Thursday, June 2, 2011

Top Ten Tips for Mum's of ADHD kids...

Zach has been doing really good recently. I have noticed a change, as have others.  Even Zach has noticed a difference, he said to me yesterday in quiet moment when I was tucking him in, "I'm overcoming it Mum!". He was very proud.

So some of the parents of ADHD kids who are just beginning the process of getting diagnosed or exploring other possible diagnosis such as Sensory Processing Disorder have been asking about the things we have done... so I thought I would compile a list....

Top 10 Tips for Parenting ADHD kids or kids with different sensory/attention needs:

1. Eliminate TV.
Boom. Just like that. Cut it out, turn it off, go outside.  Seriously it helps.  We noticed that Zach would be calm when watching tv, which sometimes was a much needed break for us. Trouble is with ADHD kids, it's not when the tv is on, the problem occurs when you shut it off. They are then really overstimulated and don't know how to channel it.   It is hard at first. We've been doing it for 4 years, so it's part of our routine.  Our rule is that if school is on, tv is off.  That means before and after school on weekdays, there is no tv, video games etc.  Weekends, we allow Zach to watch, but it's limited to 30 minutes or so at a time.

You know what is a side benefit here?  Kids start to find other ways to entertain themselves.  For Zach, he discovered reading and now reads everything. We couldn't implement something like this only for Zach, so the whole family abides by the rule.  My youngest discovered he loves to play cards, so we play together all the time. 

2.  Cut out as much artificial colors/sweetners as you can. 
Gone. We can notice a tangible increase in Zach's ADHD symptoms, mostly emotional, when he has had food coloring.  Once in awhile, at a birthday party for example, ok.  But I am talking day to day...froot loops cereal. That kind of thing. Another mantra in our house (we have a lot...)... is "Healthy Food First".  Before the kids are allowed to have any sort of  "treat", all of the healthy food has to be eaten first.  Lots of times they are too full to eat the junk food.... mission accomplished.

3. Exercise
Run. Play Soccer. Learn to Skate. Swim. Just get out and let him/her burn it off.  ADHD kids need to MOVE.  Find an activity that lets them do that.  Preferably, find one that doesn't have a lot of waiting for their turn. Yes, I understand that waiting and being patient is a life skill.  But for these kids, why make something harder?  In soccer all the kids are moving at once... no waiting.  Running club... same deal.  We had signed up for swimming lessons that had the swim instructor taking each kid one on one and do a lap of the pool.  The other kids had to wait for their turn by sitting on pool deck.  Yeah... we changed classes.  So find something that works for your child and plays to his strengths.

Heavy Lifting... it's an activity whereby the kids are doing some "heavy work"....now don't think sweat shop. It could be bringing a load of towels downstairs to the laundry. Or perhaps filling up water buckets to water the flowers in the garden.  Physcial exercsion is good for ADHD kids.

4.  Routine
Get in a routine...especially in the morning and bedtime.  I made a "checklist" on the computer, morning routine on one side, bedtime on the other and laminated it.  We keep that in Zach's room.  On the checklist is a series of steps that he has to do.  For example:

Morning:
1. Make Bed
2. Brush teeth
3. Get Dressed
4. Eat Breakfast
5. Clean up table (dishes in sink)
6. Get Backpack/shoes/Jacket.

We made it fun by adding pictures etc..  This gave Zach independence when he was younger (he's got it down pat now).  To keep him on track I would just say "what's next on your list?" rather than hounding him to "get dressed".  It made it kind of a game.

5. Sleep
All young kids need sleep, 10 - 14 hours.  We would start our bedtime routine at 7 pm with a bath.  Not that they needed a bath everyday, but water is calming for any kid and it helped settle Zach for bed. After bath we read a story together as a family and then bed.  No exceptions.  It was NOT easy at first (especially when they were toddlers) they would keep getting up. I would calmly put him back, not yelling, not saying much, just put him back.  Sometimes it felt like I had put him back 20 times and he was crying and I knew if i layed down with him, he would fall asleep.  But for us, it was better that Zach and Logan learned that bedtime is not up to debate.  I respect that other families have their own beliefs (family bed etc) and I am not suggesting our way is the way to go.   The only thing that matters is the sleep and ADHD kids need A LOT.

