Are you looking for positive ways to support your child living with ADHD? You came to the right place. Let me introduce you to Nicholas, the youngest of our four boys. He was diagnosed with ADHD at a very young age, and he is now 12. This past week he has shared with me his desire to stop his medications for the first time.
We decided at the age of 7 that it was in his best interest to start pharmacotherapy along with behavior therapy. We honestly believe it was the right choice to give him a fighting chance to succeed at school at home and make friends. Nicholas told us until now that he felt better with his medication. I want my children to take charge and to be involved in the decision-making regarding their health. Therefore, I have made an appointment with his pediatrician to discuss how to proceed, and frankly, I am a little nervous.
This past week, I have been thinking about how many tools we have created to support him positively. I thought some of you might find these helpful for others walking on a similar journey as Nicholas. I will be sharing our story and what worked for us. Although every diagnosis and child is different, talk with your physician about what is best for your child.
The Center for ADHD Awareness of Canada (CADDAC) explains that Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurobiology disorder. It is an illness that affects the nervous system and is mainly due to genetic or biological factors. Recent studies show that ADHD often creates a weakness in executive functioning, such as planning, starting and finishing a task, managing time, organizing, and finding solutions.
Unfortunately, most of the time, ADHD does not come alone. We can see sadness, depression, anxiety, to name a few. Nicholas was diagnosed with ADHD and general anxiety. Sometimes it is hard to know what comes first.
Although children and adults with ADHD have challenges, there is an incredibly positive side to ADHD. We can find similar traits such as perseverance, compassion, creativity, and acceptance. I can see myself in Nicholas; there is a good chance that I also have an undiagnosed ADHD. I just found tools on my own to help with the challenges I had. There are many well-known celebrities, successful role models, and amazing individuals who live with ADHD. Michel Phelps, who won 28 Olympic medals, was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 9, and Ty Pennington, the home improvement guru. Even international superstar Justin Timberlake has lived with ADHD and excelled.
Because living with ADHD requires a lot of work to stay focussed and adds complexity to completing and succeeding at a task, it builds up determination not to stop until we have achieved it. I remember sitting at the kitchen table for hours throughout my high school years to do the math. Most of my friends understood right away and did not even have to study.
Each time I meet someone who knows Nicholas, they often say how much he cares and loves unconditionally. He always wants to help others and take care of his big brothers. If we go to the store, he will also bring treats for himself and everyone. Just like Nicholas, compassion has been one of my dominant traits. I became a registered nurse in 2003 and worked in the field until 2018. I now write blogs to inspire other blended families to create a happy and healthy family lifestyle.
You should see Nicholas Lego creations. He always thinks outside the box to find a solution. He is pretty good at playing drums and creating music beats. His imagination is through the roof.
Nicholas sees the world differently. He also accepts others’ differences more easily. While on the bus from school to daycare, Nicholas sits with another child who requires extra love. He sees the good in everyone.
Although there is no cure, with the help of behavior therapy or pharmacotherapy and sometimes both, it can help control the symptoms. Therefore, it can make enough of a difference to enable them to succeed in school, at home, make friends and live a happy life. Whatever you, your physician, and your child decide what’s best for today, it might change over time as he grows older. It depends on so many factors such as life events (separation, changing school, etc.). So, keep in mind that the treatment chosen today could change in the future as the brain mature.
To this day, I still struggle to pinpoint if the bad behavior is due to ADHD or just a wrong choice. ADHD is not an excuse for bad behavior, so I tried my best to prevent them by having firm boundaries. These boundaries and unacceptable behavior are applied to the four boys and not just to Nicholas.
Although positive reinforcement can be an effective technique for good behavior, it is even more critical for children living with ADHD. Let me clear here, I believe in positive reinforcement, not rewarding for everything they have not earned. I will not give stickers or trophies just because I do not want to hurt their ego. Here is how to create a reward chart for positive behavior.
