More than likely, you are reading this because you have encountered a scenario similar to the one below:
You attended a parent-teacher conference where your child’s teacher said that your child is often off task and is easily distracted. Your child’s teacher says that he or she has behaviors or symptoms that are characteristic of ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) or ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).
This causes a wide range of emotions and leads to the question… what’s next?
First of all, your child’s teacher cannot diagnose ADHD. This diagnosis can only be determined by a medical doctor. The doctor may ask for a checklist or rating scales from you and your child’s teacher. If your doctor does diagnose your child with ADHD, you will then have treatment options to consider.
For the purposes of this article, I’m discussing non-medication options for treatment. However, there are several different types of prescription medications available to treat ADHD. If you have exhausted all other options, you may want to consider trying a minimal dose and monitoring for side effects. There are many children who are successful with the right medication and monitoring plan. Parents often adjust or eliminate the medication as children grow and learn to cope with ADHD.
What other options are available instead of medication?
1. Daily or Weekly Motivation Plan
Ask your child’s teacher what steps have been taken to minimize the off task behavior. Together you can develop a daily or weekly motivation plan. This could include the teacher giving positive reinforcement when your child meets a certain goal for time on task and work completed. Then you could also provide a special incentive at home to support the school’s plan.
2. Organize Your Child’s Papers and Backpack
Make this a part of your evening routine to sort through papers and establish a system (such as a colored folder) for keeping up with important papers and things to return to school. Children with attention issues often need to improve their organizational skills. Be sure to include your child as part of this routine to help teach him or her the organizational skills needed to be successful.
3. Communicate Frequently with your Child’s Teacher
Develop frequent and ongoing communication with your child’s teacher. This helps so that you can reinforce positive behaviors. You can also discuss with your child when he or she has an especially difficult day.
4. Send a Nutritious Snack and/or Water
Speak with your child’s teacher about the possibility of sending a nutritious snack and/or water. This will support your child’s overall health and help reduce effects from being hungry or thirsty.
5. Consider Adaptive Tools for Classroom Use
If your child has sensory issues associated with ADHD, there are some minor adaptive tools that may be helpful in the classroom. If you think these tools could help your child, you should meet with his or her teacher to discuss using them. These might include things such as:
Pencil Grip- These are very inexpensive and may give your child a more stable grip on his or her pencil to help them attend to writing tasks.
Stress ball- If your child is constantly fidgeting, it may help if they have access to a stress ball, or something that is appropriate to have in their hands as needed. However, it’s important that this does not become a distraction to other students.
Special paper- Sometimes kids with ADHD have trouble writing on regular lined paper. They may be more successful with lined paper that has more space to write and see the lines. I’ve seen colored paper help children who struggle with attention issues.
Here’s another article I wrote on 8 everyday objects that can help with sensory disorders. Many of them would also help with ADHD.
6. Let Your Child Exert Energy Before or After School
Make time in the morning or afternoon for your child to get some physical exercise to exert extra energy. Consider a special activity or group if your child is interested in (for example) gymnastics, martial arts, dancing, etc. These outlets could reduce pent up energy, help your child to feel like he or she is part of a group and improve self-esteem.
7. Consider Diet Changes
Many parents have had success with eliminating sugar and red dye, such as that found in kool-aid, from a child’s diet to improve their attention. One way to look for patterns in behavior and your child’s diet is to keep notes in a food journal. List the foods that your child has eaten for that day and compare the behavior to look for correlations. Does your child have a difficult time in the morning? If so, you could consider changing their regular breakfast item, such as a pop tart, to something more nutritious such as fruit and yogurt. I have only ever recommended this vitamin, based on positive personal experiences.
8. Maintain a Schedule that is as Routine as Possible
Try to establish regular routines for eating, playing and sleeping. ADHD children need structure and routines to help them to be successful in school and at home.
9. Ensure Your Child is Getting Enough Sleep
A lack of sleep could cause attention issues in children to worsen. Does your child have a set bedtime each night? Are the conditions in his or her room favorable for a good night’s rest? Some things you can do would be putting up curtains and eliminating any caffeine, sugar or screen time at least an hour before bed time.
10. Provide Support and Encouragement
Children with ADHD can be successful both at school and home. It might require doing some things in a different way but the right tools and guidance can help them learn and grow just like their classmates.