6. Find a way to connect
This one is tricky to explain. Many of the challenges that ADHD kids have is that the brains are going 100 miles a minute and they don't understand a situation and jump to a wrong conclusion and get upset very fast.  Sound familiar?  Plus, when they get to that heightened emotional state it's hard to bring them down. So the idea here is to connect with your child identify the source of the confusion and help them recognize their own emotions... simple enough right?  It's hard.  I have spent a really long time trying to find ways of connecting with Zach because he would fly off the handle and get so upset at the littlest thing. Then as a parent, despite my best effort I would get frustrated and everybody would get upset. Not good.

So when Zach gets upset, I talk to myself (yes, I do. I tell myself, "I am going to stay calm and patient here"). Sounds stupid? Guess what? It works.  ADHD kids feed off of others emotions. If you get upset, so will they.

Alright, back to the kids.  So you have a sibling squabble and you are trying to break it up.  I usually start by asking one child at a time "What's going on?"  Usually at this point is where Zach starts to yell/cry.  So I ask him 3 questions (** Important ** be very calm when you are asking):
1. Am I yelling at you?
he will have to say "No"
2. Do you need to be yelling at me?
he will have to say "No"
3. Do you need to be crying right now?
usually he will say "No"

Asking these questions diffuse the situation a bit. So try those.

Okay.. next bit... getting him to understand his own emotions. This one is tough.  When Zach would have a meltdown (thankfully, not very often anymore), we used to say "Calm Down". 

Right.  That's about as effective a spitting on a bonfire.

This is what we did instead.  Zach loves video games. While I don't understand 99% of them, the general premise is to gain power (via points etc).   So I had a chat with Zach (not during a meltdown... just during a nice calm moment) and we talked about his video games and how the characters get power.  Then I talked to him about his emotions and how they are like his own power.  He liked that analogy, so we carried on.  I explained to him that when he has a meltdown, he's losing all his power.  So we came up with a plan. When I saw him "Losing his power" I would tell him and it would remind him to get control of his emotions.

Holy Cow. This was amazing!!!!!  Zach would even catch us and say "Mum, you're losing your power!".  At first, I was a little annoyed, but you know what? He was right. I was.  It works both ways.  If Zach says it to me, I pause and take a second to compose myself and so does he.

If your kids aren't into video games try this:
Make a home volcano (baking soda & vinegar in a glass.  Fill the bottom of the glass with baking soda.  Then get some vinegar and give it to your child. Ask him to tell you about some things that make him upset. Each time he identifies one, put a tablespoon of vinegar in the glass. The more things that bother him, the higher the bubbles go and then they overflow.


Then you can have the conversation about when our emotions overflow we have a meltdown. So going forward you can ask your child "Where are your bubbles?"  or "Let's bring our bubbles down"... this concept worked better for my youngest.

7. Find some tools/skill building activities
Zach had a huge oral tendency. Everything went in his mouth, pens, pencils etc.  We needed to find something safe that would still give him something to satisfy his needs.   Click the links to go to their respective sites:

Kid Companions - can't say enough here. This company make safe chewables for kids that are worn as pendants. They  look cool, are more hygenic in that they don't get dirty on tables or floors. They are easy to wash, gluten free..  SO great. Added bonus?  They are super affordable.

Sit Fit Cushion - a cute little cushion Zach has on his chair at school. My husband discovered this one. It is an air filled cushion and kind of squishy, so it allows for the feeling of movement, without moving. Perfect for school or dinner table seats.  Added bonus?  They are portable so you can bring them with you to restaurants, family get togethers etc.

Therabands - we wrap these around the legs of the chairs at home.  Kids can push their feet against it and it "grounds" them.  I told the daycare about this and how well it worked at home and they implemented it with great success at the daycare center for all kids.  Added bonus? You can take them off the chair legs and the kids can use them for stretching....feels good for their muscles... also? Very affordable.

