible opportunity to "catch your child being good" and praising them as regularly as you can.  If they are school-age, they may spend their day being reprimanded for their behavior, make sure you take the opportunity to love your kids with praise.

It is a thin line you walk, as a parent of a child with ADHD.  You don't want to allow them to use the diagnosis as an excuse for irresponsible behavior, and at the same time you are trying to figure out how high you can set your expectations for them.  Parenting is a game of trial and error.  Something not working?  Try something else.  Just don't give up on your zany, busy, creative little people, they have so much potential!!

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