For the reward system to be effective for most children and even more so for those with ADHD, you need to hand out the reward right after the positive behavior happens. As time goes by, you will see less and less negative behavior and more positive behavior, but you need to be consistent with the reward chart. If you are not consistent, it will not work whatsoever.
Get your Jewels rewards Jar printable template. These charts work well, but they need to be changed once and a while, especially with children with ADHD. They will become redundant. Once they do, a new creative way to reinforce good behavior will need to be found. Do not try to change too many behaviors at the same time. Choose no more than 2 to 3 positive behaviors at a time. When the child has achieved these, choose new ones. Check out Dani Cvetanova, a graduate with a bachelor’s degree in preschool pedagogy and a master’s in speech therapy website, for more printable and parenting tips.
When I asked Nicholas to clean his room, I noticed this task seemed like a massive mountain for him! One day I was looking at him while he was in his room; he was going in circles, not knowing where to start. Once again, he reminded me of me. When I am overwhelmed, I get anxious, and I have no idea where to start.
The job ''clean your room'' seems very clear to me but not for Nicholas. First, I started giving him more specific tasks such as :Start with putting all of your Legos in your Lego containers>>. Each time Nicholas completed a task, I would give him another one. I was breaking an enormous undertaking into smaller tasks making it less overwhelming.
As much as Nicholas hates a timer, it has helped him understand how long a task can take. Once again, just like me, I schedule my day with way too many jobs and never end up finishing my to-do list. My husband keeps reminding me about this particular challenge. A weekly planner and to-do list save me so much time, but Nicholas hates writing. My solution was showing time using the length of a song. He loves music, so when he gets in the shower, he could listen to 2 songs (about 10 min). It worked until he couldn’t decide which one to play and ended up listing to the first 12 seconds of 100 songs. Yes, if Alexa were a living person, she would have been very annoyed.
For anyone, knowing what is coming helps to reduce anxiety. By creating a routine, a child will know what is coming, which will help him manage his time better. I have designed multiple morning and bedtime routines for our children while they were growing up. It enabled us to leave on time for school in the morning. We did the same for our bedtime routine; they all knew when playtime was over, and that gave them enough time before bed to read. You can find one of the morning routines I use here. Nicholas loved his routine board. It was easier to break from playtime to another chore.
As much as I love routines, I feel it is also essential to break them once and a while (for example, once a month). I believe it will help our children cope with changes as life is indeed full of them. Not everything goes as planned, and they need to develop tools and independence to adjust to these unplanned events.
Firstly, Routine and Healthy habits go together hand in hand. Regular sleeping habits help boost the immune system, and studies show that children that get enough sleep perform better at school and have healthier mental health.
Secondly, for everyone, healthy nutrition choices are better for our health. Nutrition can be challenging for children living with ADHD. Most medications that help with ADHD symptoms will suppress the appetite and lead to insufficient nutrients for their body to function correctly. Here a few tips I use to make sure Nicholas was getting enough healthy food:
Finally, make sure to include some form of exercise in their daily routine. Nicholas had plenty of energy and needed to move before even trying a complex task such as reading or writing. When he was six years old, I asked him to write one word, and after running around the kitchen island, we start over and over.
A great collaboration with the school and the teachers is the key to everyone being on the same page. It was easier for the school to create an action plan that would help Nicholas succeed at school. This task is one of the biggest challenges for me. I find that as soon as we had a plan in place and that the teachers finally got to know Nicholas, it was already time to change grades and start the process all over again. School and making friends is the most challenging aspect in Nicholas life. We need to teach and raise awareness of ADHD to the other children. Therefore, they could be more compassionate and understanding towards those who live with ADHD.
These positive ways to support your child living with ADHD helped Nicholas live a happy life. Dear parent, guardian, stepmom, or dad, I know this journey is not easy. Some days, you will go to bed and feel guilty for losing your patience, not understanding, or not finding the perfect solution for your child. If you are here and reading this today, I imagine that you are acting in the best interest of your child. Doing your best is all that matters. Be kind to yourself and take time for self-care. It will allow you to see things more clearly and, trust me, to be more patient.