For children with focus issues or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD or ADHD), the world can be a confusing and overwhelming place. Their brains frequently flit from subject to subject, or they become entranced by one compelling thing. How is a child to cope and how can parents help?
Fortunately, medication is not the only way.
I get many referrals from local psychiatrists to have me use nonmedical strategies with families before a doctor prescribing medications. Many times this ‘behavioural intervention’ is enough to help kids succeed in school,” said Rachel Rudman, a pediatric occupational therapist with specialized training in early intervention and sensory integration.
“There are many activities children can do to improve concentration in class that is helpful and do not disrupt the class. I come in schools as a consultant to work with teachers and students to help ‘make a plan. As kids get older, the key is teaching them self-regulation. “They need to become aware of how they feel when they lose focus and, together with a parent or therapist, come up with three or four strategies that work to help them get more focused.
One strategy involves exercise before or after school. Children jump on a trampoline, for compressing the joints of the body while jumping on a trampoline produces an organizational effect that lasts for four to six hours, similar to an adult going to the gym before starting his or her day.
“Aerobic exercise boosts natural catecholamine, the body’s amphetamine of sorts, to improve focus. Taking breaks from intense study sessions to go for a jog or run outdoors play basketball for twenty minutes or do some other types of aerobic exercise can help restore attention and focus.
Parents should not give in
“I find that most of my patients with children who have been diagnosed with ADHD tend to give in to their child’s demands or lack of ability to focus as a way to avoid tantrums or confrontations with their child.
For example, when a child doesn’t want to finish a homework assignment, the parent might acquiesce at the moment, which makes the child believe he or she doesn’t have to complete the task.
“The parent’s behaviour at the moment can seem like a perfectly logical plan; however, it usually doesn’t give the parent or child what they need to get the task accomplished. If instead, the parent helps the child with focusing by sitting next to them and assisting them with the homework until it is completed, even while the child complains, avoids and becomes distracted by irrelevant issues, the child will learn how to compete for subsequent homework tasks more efficiently,” Stella said.
The reward system
“I find that rewarding a child who has been diagnosed with ADHD for accomplishing tasks in a timely or appropriate manner is another very effective tool in helping these children learn how to combat their disorder. “Rewards need to be based on something the child genuinely enjoys and can range from a sticker to special story time with mom or dad.”
Limiting distractions, whether they are noises or items, in places where children have to focus on tasks or other people. When decorating these spaces, sticking to one palette and using a calming colour rather than an exhilarating one. Knickknacks and extra furnishings should be kept to a minimum.
Keeping a schedule, one that the child will eventually recognize as routine is very helpful. She explained that parents should keep in mind that it may take up to 60 days of repeated behaviour for a child with ADD/ADHD to develop a routine, depending on the severity of his or her condition.
Routines can also be established to help address specific challenges. For instance, if a child with ADD/ADHD always forgets to bring his or her homework back to school, designate a space at home where the child puts homework in his or her backpack.
Parents should encourage independence
Most importantly, parents should work with their children to find ways to overcome their limitations. Doing everything for them only decreases their ability to exist outside of parental assistance, which makes growing up tough. Parents can’t always be there to do everything for their children.