Parents of ADHD kids often ask me about what they can do to help ADHD behavior without drugs.
Many parents worry, and rightfully, so about placing their child on neuro-stimulants for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD.
They worry about what these ADHD drugs will do to their child’s brain, personality, and emotional well-being in both the short and the long run.
Many parents also express concern that their son or daughter may suffer some or all of the side effects common to the ADHD stimulant medications.
These include methylphenidate and mixed salts amphetamines.
I can’t say I blame them.
What Are the Concerns of Relying Exclusively on Drugs?
I consider the side effects of these ADHD medicines to be a big concern.
I always ask kids, teens, and adults on follow-up visits if they are having problems with their medications.
You know the problems I’m talking about:
- weight loss
- stomach ache
- rapid heartbeat
- skipped heartbeat
- sleeping too much
- not being able to go to sleep
These are all considered “common side effects” of many drugs used to treat ADHD.
So, it’s no wonder that parents ask about alternatives to ADHD drugs – what they can do to help ADHD behavior without drugs for their child or teen.
Natural Alternatives to Drugs for ADHD Behavior
Fortunately, many new research studies show or at least imply support for natural things you can do to help ADHD behavior without drugs.
However, let me offer a word of caution: these studies do not advocate treating ADHD without medications and/or behavioral therapy.
Both are still considered the most effective combined treatment for ADHD.
Instead, they often make reference to the fact that a child’s ADHD behavior and, in some cases, non-ADHD behavior, may improve using natural options.
With that firmly in mind, let me share the following tips.
Eight Natural Things To Help ADHD Behavior Without Drugs
1) Plenty of Vitamins and Minerals
Balance your child’s nutrients. Add multiple vitamins that include vitamin D, vitamin B12, zinc, copper, magnesium, iron, calcium, and fish oils into their diets.
These are the things that help grow healthy nerves and keep them working well and boost brain functioning, among many other health benefits.
2) Reduce Fast Foods
Eliminate or drastically reduce “fast foods” in his or her diet.
Fast foods have been shown to increase the risk of ADHD behavior-related problems in both children and teens.
You should add a minimum of two fresh fruits and three veggies per day (which may be a great source of the vitamins and minerals we just mentioned).
Also, you should increase their intake of protein – meats, cheeses, and milk – and decrease foods that contain any type of sugar.
While eating and drinking excess sugar doesn’t cause ADHD, it is one of the more than 54 things that can mimic ADHD, causing misdiagnosis!
The proper diet is a great and simple way to help ADHD behavior without drugs.
3) Avoid Processed Foods
Avoid what we consider “toxic foods.”
Those are the ones that usually contain lots of red and yellow dyes, complex preservatives, as well as large amounts of caffeine and other stimulants.
Energy drinks and what I call “small bottle hits” or caffeine loaded “high energy” power drinks and supplements fall into this group.
Many over the counter (OTC) drugs are also stimulants and can cause a child to “become hyper.”
So, you’ll need to study the ingredients of every OTC drug your child takes regularly.
4) Get Enough Sleep
Make sure your child gets at least 7 hours of restful sleep each night.
Multiple studies over the past two years have confirmed that anything that interferes with healthy sleep can cause behavior problems.
If you suspect your child has a sleep disorder, please see your doctor as soon as possible for evaluation.
Some sleep disturbances can be severe and may cause multiple medical problems.
5) Let Off Steam
Push your child to exercise at least one hour for five out of every seven days.
Enroll him or her in some organized high-energy requiring sports activity, such as soccer, basketball, tennis, or football.
This does not only include sports – activities like dancing, swimming, or going to the gym also count.
Many behavior experts advise physical activity to decrease ADHD impulsivity and hyperactivity.
By allowing your child to let off excess steam, they’re tired out enough to rest at the end of the day and even find themselves able to concentrate better on studies without the excess energy.
It’s one of the best ways to help ADHD behavior without drugs.
6) Limit Time on the Screen
Limit phone time, television time, video game time – basically time attached to any type of screen – to a total of 75 minutes per 24 hours.
Studies have shown that playing video games and texting increases a child’s impulsivity and fosters a need for constant and increasing stimulation.
Playing video games has likewise been implicated in ADHD hyperactivity.
It feeds the need for instant gratification and what my teen patients call “the need for speed.”
Instead, try to encourage activities such as reading.
Spend time reading with your kids at a young age.
Make the activity fun, interactive, and entertaining.
By making this a habit, they are more likely to develop a healthy love for reading.
Audiobooks are also an alternative for ADHD kids who find it difficult or daunting to sit down with a big book.
If they enjoy the material or find it interesting, they are also much more likely to enjoy reading over excessive usage of phones and video games.
They can also explore hobbies which involve using their hands, such as crafts, or as we previously mentioned, physical activities such as sports.
This helps them to learn to focus and burn off any excess energy while also keeping their minds and bodies sharp.
7) Enlist the Help of an Expert
Arrange for a lifestyle coach or academic tutor who will meet with your child for at least an hour three times a week.
Many ADHD coaching programs exist, but the best are those in which the coaching and tutoring happen face to face, not via the internet or by phantom teaching (on DVD).
8) Become Involved in Their Learning
Because ADHD kids may have trouble concentrating on their studies or other activities that require extended periods of attention, you can help keep them on track.
Read along with your child.
Sit and discuss their homework with them.
Help make sure they’ve done their homework and prepared for their tests.
This teaches your child to be accountable.
It also builds a relationship of trust and support between you and your child.
Having a routine also helps keep your child on track with fewer tendencies of forgetting important things like chores or homework.
You can also support them by making sure you’re meeting up with or keeping in contact with your child’s teachers, letting them know of their challenges, and how you find your child studies best.
This could entail support like your teacher keeping a homework diary for your child.
You can then make sure he or she does not accidentally forget their assignments.
You can also discuss how to adjust the pace or requirements of assignments to suit your child better.
Remember – you need patience to help an ADHD child overcome the challenges they may face in everyday life.
Don’t lose your temper, and work through it together with your child.
Teach them, step by step, how to structure their own lives, so they don’t have to struggle on their own.
There are things that a parent or teacher can do to help decrease, and even completely eliminate, harmful or undesirable behaviors, whether or not a child has ADHD.
And if you can’t seem to get a grip on your son’s or daughter’s behavior problem despite meeting with doctors and reading up all you can about ADHD?
You should consider that he or she might not have ADHD, to begin with.
Maybe they suffer from a medical, social, or psychological problem that looks just like or acts just like ADHD.
They may have been “Mistaken for ADHD,” which is all the more reason to avoid using drugs and ensuring they are correctly diagnosed.
Now, I’d like to hear back from you.
Which of these natural things to help ADHD behavior without drugs are you going to try first?
Frank Barnhill, M.D. is the author of Mistaken for ADHD, a parent’s guide to preventing ADHD misdiagnosis and labeling as a failure in life! and publishes several medical websites that deal with ADHD and behavior disorders in children, teens, and adults. His ADHD websites are http://www.MistakenforADHD.com and http://www.ADHDBehavior.com
[ Updated October 2, 2020 ]