Counseling 101: Supporting your ADD/ADHD child.

Picture this: you’re driving your child to his third day of school. The day started off like most other days—you struggled to wake little Johnny, he stumbled aimlessly around his room for what seems like hours before you finally went in there to make sure he didn’t need help finding the kitchen. Miraculously, he made it to the breakfast table where he stood next to his chair and picked all the marshmallows out of his bowl of Lucky Charms. It was only when you were waiting in the carpool line that you realized he had two different shoes on. Oh well, you think to yourself. He was fine last time this happened! This sound familiar to anyone? I think it’s safe to say that 99% of parents have been in this situation with their child. However, when this type of inattentive or hyperactive behavior begins to interfere with a child’s academic, social, and family life, a larger problem may be to blame.

It seems as though every “difficult” kid is being diagnosed with ADD or ADHD these days. According to Healthline Network, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) says that 5% of American children have ADHD while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) puts that number at 11%. That’s an increase of 42% in only eight years. Crazy, right? So what the heck is going on? There are LOTS of theories about the prevalence of ADD/ADHD being on the rise in the U.S. including additives in our foods, air pollution, genetics, and my personal favorite, bad parenting (sarcasm…). I work with children who have been diagnosed with ADD/ADHD every day and their parents are some of the most attentive, nurturing, encouraging, and consistent parents that I’ve ever come across. Parenting has little to do with it if we’re talking about true Attention Deficit Disorder. It may, however, have something to do with it if a child doesn’t listen to mom because she never follows through on behavioral consequences. Now, I’ll step off my soapbox and throw some facts about ADD/ADHD at you…

  • ADHD has a male to female incidence ratio of 6:1.
  • Secondary problems of language learning, visual-motor skills, handwriting, and self-control often coexist with ADHD.
  • Symptoms of ADHD typically first appear between the ages of 3 and 5.
  • Boys and girls display very different ADHD symptoms. Boys’ symptoms often include acting out, hyperactivity such as running and hitting, lack of focus, and physical aggression. Girls’ symptoms often appear more internal: being withdrawn, low self-esteem, anxiousness, intellectual impairment and difficulty in the classroom, tendency toward daydreaming, and verbal aggression such as teasing or taunting.
  • In early childhood, kiddos with ADHD often display a difficult temperament and sensitivity to typical stimuli. They also may have had a confused wake/sleep cycle.

Whatever your child’s specific situation may be, if you are concerned about him or her displaying symptoms/behaviors associated with ADHD, get it checked out! Many health care providers are able to diagnose ADHD, but use good judgement. We utilize standardized rating scales and computerized assessments, reports from teachers and other caregivers, a thorough developmental history, and a diagnostic interview with both the parents and the child in order to determine if a child has ADHD. Make sure that whomever evaluates your child obtains all the necessary information needed to make (or not) a diagnosis. In the mean-time, here are the 10 Golden Rules for Parents of Kids with ADD according to Dr. Russell Barkley:

  1. Make the rules specific and clear—post them in writing.
  2. Use rewards that are powerful and meaningful to the child.
  3. Give feedback often… let them know how they’re doing!
  4. Help them anticipate and plan for what’s coming up.
  5. Expect that they will have good days and bad days.
  6. Use positives and praise more than negatives… or punishments.
  7. Keep in mind that we are dealing with a biological problem… NOT a character defect!
  8. “Act—don’t yak!” don’t talk too much, respond with behavior.
  9. Maintain a sense of humor… be patient!
  10. Forgive your child AND yourself… you are all in this together, and trying your best.

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