According to the CDC, as many as 11% of American children (between ages 4 and 17) have ADHD, or Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. This condition is caused by differences in brain function, and can make focus and self-discipline much more challenging. Children with ADHD often have trouble succeeding in school, but it can also impact other areas of their lives, such as making friends, achieving goals, and even home and family life.
Fortunately, ADHD is very treatable with medical management, which is effective in 80% of ADHD cases. However, many parents hesitate to take the plunge into medicating their child, especially when they’re very young. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends utilizing a behavioral approach to ADHD treatment in children under 6 years old, before resorting to medication.
Don’t Dismiss ADHD
Before we get into some of the non-medicinal treatments for children with ADHD, we want to make one point clear: it’s important to understand that ADHD is a very real and difficult disorder. It can often be misunderstood as a lack of discipline, and misguided parents find themselves frustrated that they can’t find a solution for their child’s behavioral problems.
Simply having and trusting a clear diagnosis of ADHD can be an enormous relief to both parents and children, who finally understand that there’s a reason that they struggle more than their peers do at certain things. That being said, there are many non-medication approaches to treating ADHD that can have powerful results in children.
Some studies have found that just 30 minutes of exercise can help students with ADHD just as much as medication. Opportunities for active free play should be worked into the schedule of a child with ADHD. Remember, however, that it’s important for children to understand when it is and isn’t time for play, with clear boundaries set around exercise time.
Studies also found that when exercise was paired with time spent outdoors, it was especially effective. For many parents, this might mean finding opportunities to get children outdoors through trips to the park, neighborhood hikes, and even mini field trips that can support educational opportunities. Many parents are surprised to find that their child, who can’t sit still through a picture book, and be utterly transfixed by a spider spinning a web.
Nutrition has a big effect on our attention and energy levels throughout the day, and often the large amounts of sugar and refined carbs in the standard American diet aren’t doing your child any favors. Making a mindful change to a diet full of whole grains, plenty of fruits and vegetables, and lean proteins can help your children have more sustained energy throughout the day, instead of big bursts of energy followed by crashes.
Surprisingly, many children with ADHD also have sleep disorders, and while these can also be treated medicinally, certain sleep habits can be just as effective. For example:
- Don’t allow electronic screens within two hours of bedtime, as blue light can interrupt normal circadian patterns.
- Set a regular bedtime and wake up time, even on weekends.
- Make the bedroom fully dark to eliminate distractions.