We have all heard the saying, ‘pills will not teach skills’ when talking about ADHD but very few parents are able to put this into practice for various reasons. The hard truth is that psychostimulants are limited in their effects and benefits and therefore we have to start thinking outside the box and implementing ways which can complement medication. In that way the child can benefit enormously. Here are five challenges our ADHD kids face in learning certain skills.
1st Challenge – Help increase motivation.
The child with ADHD will never want to finish homework or want to dress in time for school. The reason is that the brain transmitters which are normally responsible for firing our motivation levels ( dopamine and histamine) are just out of sync or are simply in short supply. Yet ADHD kids do other tasks such as play a video game with great concentration and pleasure. But research studies show that they become too used to fast action, immediate gratification and feedback. In contrast, studying and reading are boring!
Here are some tips to help increase motivation:
- establish mini goals
- use a timer
- give points or stars which are recorded
- allow child to choose a reward or bigger prize after they reach their target.
It makes economical sense if they can only choose a free prize such as more time on video games, sleepovers and going out for a trip with the parents. Otherwise, they will start demanding expensive gifts and toys!
2nd Challenge – Get the child’s teacher involved.
Is your child’s teacher on the same page as you? They may well be if your child has been accepted on an IES or Section 504 program. Is she going to make classroom tasks easier? Liaison here is essential although you cannot tell her what they should be doing in the class.
I was interested to read about one teacher who did an experiment with an ADHD child who was just not interested in doing a math or reading test. He just could not be motivated and was disruptive. She found that when she marked the right answer with an invisible marker which enabled the child to discover the right answer after he had done the test means that motivation was increased and the child soon started to get high marks and better grades in all tests. This was mentioned in the APA Handbook of Behavior Analysis in an article by Nancy Neef.
Other examples in a Language Arts program can encourage students to D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything and Read). Board games are great for increasing vocabulary and comprehension in reading.
3rd Challenge – Improve your child’s social skills
All too often ADHD kids are excluded form peer groups and their relationships with siblings can suffer too. This can only lead to lower self-esteem, loneliness and a lack of self confidence. How can we help to improve a child’s social skills? The crucial ones are being supportive, sharing, listening skills and turn taking. Statistics show that those children who are more socially adept tend to do better with coping with their ADHD right into adulthood. I recently read some articles written by Dr. Gregory Fabiano (University at Buffalo) who runs special training camps for kids and parents in order to back up his research on ADHD. We can start early on by simply raising awareness of social skills through specially chosen stories where these are the main theme. Here are various ways we can do this and move on to other techniques:-
- read together with the child the stories and comics
- board games such as DoWatchListen Say
- role play certain social scenarios
- help children observe what is going on in certain social situations on TV, in soap operas (suitable for children) and in real life
- invite a child over for a playdate and see how your child reacts. Does he grab toys and is he disruptive in play?
- when playing in the park, quietly observe and then ask your child to observe how other children wait their turn and are playing cooperatively without throwing toys around or being disruptive.
4th Challenge –how to limit media time.
We are surrounded by media and as parents, we are often attached to a screen device which is not a great example for a child. So, first we should limit the time we use these devices or at least in front of them. We are a model so we have to lead the way here.
All too often, a mother with a child will give preference to texting instead of talking to her baby. Similar examples occur when we forget to switch off phones and dedicate our full attention to our kids while playing or going out. Another bad example is when a parent arrives home talking on their mobile as they enter the house which shows that their kid is only second or third on the list. Switch off before coming in.
Research studies, one of which is mentioned in Paediatrics (2011), are now showing that the more time a child spends looking at a screen, the more likely he is to have even more attention problems down the line. Other studies show that the increased addiction screen time is just another consequence of ADHD.
Dr. Dimitri Christakis, a paediatrician at the University of Washington School of Medicine has pointed out that after so much fast action, it becomes very difficult for the child to concentrate on still images and learn how to focus normally with a written text.
Here are some tips to limit media time:-
- no TV at mealtimes so that the family can concentrate on eating and talking about their day
- time on media is strictly limited but can be extended as rewards for chores and homework done
- no screens of any kind in the bedrooms
- censor violent video games
- encourage kids to use educational apps on iPhones
5th Challenge – Keeping a child’s behavior on track
All the experts say that we should catch a child being good and to ignore (if possible!) the negative effects of bad behavior. This makes sense because there is a tendency to home in on the bad behavior and not praise the good behavior enough.
Both the American Academy of Paediatrics and the NIMH recommend that behavior therapy (or simply effective parenting skills) should be the main element in any ADHD treatment program, combined when necessary with medication. In the long term, it is behavior therapy which has the longest lasting effect and there are no side effects.
Here are some tips to make sure that your parenting is on track :-
- set limits and make it clear what the bottom line is (some flexibility is needed)
- emphasize and praise good behavior often.
- mention specific behaviors as warranting rewards and praise
- ensure that your spouse or partner is signed up and ready to apply the rules and that you are both on the same page so as to avoid ‘good cop, bad cop’ parenting.
If we can help our ADHD children with some or all of these challenges, we will really be giving them the best possible chance in life.
Resources for Parents
Robert Locke MBE is an award winning author and has written extensively on ADHD and related child health problems. You can visit this page on ADHD natural treatment to find out more.