Getting kids the help they need as early as possible will set them up for success later in life. There are numerous early intervention programs available for kids who fail to meet their developmental milestones on time or struggle with speech problems. But when it comes to behaviors related to ADHD, like impulsivity, hyperactivity, and difficulty paying attention in young children it can be harder to identify the source of the problem, and harder to know how to help. How soon is too soon to start thinking about an ADHD diagnosis, and when can you start to intervene?
Your child says that listening to music or watching television helps him or her concentrate when doing schoolwork. But is he or she right? Sitting down to concentrate on homework is hard when you have ADHD. Not surprisingly, kids, teens, and their parents are always on the lookout for ways to make homework less painful. For many families that I’ve worked with, arguments often erupt over whether or not the television, music, or other noise should be allowed during homework. Desperate to help their kids get their work done, many parents are willing to make more concessions during homework time than they would for other activities and chores throughout the day. But do things like television and music really help kids with ADHD concentrate? Or are they simply fun distractions? Let’s look at what the science has to say.
All kids need time each week to engage in creative play outside of their structured extracurricular activities. It’s during this time that kids develop important social skills, problem solving strategies, and independence while fueling their imagination and creativity. Even just 20 minutes a day during the week coupled with a few longer stretches of time on weekends can make a big difference. For many parents of kids with ADHD, who often rely on highly structured activities to help manage ADHD symptoms, however, the idea of allowing time for play without rules, structure, or adult supervision can seem intimidating. Ideas of free play quickly spiral into visions of a “free for all” filled with impulsive behavior and complaints about boredom! Fortunately, with a little planning and a modest amount of structure and support it is possible to create successful free play opportunities for even the most active kids with ADHD.
Childhood today is very different from childhood 30 years ago, when time outside of school was spent playing in the neighborhood, often unsupervised and undirected by adults. Today kids and teens typically attend a host of extracurricular activities after school, with little free time in-between. Do a quick search online for “overscheduled kids” and you’ll find hundreds of articles warning parents about the perils of enrolling kids in too many extracurricular activities. These articles typically highlight the negative effects that too little free time can have on creativity, imaginative play, and social development. What these articles rarely discuss, however, is the reality faced by many parents who frequently work during the after school hours and need these activities to keep their children and teens safe and occupied. Parents of children and teens with ADHD face another reality as well: unstructured and unsupervised downtime often quickly leads to impulsive and sometimes unsafe behavior as well as sibling arguments. As a result, unstructured time often ends with a punishment for bad behavior, or is simply replaced by screen time in an effort to keep the peace at home.
Teenagers might not be faced with many of the situations that adults consider to be stressful, like financial concerns, parenting challenges, long commutes, a demanding career, job instability, etc., but the middle and high school years come with a set of challenges that can be highly stressful in their own right. In fact, in a 2013 American Psychological Association survey teenagers reported experiencing unhealthy levels of stress at higher rates than adults. Teens cited school as the number one source of stress, followed by worries about getting into a good college and figuring out what to do after high school. Other sources of stress included social pressures, worrying about family members, and worrying about family finances. When a teen has ADHD, their risk for unhealthy levels of stress goes up even higher. ADHD symptoms make school more challenging, both during the school day and in the evening during homework time. Friendships and dating can be harder with ADHD too, especially for teens that have difficulty picking up on subtle social cues or who tend to impulsively say things that they regret later. If your teenager is like most, then his or her afterschool and weekend schedule is packed with extracurricular activities that leave little room for down time. The time management challenges and impulsivity that comes with ADHD make it much more likely that a teen will get in over his or her head with too much to do and too little time. But like most teens, those with ADHD may not recognize that they have bitten off more than they can chew. They don’t necessarily know that their stress level is higher than it should be, or that they can ask for help.
In my last post I talked about reasons why ADHD and procrastination often go hand-in-hand. ADHD tendencies like preferring instant rewards over long-term payoffs, difficulty with time management, feeling overwhelmed and not knowing where to start, low self-confidence, and being easily distracted all contribute to difficulties with procrastination. Take a minute to read thought my last post and see if any of these ADHD tendencies apply to you. Once you understand why you procrastinate you’ll be able to take some simple steps to stop the procrastination cycle. Start with one or two of the procrastination busters below that you think might be most helpful for you. With the right strategies for you and your ADHD you’ll be able to stopping putting off all of those things that you should be doing today!
My previous post discussed strategies for teaching Growth Mindset principles to your child. And while this is an important first step, the real power comes in reminding your child of these principles and promoting them on a day to day basis. Helping your child develop a Growth Mindset involves first making sure that he or she has the tools and strategies that he or she needs in order to be successful, and then remind your child that when he or she pairs these strategies with hard work and persistence he or she can grow their brains and become better at anything that he or she puts their mind to.
In my last post I discussed the powerful impact that having a Growth Mindset can have on motivation and academic achievement. With a Growth Mindset you believe that through effort and the use of solid strategies you can become smarter and better at just about anything you put your mind to. And in fact, there’s a great deal of neuroscience research supporting the notion that we can in fact “grow our brains” and become smarter!
When you think about ADHD symptoms, things like distractibility, impulsivity, or hyperactivity usually come to mind. But along with these “typical” symptoms comes another challenge: low motivation. Kids with ADHD often struggle to muster up the motivation they need in order to be successful, particularly when it comes to schoolwork. Perhaps not surprisingly, research has shown that factors like motivation, the desire to improve, and persistence all greatly impact academic performance.