It’s not uncommon for elementary school-aged children to get restless or bored easily; squirm around in their chair at school; or make silly noises at inappropriate times. But when a child has trouble finishing their school assignments, squirms so much they fall out of their seat, or seems to show little control over the sounds coming out of their mouth, parents begin to wonder whether it’s just kid behavior or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), ADHD is a condition of the brain that makes it difficult for children to control their behavior. It affects 4% to 12% of school-aged children. Parents and teachers tend to observe these signs:
- Trouble paying attention: daydreams, trouble following directions, easily distracted
- Low impulse control: interrupts conversations, gets impatient for things, trouble waiting their turn
- Increased activity levels: in constant movement, jumps and climbs on items not meant for climbing, not thinking ahead about dangers
To be considered ADHD, these behaviors have to occur regularly and in more than just one setting (home, school, or out in the community). The school system can be helpful in establishing a basis for seeking a diagnosis. As part of the diagnosis process, the teacher may need to complete a checklist—a child with ADHD may qualify for extra help in school, including making adaptations for learning in more active ways or taking extra breaks.
The AAP lays out three types of ADHD:
- Inattentive only: Easily distracted, often forgets things, loses things, avoids tasks that require persistence. Not overly active.
- Hyperactive/impulsive: In constant motion, cannot stay seated, talks and makes noises constantly, acts and speaks without thinking. Struggles less with attention.
- Combined inattentive/hyperactive/impulsive: Carries the characteristics of all the types of ADHD.
The Day-to-Day of ADHD
Many children with ADHD struggle with impulse control – it’s hard for them to stop themselves from acting on their urges. They may have a need to touch all the items on a grocery store shelf or want to color on every blank surface they can get their hands on. To outsiders, this behavior can look as if the child was never taught self-control or good manners. However, despite a parent’s best efforts, the brain of a child with ADHD works differently than that of their peers. As a result, children with ADHD may:
- Struggle with school performance
- Have a difficult time with problem-solving
- Seem more accident prone
- Struggle with anxiety, low self-esteem, or depression
What to do if you think your child might have ADHD
If you suspect your child has ADHD, have a conversation about it with your pediatrician. With the guidance of your pediatrician, you can decide whether or not to seek out more help.
If you do have a child with ADHD, there is plenty you can do to help your child:
- Provide a safe place to explore: Some children with ADHD need to move around a lot. They can be unpredictable in their bouncing, running, and climbing. Creating a safe place for your child to explore can help reduce accidents and help them get their wiggles out. Try filling their room or an area of your home with lots of pillows or crash pads, or yoga or gym mats.
- Positive learning at home: To help keep your child excited about learning, try breaking down their homework into smaller, more manageable chunks. Offer movement breaks as needed so your child has a chance to come back to their assignment refreshed. Some younger children benefit from using a wiggle seat (a small, inflatable pad that goes on top of your child’s chair), which provides sensory input to active kids who struggle to stay seated. Whether it’s putting their dinner dishes away or working through math problems, encourage your child as they go—not just when they finish.
- Be realistic: All children develop at different stages. Your child’s unique behaviors and thinking are going to influence when she is ready to learn new skills. Try not to force new skills (like riding a bike or reading) if they don’t seem interested and/or seem to be struggling. It WILL happen—just on their own terms.
- Practice self-care: It’s hard to parent well when you are feeling burnt out. Try to squeeze in time for self-care—getting coffee with a friend, taking a walk, or spending an hour reading your favorite book.
In addition to your at-home strategies, your pediatrician can offer a long-term treatment plan to help your child lead a happy and healthy life.
This article is brought to you by Parenting Now! Parenting Educators and authors Amanda Bedortha, Claire Davis and Lynne Swartz and consultant Jay Thompson (andupdatemywebsite.com). Parenting Now! is passionate about happy, healthy families. For more information about Parenting Now! please visit their website (https://parentingnow.org/) or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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