Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in Children Overview
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common conditions of childhood. Research studies differ about how common this condition really is, but most experts agree that it affects 11% of school-aged children. If you are not actively parenting a child with ADHD, chances are that you know someone who is dealing with this challenge.
What Are Signs and Symptoms of ADHD in Children?
ADHD in childhood becomes apparent when the child exhibits symptoms of hyperactivity, inability to sit still or pay attention, and impulsivity. The degree of severity varies widely. Some children with ADHD may need only mild interventions and guidance, while others require much greater support to achieve optimal levels of function. While doctors do not fully understand what causes ADHD, it is believed to be related to both changes in the chemical environment of the brain as well as inherited or genetic factors. ADHD does tend to run in families. It is not possible to prevent ADHD.
ADHD in Children: Boys vs. Girls
ADHD is more common in boys than in girls. The predominantly hyperactive type of the condition is four times more common in boys, while the inattentive type is two times more common in boys than in girls. Children of all ages can be affected, and the condition can persist into adulthood. Medications are available for treatment of the symptoms of ADHD, although they do not "cure" the condition.
10 Tips for Parenting a Child With ADHD
Parenting children with ADHD can be particularly challenging. These tips may be useful for parents who have children with ADHD. However, it's important to remember that no two children are alike, and what works best for one family may not be helpful for another. The following tips are based upon expert opinions and strategies that have been useful for many families of children with ADHD.
- Work together as a team. This means that parents, educators, tutors, therapists, and others involved in the care of the child should be on the same page regarding treatment plans and goals. Sharing information with the others involved in your child's care is essential to ensure that he or she receives needed support. Treat your child's teachers as allies and work together for optimal outcomes at home and in the classroom.
- Embrace structure and predictability. Children with ADHD need clear definitions of routines and expectations. Predictability is also helpful for adults with ADHD. You can help your child use and understand schedules by making a daily schedule that includes time to get ready for school, do homework, free or play time, and bedtime. Older children may benefit from the use of clocks, timers, or charts to help them manage their day. If the child enjoys this, he or she can check items off a checklist as they are completed.
- Define rules and expectations. Children with ADHD do not deal well with ambiguity or changes in rules and expectations. As with the daily schedule, it may be helpful to make lists of goals, rules, or expectations for behavior.
- Use positive feedback. It is always better to use more positive than negative feedback when talking with your child. Be concrete and specific, and praise your child for the things that he or she does well or completes on time rather than constantly criticizing the behaviors that result from the characteristic ADHD symptoms. Rather than offering costly prizes or incentives, reward positive behavior with rewards such as special time with a parent or a special privilege.
- Use appropriate consequences for negative behaviors. Consequences for negative behaviors should be fair and appropriate. Ideally, the consequence for a child with ADHD should be an immediate event rather than something that occurs in the future. As with other aspects of the child's schedule, the consequences for negative behavior should be predictable and consistent.
- Be specific when giving instructions. It may be helpful to focus on one task or event at a time when giving instructions to your child. For younger children, breaking a task down into its component steps can be helpful. Specific instructions like, "Put the books back on the shelf," are more helpful for a child with ADHD than general instructions like, "Clean up your room."
- Tackle one thing at a time. While you may want to help your child overcome a number of behavior problems, it's best to focus on one or two at a time. Set both short-term ("learn to control interruptions at the dinner table for 10 minutes at a time") and long-term ("stop interrupting at the dinner table 90% of the time") goals and remember to use praise and rewards for achievements.
- Help your child eliminate distractions and manage time. Especially tweens and older children may need help establishing a homework routine that is free from distraction. You can help them create a homework space that is pleasing, quiet, and free from distraction. Your child may appreciate the use of a timer to help with homework in order to focus on one subject for a given amount of time, or to schedule 10-minute breaks after every hour of homework. It can also be helpful to look at long-term projects such as term papers and draw up an "action plan" for the project, breaking it down into manageable steps. Older children may appreciate learning to use mobile apps to help them manage their time.
- Model a healthy lifestyle. Your child will look to you as a model, so be sure that you are modeling the choices you'd like to see him or her make with regard to diet, nutrition, and exercise. Consuming a healthy diet and maintaining a normal weight will help your child face the demands of ADHD and other life stressors.
- Finally, value and embrace your child's uniqueness. Many famous and highly accomplished people are living with ADHD. Remind your children of this fact and help them find the areas in which they can excel. And don't forget to show your unconditional love for the unique person that is your child.
Medically reviewed by Margaret Walsh, MD; American Board of Pediatrics
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United States. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder: Data & Statistics." Nov. 13, 2017. <http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/data.html#1>.
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