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Hamilton Health Sciences Home
August 26, 2020

Supporting children with ADHD

By Michelle McVittie, Child Life Specialist, Community Education Service, Child and Youth Mental Health Program at the Ron Joyce Children’s Health Centre

Being a parent is a very important job, but it doesn’t come with a manual. When your child struggles with behaviours and has trouble with impulsivity, following directions, handling big emotions and being able to focus on their work, it makes the parenting journey a little more challenging.

Parents of children with ADHD have to work a little harder. Sometimes parents try really hard and they still feel as though nothing is working which can be overwhelming. These children and teens need more support, visuals, patience and lots and lot of repetition.

How do you know if your child has ADHD?

ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. It is a chronic condition that affects children, but also affects adults. It has an impact on emotions, behaviours, and the ability to learn new things.

Symptoms will determine which type of ADHD your child has. To be diagnosed, symptoms must have an impact on day-to-day life. Symptoms can change over time, so the type of ADHD you have may change, too. ADHD can be a lifelong challenge. Medication and other treatments can help improve quality of life.

Three types of symptoms

Each type of ADHD is tied to one or more characteristics. ADHD is characterized by inattention and hyperactive-impulsive behavior. These behaviors often present in the following ways:

  • inattention: getting distracted, having poor concentration and organizational skills
  • impulsivity: interrupting, taking risks
  • hyperactivity: never seeming to slow down, talking and fidgeting, difficulties staying on task

Everyone is different, so it’s common for two people to experience the same symptoms in different ways.

It’s common for all children to have some of these symptoms, some of the time. But if these symptoms persist for six months, both at home and at school, and get in the way of “normal functioning” and disrupt daily life, it’s a good idea to seek medical care.

Staying home during COVID-19

It’s even more difficult when children with ADHD are stuck inside during COVID-19. They don’t have the routine of school, activities are shut down and they don’t have physical outlet. It’s up to us as the adults to identify what they are lacking, what tools they need, and how to support them.

Children with ADHD want to do well

The key is to remember that children want to do well, but sometimes the ADHD gets in the way of their success. The good news is that with patience and some planning, your child will be more cooperative. Work with them, they want to be part of the plan. When they are told what to do, they are less likely to follow through. If they are part of the planning, they are more likely to cooperate. They will need patience from us. Acknowledge their efforts and continue to let them try new things.

Tips and tactics

  • Break the rules a little bit and have some fun at home with your child. Build a fort in the living room or have a water fight outside.
  • Get them involved at home with chores to build their independence and life skills.
  • Show them how to do it. Have a visual chart or checklist for reference. Let them try to do it on their own but be close by to support them if needed. Children want to do well, they just have to be given the tools to succeed.
  • Use checklists, timers, and visuals to help them grow their independence.
  • Be clear with your expectations:
    • When you do something I want you to do, then you can get something you want.
    • When you do 15 minutes of reading, then you go outside to play.
    • When you finish your chores (be specific), then you can play video games.

Back to school tips

Whether you child is going back to school or doing a virtual classroom, they will need more support and collaboration when it comes to meeting their academic needs. As mentioned above, children with ADHD will have difficulty with certain skills that other children may take for granted.

Does your child struggle with:

  • Organization
  • Starting a task and motivation
  • Staying focused
  • Problem solving
  • Memory
  • Planning

Look at each struggle and work together with school staff and your child to come up with the best solutions to help them succeed. If focus is difficult for your child, consider working away from a window or door. If they are working from home, their work space should be clear of clutter and distractions. You may have to be close by to make sure they are staying on track. Taking short movement breaks, tackling one question at a time, and having something to look forward to can help motivate them to get their work done. It may be more work at first, but eventually they will understand the steps to do their work on their own.

If you suspect your child has ADHD

If you suspect your child may have ADHD, connect with your doctor. A diagnosis has to come from a professional such as a developmental pediatrician, family doctor or psychologist.

You can start taking these tips and strategies into consideration with or without a diagnosis. Parenting classes and support groups can help you feel more in control and understand what to do to empower your child and help them with their skills and behaviour.

McMaster Children’s Hospital and Ron Joyce Children’s Health Centre offer free parenting courses through the Community Education Service.