One of the questions I am most frequently asked by parents is: What is the difference between normal childhood behaviours and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)?
Raising children can be extremely rewarding – but also challenging! Generally, children are easily distracted, run around endlessly, and act without thinking. Even at dinner time, they have trouble sitting still and would rather play and fidget and chatter.
However, raising a child with ADHD is a much greater challenge and parents can easily become frustrated and overwhelmed by their child’s over-activity, forgetfulness, and their inability to follow instructions.
Children with ADHD
Children with ADHD have deficits in executive functioning and symptoms usually appear before the age of seven. ‘Normal’ children are capable of being very well behaved, with symptoms appearing only in certain situations, perhaps only at home. They may, for example, be perfect ‘little angels’ in the classroom – or at least, reasonably well behaved!
ADHD children, however, exhibit their behaviours in all situations: at home, at school, at play; anywhere and anytime, much to the exasperation and sometimes to the embarrassment of the parent if they are out shopping, for example.
One of the hallmarks of ADHD is that the child is just unable to settle, even if they may want to. Nevertheless, children with ADHD are still able to focus on a task they enjoy, for a period of time, although they easily lose focus and are quickly bored with repetition.
We usually associate ADHD with hyperactivity, but occasionally, a child will have all the usual symptoms such as forgetfulness, but may appear a day dreamer, and look spaced out, unable to focus on a task, or what a parent is saying.
How ADHD Impacts the Family
Certainly, children with ADHD impact on everyone in their family. They interrupt conversations, demand attention endlessly, tend not to listen or follow instructions, race around and can easily damage furniture. Jumping, particularly jumping on the lounge, seems to be a popular pastime! They tend to do silly or dangerous things where they can hurt themselves or their siblings.
While parents are doing their best, and certainly mean well, raising a child with ADHD can be both demanding and frustrating. Parents can indeed benefit from gaining support for themselves and learning strategies to help them survive.
While parents may well love their ADHD child, this child in particular requires strategic parenting.
The good news is that children with ADHD do tend to respond well to structure, where tasks occur in a predictable way, time and place. To reduce anxiety, the child must understand clearly what to expect and what exactly is required of them. Tasks need to be explained simply and calmly. They function better on routine and consistency and busy-ness. Keep them busy and occupied as much as possible. Physical activity is good!
Parents, you are the role model, and the strength of the family, especially when you work together as a team and adhere to the routine and remain consistent.
Yes, it can be difficult, but parents need to remain calm, and, particularly, look after themselves – eat healthily, and get support from professionals, as necessary. Support is at hand and parents do not have to do it alone. If parents remain well, patient and calm, they are more able to look after their child with ADHD and achieve a positive outcome.
The Need for Consistency
Part of the structure and consistency involves parents following through with a reward or consequence every time for good behaviour or misbehaviour. Parents need to be consistent, persistent, and firm and not give in to the child – no matter how tempting this may be.
Additionally, such researchers as Dr Richard Saul in his book “ADHD Does Not Exist” maintain that just because a child has the symptoms of ADHD, it does not necessarily mean that the child has ADHD.
In some cases, seemingly typical symptoms of ADHD can be explained by major life events and upheaval such as divorce or a death in the family. They may be caused by learning disabilities, and such behavioural or psychological disorders as conduct disorder, oppositional defiant disorder or bipolar disorder as well as medical conditions. Medication, if given, therefore needs to be given after thorough testing to ensure it meets the particular needs of the child.
These are just a few ideas to support parents, the ADHD child and the entire family. There are many more.
Please, if you are feeling somewhat exhausted, and if, for example, you are “over” the school administration ringing you to take your child home again because he or she has been acting out, make an appointment to see me.
Support is a phone call away. I look forward to meeting you.
Author: Dr Jan Philamon, PhD, BA (Hons) Psychology, C Teach, JP (Qual) Qld, MAPS.
As a registered teacher and psychologist, Dr Jan Philamon has a wealth of experience with children, however she enjoys helping individuals and couples at any stage of life. Jan aims to help people to be the best they can be and find success: improved wellbeing, gaining a sense of empowerment that allows them to actively problem solve and manage obstacles constructively, as well as positively plan and achieve their personal and career goals.
To make an appointment try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call M1 Psychology Brisbane on (07) 3067 9129