You tell your child to clean their room after school and then begin their homework. When you arrive home, you see that only half the room is clean, your child has eaten dinner but left food out, and is now sitting in front of the TV with nothing but their name at the top of the homework assignment. This is a typical and frustrating scenario for parents who have children with ADHD. Typically, ADHD is perceived as a disorder of attention and hyperactivity. While this is true, there are other components going on within the child’s brain and identifying these symptoms may make managing it more effective.
What Is ADHD
ADHD is a chronic condition including attention difficulty, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness. In the scenario above, this is exhibited by the child not fully cleaning their room. Many components of this disorder relate to problems in self-regulation and executive functioning (which includes planning, organizing, and carrying out tasks). We are now looking beyond inattention and more towards impulsivity. For instance, those with ADHD often struggle with working memory, which is where we remember what we are doing. Working memory also allows us to return to an unfinished task, again demonstrated by the child not fully cleaning their room, or putting their food away after dinner. If kids struggle with working memory, they can have difficulty problem solving or doing things like mental math.
To make matters worse, those with ADHD struggle to inhibit their responses to the outside world; they perceive as everyone else does, but their brains feel compelled to respond. This is where distractibility and self-regulation come in. Your child may have heard the TV, or simply saw it in the other room, and decided to move his or her homework in front of it.
Children with ADHD struggle with their sense of time, including hindsight and thinking towards the future, which is why they often don’t think of the consequences of their actions or seem to learn from past behaviors. A lack of sense of time also impedes on their ability to plan.
Often times, these children are labeled as unmotivated or careless, but this is far from the truth. Their brains are just wired differently. Looking at ADHD not just as an attention disorder, but one of executive functioning and self-regulation can allow us to better and more deeply understand their struggles and help us in setting them up for success.
Here are some ideas for how to manage ADHD in your child:
- Find a substitute for working memory by using external stimuli such as sticky notes, checklists or any type of visual or verbal reminder.
- To increase problem-solving skills, allow the child to use tangible and visual tools like a number line or flashcards to help with homework.
- Incorporate timers and calendars to help enforce their sense of time and break large projects into smaller ones. Provide immediate consequences to both good and bad behaviors.
- Keep the child engaged in active learning so that other distractions have a better chance of being ignored. Sitting a child down with a pen and paper is not the best learning environment for them.
- Be proactive, not reactive. Before tasks or outings explain expectations, rewards, and consequences clearly. Provide feedback to your child throughout the task or outing as to how they are doing.
Additionally, a therapist can help you and your child implement and succeed at these strategies. To find a counselor who can help you overcome the struggles associated with ADHD, contact The Light Program today.