Some children seem like they’re heaven-sent, don't they? Quiet, obedient, and attentive. And somehow, those children are never yours.
If you’re a parent with one or more unruly child, you’d probably relate to the above statement. Your life is a constant state of one eye on the steering wheel, and one on your little monster (just kidding).
In the middle of giving repeated instructions to your child to put their toys away, stop fighting with their siblings, do their homework or just be quiet, you might have wondered whether your child’s behaviour is typical of most children his/her age or if there might be another, more serious cause which is going un-investigated.
With the increasing number of children diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), it’s important to be on the lookout for signs of a problem. However, before jumping to the conclusion that your child may have ADHD, consider whether the unruly behavior may be due to the following –
- Failure to understand tasks or instructions
- General defiance and oppositional behavior
- Normal growth and development
- Another medical condition (such as thyroid imbalance)
- Plain old immaturity
Having considered all this, if you suspect that your child might have ADHD or ADD, keep reading.
ADHD is characterized by two major categories of symptoms – inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity. In those with ADD, the hyperactivity element is absent and they only experience problems with attention. The two symptom clusters are as follows:
Inattention: Some examples of inattention may be as follows
- Making “silly” mistakes on tests and homework and a high level of inaccuracy in tasks.
- Difficulty concentrating for a long time such as in lectures, conversations, reading or studying.
- Does not seem to listen when spoken to directly.
- Fail to complete chores and homework. When they start a task, they get sidetracked easily and are unable to finish it.
- Losing things necessary to complete tasks (such as pencils and notebooks for homework)
- Easily distracted by external stimuli, such as sights and sounds.
Hyperactivity/Impulsivity: Some examples of hyperactivity/impulsivity may be as follows
- Fidgeting, tapping hands or feet or squirming in his/her seat
- Running around and climbing even when it’s inappropriate or they’ve been told not to.
- Leaving one's seat in situations where it is inappropriate
- An inability to play quietly
- Excessive talking,
- Trouble with waiting his/her turn and often intrudes on or disturbs others (for e.g. butting into conversations, using other people’s things without permission).
The symptoms clearly affect the performance of the child in various areas, such as academically and during interactions with others
Now that we know what the problem is, what is the solution?
Even though a majority of children benefit from medication prescribed to treat ADHD, there are a number of therapies that help manage the symptoms of ADHD. Some children do best with a combination of treatments.
A popular form of therapy used to help children with ADHD is Play Therapy.
Play therapy is a way to help children learn social and problem-solving skills through activities that keep them engaged and are enjoyable.
A traditional cognitive behavioral therapy would not work for someone with ADHD/ADD as they would just see it as one more boring activity to sit through.
So what better way to help them than to teach them through play, an activity that comes so naturally to children?
During play therapy, the children are encouraged to play, either on their own(under the supervision of a parent and the therapist) or with other children. The games that are provided to them aim to achieve the following:
> Staying with a string of tasks long enough to reach a conclusion: For e.g. telling a story using soft toys or dolls can encourage them to think about a sequence of events and a definite ending. This can teach them to complete tasks without deviating and engaging in another one.
> Using information they have to solve problems: Games like Scrabble and other word games where children have to use a limited number of letters to form new words teaches them to use the information they have to explore new possibilities and solutions.
> Strategy Over Trial-And-Error: Patience is always an issue with children who have ADHD/ADD and games which need strategic thinking to win rather than trial-and-error can encourage them to stop and think and not act in haste. Games like chess and checkers simply cannot be won by fluke.
> Learning Social Skills: Group play encourages cooperation, compromise, mutual helping and playing by the rules. Failure to follow the rules and always trying to put your own preferences first will result in being left out of group games. Learning of social conventions can occur through group interaction during games.
The main issue that parents of children with ADHD/ADD face are inculcating discipline and maintaining order.
Apart from therapy and medication, here are some things parents can do to make the child with ADHD/ADD’s life easier as well as make sure the child grows up to be well-behaved.
- Patience and a Positive Attitude:
Dealing with a child’s constant inattentiveness and refusal to comply can be challenging but you need to remind yourself that the behavior is a result of a disorder and refrain from being excessively harsh and negative with your child.
Your child is not ‘slow’ or ‘lazy’, it’s just that his/her mind works in a different way. He/she has just as much potential to succeed as his/her classmates without ADHD/ADD.
Refrain from name-calling and constant negative feedback, as this can severely harm the child’s self-esteem.
- Behaviourism To Encourage Desired Behaviour:
A basic reward and punishment system can be effective in encouraging favorable behaviors among children with ADHD.
One way to do it is to create a Token Economy, where you hand the child a ‘token’ (such as a marble or a slip of paper – these can be stored in a jar or box) every time he/she does something correctly (such as finish homework or get ready on time) and take away tokens every time they fail to do the task or do something bad (such as forget or refuse to do chores and other tasks).
At the end of each day or week, the tokens can be exchanged for things the child wants, such as extra TV time or a particular treat like ice-cream.
Another way to make what is expected of the child clear is to put up a list of the rules to be followed at home (for e.g. using the appropriate tone and volume while speaking, not running around inside the house) and the punishments for failing to follow them as well as the privileges that the child can have for adhering to them.
- Structuring Their Activities:
Children with ADHD find it much easier to remember things and complete tasks if there is a particular sequence in which things are done and these sequences are predictable.
Putting up lists around the house about things to be done, say, before the child goes to school, can make the whole process a lot faster and smoother.
Such a list could include activities like getting dressed and eating breakfast as well as items that the child needs to remember to take before leaving the house, such as a lunchbox, bag, books, pencils, etc.Keeping these items in the same place every time, maybe the night before creates consistency and repetitions can make them easier to remember.
- Lifestyle Changes:
A healthy diet and regular exercise can be especially beneficial in regulating some of the symptoms of ADHD. A balanced diet can leave the child feeling satisfied and hence, less antsy. Cutting out certain items like caffeine and sugar can bring down hyperactivity.
Participating in sports and outdoor activities ensure that the excessive energy that kids with ADHD have is put to good use. Group sports can also indirectly teach social skills and values like leadership, patience, and teamwork.