Theatre - while this isn't a tool exactly, it can help. ADHD kids are always been told to sit down, be quiet, stay still. Imagine being told that 100 times a day.  Even if it's true, it still sucks. So find an activity that allows them to be them. We enrolled Zach in theatre. There he got to be silly, loud, playful. Not only that... it was ENCOURAGED!!!  It was all in a respectful environment and he learned to "channel" the silliness. Very good skill to learn.

8. Read

For parents:
Raising your Sprited Child -  Mary Sheedy Kurcinka
While this is not specifially written for ADHD kids, so many of the strategies work.

For Kids:
How does your engine run
All Dogs Have ADHD - a really great book at describing the big bouquet of awesome that are ADHD kids.

9. Talk to their teachers

It's so hard not to get defensive.  I know.  Still, one of the best things that you can do is be an advocate for your child at the school. Speak up for his rights.  I had to push to get to school to allow Zach to wear his Kid Companion pendant and use that cushion in the classroom. I am glad I did because it has made a difference for him.  Get a dialogue going. Situations at home are different from school and the behavior they see may very well be different that you see at home.    Find out what your child's needs are and meet them.

10. Keep a positive log.

If you look for the negative all you will see is negative.  I found that when we were going through a particularly challenging time, I would focus on all the things that were going wrong.  Why can't my son sit still?  Why can't my son behave "normally", Why is it so much harder for us?...

I decided to keep a positive log.  Ok, I know it sounds super cheesy, but go with me on the journey here.  I forced myself to look for positive behavior ...any positive behavior and I would write it down.  Maybe he put his socks on all by himself or helped me pick up the toys or ate a single green pea without breaking into a torrent of tears.

I would make a note of it, jot it down and move on.  Later that day, perhaps in a quiet moment before bedtime, I would sit and talk with Zach.  I would bring up the earlier event and paint it in great detail.  "Remember when we were playing on the floor today and had all those toys to put away?  It was SUCH a big help to Mum when you helped pick up the toys.  That was really great!"

The key for us was talking about it some time after the event was over and then bringing it back up.  It made it seem more special to Zach that I remembered.  The positive reinforcement was great and we started to see more an more good behaviors.

Plus, when I was looking for positive, I saw it.  Trust me on this one and give it a go.  You might not think there is any, but you'll find it... even if it comes in the form of a single green pea (true story).

11.**BONUS** Keep an open mind.

Whether this means not being in denial that you child may be diagnosed with ADHD or whether it means being open to the idea of medication.  This is a tough road and those who do not have an ADHD child or child with special needs will never know how difficult it is.

Although it is nearly impossible, try not to let the insensitive comments get to you.  "All that kid needs is some old fashioned discipline" or "I would never let my kid behave like that" are the kind of horrific statements that add to feelings of helplessness. It's hard enough being parents without us ganging up and judging each other, so make sure you surround yourself with supportive people.

If you are in a relationship, be a team. I found that I would put my bravest face on when out and about, but once I got home, my walls would come down.  I was saving my best self for the people whose opinion did not matter.  Once I realized that I made strides to change it.  Being a parent of an ADHD child is challenging on relationships.  Make sure you get time together away from the swirling vortex of chaos.

There are no easy answers.  Medication might be just the missing piece in his treatment or you may find that medication does not work for your child.  Only you as parents can make that choice and there are lots of options.\. It is a heavy burden, but as long as you have your child's best interest at heart, you really can't go wrong.

Hey listen, all parents of ADHD kids have been there...sitting and fantasizing about how things will be different one day, but this is today and it sucks. I've been there, still am some days.  The above tips can help... it took us a few years to figure it out, but we're getting the hang of it.

To other struggling parents out there: You're doing a good job, it might not seem like it, but you are. The fact that you are even reading this means you are trying to make positive changes to support your child's needs and that's a great thing.

Now... take a deep breath and pour yourself a glass of wine; a big one. You deserve it.

1 comments:

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