Secrets to Helping Kids with ADHD

ADHD, is it a superpower or kryptonite at home or at school? The truth is, it is probably both depending on the situation. All students want to learn, they often feel a great deal of pressure to “learn” and be able to show that learning when it is called for. How can you help your child learn to use their ADHD as a superpower and minimize the effects of kryptonite? Here are three ways to ensure better outcomes.

ADHD and the Brain

    1. Understand that ADHD is a chemical imbalance in the brain. That means that without enough dopamine and other neurotransmitter chemicals, messages are disrupted on their way from one side of the brain to the other. When everything is working the messages make it, but often they make it half way or more likely, they vanish – sometimes temporarily and other times, without a trace – forgotten.

Probable causes: interruptions, distractions or brain and body are trying to make their needs known. Working memory is responsible for holding onto all the information we need at the time to complete a task or solve a problem. When it is working at capacity and something or someone interrupts, something has to go. Sometimes it is easy to get it back and other times, your child has to start back at the beginning adding more time and stress to whatever they were doing.

When an ADHD brain is hungry, thirsty, tired or fidgety, it is best to stop and give it what it needs. The brain is always monitoring and sends out signals to get noticed until the problem is resolved.

Suggestions: Make sure your child or teen gets enough sleep, eats healthy, is active and has a snack with protein before beginning homework. Praise their effort. Remove distractions that you can and save your questions for later.

2. Impulsivity is often a kryptonite side effect of ADHD. It is like the pause button is broken, or that little voice in your head that warns you before you get in trouble or hurt, is asleep. I have also heard that it is a way the brain seeks out more stimulus because it is feeling like it doesn’t have enough. Impulse control is an executive function that isn’t fully developed until age 25, yet we ask children to control it long before then. Whatever the reasons, kids need a way to help themselves before they get in trouble.

Suggestions: One way to separate the impulsivity from the child is to call it something. Give it a name that you can refer to that separates it from your child’s sense of self. (Ex. The Cracken, Kevin (from the movie UP, Wacko Willy, etc.) Use humor when they show up and discuss what else Wacko Willy might have done instead.

Set clear expectations on behaviors before going somewhere. Make sure your child has a fidget in their pocket and use this 3-step model taken from Sarah Ward called: Stop, Think, Act.

When you notice emotions are building up, your child needs to: Stop (Take a few breaths, walk away, go outside, or chill in their room). Then have them think what started that, or what happened right before they got upset? Now, problem solve and brainstorm ideas that are more appropriate and use them to act next time.

3. Motivation is a challenge. An ADHD brain struggles with tasks that are boring, complex or difficult. If you are trying to motivate your child to complete something that falls under one of those categories, it may be as frustrating for you as it is for them. No one wants to mess up but, often those with ADHD are seen as messing up more often than their peers. The most common ways teachers and parents try to motivate is to take-away privileges. Or promising rewards so far in the future that the child feels they will never get it anyway. Rewards or punishments have little effect other than making children feel “bad” about themselves. This causes the brain to become stressed and a stressed brain cannot think clearly. That seems like a no-win situation.

Suggestions: According to Additude Magazine, “When you praise your child, it creates dopamine — the neurotransmitter his or her brain lacks, which causes the ADHD symptoms — and the dopamine helps to better control behavior. So, he or she can do more wonderful tomorrow.”  Increase the positive/negative ratio as it takes 3-5 positives to outweigh 1 negative.

Learning happens when students are willing to learn, and have strategies that work for them. However, most important is that they feel good about themselves. So, use lots of praise (about their effort), humor and help them understand how they learn best. If school is a positive experience, then their superpower may one day make the world a better place.

Want to learn more strategies to help your child or teen succeed with ADHD? Then join our next Thriving with ADHD in the Family Parent Class.