ADD In Children: Why Medication Isn’t The Only Option
Updated August 27, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Tanya Harell
As a parent, it can feel overwhelming when your child is diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), sometimes referred to as ADD in children. The diagnosis may feel a little scary when you’re unsure of what steps to take to address it. But thankfully, there are many treatment options available for children to help them control their behavior and find success in their activities.
Symptoms Of Children With ADHD
Children with ADHD are sometimes painted in bad light within classroom settings. They can be known for being disruptive in class. However, it’s not that the children are trying to misbehave or that they don’t care about following the rules. The symptoms that they experience as a result of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) may cause them to have a hard time with their behaviors.
Some of the symptoms that a child with ADHD may experience according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) include:
- Makes careless mistakes in their work
- Difficulty focusing on tasks
- Appear not to be listening
- Struggles to complete tasks
- Difficulties staying organized
- Misplaces items or is forgetful
- Easily distracted
- Fidgets and squirms
- Talks excessively and may interrupt
- Struggles to wait their turn
The exact symptoms that they experience can vary based on what type of presentation their ADHD causes. There are three different types, including combined presentation, predominantly inattentive presentation, and predominantly hyperactive-impulsive presentation. Those with predominantly inattentive presentations lack the hyperactivity component. This diagnosis used to be known as ADD.
Thankfully, there are many treatment options available for children with ADHD. The right type of treatment can vary based on the symptoms that the child is experiencing. Some of the common types of traditional and alternative treatments are listed below:
Medication is often the main form of treatment that people think of for children with ADHD. Several types of medication are effective at treating the disorder in children. These medications can help children to have improved focus, be less distractible, less hyperactive, and less impulsive.
However, as with all types of medication, there are pros and cons to using them. If you have a child with ADHD and you’re considering obtaining a prescription, it can be helpful to talk with your child’s doctor or psychiatrist to understand the benefits of the medication and the potential side effects. While some side effects can occur, many children find that the medication is helpful enough to continue to use despite the potential side effects.
Therapy can also be a helpful form of treatment for children with ADHD. A popular form of therapy that’s used is behavioral therapy. The purpose of this type of therapy is to help identify ways that the child’s environment and the people in their life, such as teachers and parents, can make adjustments to work with the limits that ADHD creates for the child.
Healthychildren.org gives the following examples of behavior therapy techniques that may be effective for children living with ADHD:
- Positive reinforcement – The child receives a reward for completing the desired behavior.
- Time-out – The child is removed from the environment or an activity for a set amount of time for unwanted behaviors.
- Response cost – Taking away an activity or reward when the child does an unwanted behavior.
- Token-economy – An example of this is when a child earns a sticker for the desired behaviors they do and loses them for the undesired behaviors.
Along with these types of techniques, they also share that the following tips can help a child control their behavior:
- Sticking to a daily schedule for things like sleep times and meals
- Limiting distractions such as listening to music while doing homework
- Keeping things organized, so the child isn’t as likely to lose or misplace an item.
- Establish small, reachable goals to help the child make progress over time
- Use charts and lists to help the child stay on track.
- Reduce the number of choices the child has access to
- Stay in contact with the teacher and school administration if necessary.
Some children may also benefit from different therapy options that help them to connect better with their emotions. Therapies such as play therapy can help children to learn how to recognize and control their emotions more. In turn, this can have a positive impact on their behavior as well.
There are also other mental challenges that children with ADHD may face as a result of the disorder. For example, they may experience symptoms of anxiety from situations in the classroom. As they age, this can cause insecurities and trouble with their self-esteem. These are all things that a licensed therapist can help a child address in their life.
Change In Diet
It is believed that making healthy changes in diet can help children with ADHD improve their behavior. There have been several studies conducted that have linked the amount of sugar that a child with ADHD consumes with an increase in undesired behavior such as restlessness and inattention.
If you believe that this could be true for your child, you can test the theory at home by reducing the amount of sugar and tracking the behavioral changes that you notice in your child. If you find that their behavior is improving with reduced sugar, then this is a diet that you can consider implementing regularly. This does not mean that a child cannot have an occasional treat, but that it may be helpful for them to avoid higher levels of sugar regularly.
It is also believed that there could be a link between certain preservatives and food colorings and hyperactive behavior in some children with ADHD. While experts share that there is more research needed in this area to prove a direct connection between the two, they suggest keeping a diet that is rich in foods such as vegetables, fruits, greens, and healthy fats, while avoiding processed foods and limiting sugar.
Activities And Sports
Participating in sports and physical activity can be beneficial in children with ADHD. It can help them to focus their hyperactivity in a certain direction and to get out some of the energy that they feel.
The Henry Ford Health System Staff encourages children with ADHD to try sports that are focused on the individual, including things like wrestling, martial arts, swimming, and track or cross-country. This allows the interaction and direction that they receive from a coach to be on more of a one-on-one basis, which is helpful for children that have difficulty focusing. These sports can also be helpful for children because while they’re competing on an individual basis, the scores can be added together to allow a child to participate as part of a team as well.
However, there are many benefits to a team sport, and if a child with ADHD would like to play one of them, the Henry Ford staff encourages them to try basketball, hockey, or soccer. These sports allow players to be almost consistently moving, which is helpful for a child that has a lot of energy and hyperactivity. And because there is little idle time during play, it helps the child to stay focused and not be as easily distracted.
Spending Time Outside
The nonprofit organization Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) finds that it is helpful for children with ADHD to spend time outside. They suggest looking for an environment that the child will naturally be interested in where the environment is holding their attention. The benefits of this can include:
- Memory improvement
- Stress reduction
- Improved immune function
- Increase in eyesight improvement
- Decreased risk of anxiety and depression
- Increased intake of natural Vitamin D
There have been multiple studies over the years that show the positive impact of being outdoors on mental and physical health.
If your child has ADHD, you may find it helpful to participate in parental therapy. There are many ways that therapy can help you in learning how to address the behaviors of your child. And, it can be helpful for you to go to individual therapy for you to address any challenges that you’re facing on your own.
Loving and caring for a child with ADHD may leave you with increased anxiety levels. It can be natural for a parent to be concerned about their child and the impact that their mental health diagnosis will have on their life. It can be very hard to see your child struggle with something that you’re not necessarily able to handle for them.
You may find yourself dealing with struggles in your own mental health or low self-esteem from feeling like you’re not able to properly care for your child in the way that you may want to. If you are having any of these struggles, talking with a therapist can help you keep your own mental health in check as you work with your child on their behaviors. However, many parents are too busy to take the time to drive to an appointment during the day. This is where online counseling platforms like BetterHelp offer solutions. You may access BetterHelp from the comfort of your own home.
While there is no cure at this time for ADHD, there are many treatments and strategies that children and adults can use to improve their situation and address their symptoms. With the help of these treatment options, children can move forward healthily in both school and life. If you’re unsure of what options are best for your child, make an appointment with their doctor or a therapist to discuss the possibilities.