This post was originally published in five parts and it's now an ebook on Amazon called Parenting Your ADHD Child: A Quick Guide with 20 Natural Strategies. This is a shortened version of the book with five of my favorites strategies.
My son was diagnosed with ADHD at age five and at age seven he was diagnosed with sensory processing disorder. I agree with renowned Dr. Hallowell who sees ADHD not as a mental illness or disease but as genetic traits (an ADHD neurotribe) that, if nurtured and well managed, can be incredibly positive to someone. While in some cases psychiatric medication is life-saving, I’ve been able to successfully manage my son’s behaviors and challenges for the past four years using a combination of strategies.
My biggest discovery in this learning journey is that ADHD is not just about the chemistry of the brain but also the physics of the body. Sensory issues play such an incredible role in regulating emotions and attention that being able to identify the sensory needs of a child, rather than controlling them, can really help him/her without the use of medication.
The list below contains five of my favorite strategies:
Together time daily
I’ve learned this remarkably simple, yet powerful tool from Amy McCready of Positive Parenting Solutions. This is probably the most important activity we can do to connect emotionally with our children daily. She calls it Mind-Body-Soul Time, but we affectionally call it Mommy-my son's name-Time. Since power struggles happen often with kids with ADHD, spending time together--doing whatever the child chooses to do or play for 10 minutes/twice a day—fosters cooperation and ensures that he/she has a good dose of positive attention instead of acting out with negative, attention-seeking behaviors.
There are various therapies that benefit children with ADHD and our experience is regarding behavioral therapy, and occupational therapy (OT). I can’t begin to praise the many benefits of having behavioral therapy—it teaches children, among other things, many tools to navigate their big emotions and provides them with a sounding board to untangle problems. While behavioral therapy is about improving mental health, occupational therapy is about improving the physical, sensory and/or cognitive abilities. Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) often coexists with ADHD and can cause the child to be a “sensory seeker”, which looks like hyperactivity. Moreover, retained primitive reflexes (which are underdeveloped baby reflexes), fine motor skills and visual perception issues can all be hiding in plain sight causing additional struggles that compound such as low school performance, poor self-esteem, poor handwriting, disinterest in school work, poor work ethic, depression, and more. In our case, my son went to occupational therapy once a week for a year and a half and it was A GAME CHANGER.
Author Richard Louv created the term “Nature Deficit Disorder” to describe how the lack of contact with nature in children affects their mental and physical health. It’s not a clinical term, but the concept has gained recognition in the medical community. Increasing use of electronic devices, less unstructured play, and sedentary lifestyles are all contributing to a decrease in the relationship with nature, he argues. Most of us live in cities, so we need to be intentional as often as possible in facilitating and nurturing connections with natural landscapes. My son's occupational therapist was pleasantly surprised at how quickly his sensory systems matured in the fall, likely due to all the summer activities and camps in nature, plus swimming (which offers great proprioceptive input).
I’d argue this is one of the cornerstones in ADHD management. Having a consistent schedule daily is essential for children that struggle with attention. It sets expectations, minimizes conflict, and provides a secure environment for children. They strive with structure. When creating a routine, identify what your family needs and enlist the cooperation of your child in crafting a schedule you can both agree on, so that it’s not a top-down parent/caretaker decree, but a collaboration between family members. One important aspect of creating a routine is incorporating “chores” (or as Amy McCready from Positive Parenting Solutions calls them: family contributions) to the mix. Even small contributions to the household routine—such as folding the laundry, clearing the dinner table, vacuuming, and much more—allow children to develop skills as they get older, as they become willful participants in the family life in meaningful ways.
It is well documented that music instruction helps to build and integrate the various regions of the brain, has a calming effect, and helps children concentrate and focus. In a 2014 study, the Boston Children’s Hospital ran a study on musical training in children and adults and found that it improved executive functions—the brain’s skills that allow us to process and manage information, regulate emotion, solve problems, plan, execute, remember, respond and adapt. Good stuff.
Feel free to comment below what you find to be a useful strategy in your lives!
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I'm a single mom, graphic designer, crunchy mama, trekkie geek, life warrior. It's embarrassing how excited I get about food. I'm an expert in barefoot Lego fire walk.
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