ADHD at Home: 6 Easy Things to Try if Your Kid Just Can’t Sit Still
Crazy kids running around like wild animals; terrible students who continuously disrupt the classroom; Daydreaming, lazy teenagers who can stop tapping their pen while trying to ‘study.’
These are some of the stereotypes of young people living with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, but these are gross exaggerations and oversimplifications of what these young people are actually like. Children and young adults who are living with ADHD may be more ‘energetic’ than other children, but that doesn’t mean they are wild or crazy—it just means they might need a little extra help to deal with environments that weren’t necessarily designed for the way their brains work.
What is ADHD and How is it Different from ADD?
Though many think that ADD and ADHD are two different yet related disorders, the reality is that ADHD is the official medical term for the condition which can include both hyperactive and inattentive variants.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders in children—and can even affect adolescents and adults—and is characterized by two main types of symptoms: Hyperactive symptoms and Inattentive symptoms.
Inattentive symptoms may include, among others, difficulty organizing tasks, trouble ignoring distractions, or being forgetful. These symptoms may mean that the person living with ADHD will struggle with things such as homework, they may have issues with communication as they are easily distracted and may change topics without notice, or they may get bored quickly.
Hyperactive symptoms, on the other hand, include things such as an inability to sit still, compulsion to fidget, restlessness, being overtalkative, and being impulsiveness. The specific symptoms may lead to issues in the classroom due to disruptions, or in the case of impulsiveness, may lead to risky behaviors or difficulty following plans and schedules.
These symptoms may be different for each person; some may exhibit inattentive symptoms and have absolutely no issue sitting still, others may be able to focus on hobbies and other interesting activities but are constantly moving around, tapping their leg, or fidgeting. For younger children, hyperactive symptoms may be more apparent, whereas as a person with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder gets older, they may learn to control their behavior better but may struggle more with staying focused.
Your Kid with ADHD isn’t a Bad Kid. They Just Have Trouble Sitting Still.
Having a child that struggles with ADHD can be frustrating at times, but it doesn’t mean that the child can’t have a successful, well-integrated academic (or professional) life.
People living with ADHD simply need a bit of extra support to help them learn the appropriate ways to navigate their environments.
How to Help Your Kid Stay Focused (and Not Drive You Crazy)
01 – Create a workspace that helps them focus
For people living with ADHD, especially young children, it is exceptionally easy to get distracted.
Distractions can come in the form of environmental disturbances such as a blinking light they can’t stop staring at, a rough edge of a desk the feel compelled to pick at, or even something like a set of books that are on the bookshelf in the wrong order. Distractions can also be internal distractions, such as wanting to play with the video game console sitting across the room.
While it will never be possible to altogether remove every distraction, by taking the time to think about their workspace and creating a workspace that promotes focus, we can make it easier for someone with ADHD to stay on task.
02 – Schedule time for breaks
People who live with ADHD can, in fact, be quite good at focusing, though the longer they stay focused, the harder it may become. By scheduling breaks every so often, they can recharge, investigate those things that were tugging at their attention, and rest enough to start back with more focus. It is important that the breaks be frequent but short, perhaps three to five minutes. Short breaks give children with ADHD enough time to recharge while not giving them as much opportunity to get distracted by other things.
03 – Break large tasks into smaller milestones
For children with ADHD, the thought of completing an extensive homework assignment or reading an entire chapter of a book in one sitting can seem overwhelming, often leading to feelings of anxiety or depression. By organizing larger tasks into smaller, easy to complete milestones, we can make the task seem more manageable and even make it more enjoyable.
04 – Set short-term challenges and rewards
For children with hyperactive symptoms, we can use their excess energy to their advantage. By designing tasks and chores in the form of challenges, we can make them seem more exciting and make it a little easier for the child to stay focused. One example of this could be saying that if the child can unload the dishwasher and clean their room by a particular time, they can play video games for an hour in the evening. The tasks must be achievable in the short term (though as the child gets older, a system of points can be introduced for ‘purchasing’ more substantial rewards).
05 – Take some time to work on their projects with them
As with anything we do for our children, setting a good example for them to emulate is one of the best ways for them to develop healthy and productive habits. By taking the time to work on a project or task with a child who has ADHD, we can show them useful examples of behaviors to follow when working alone.
06 – Be patient
The most important thing is just to be patient. Not everyone sees a list of tasks the same way. What may seem like complete chaos at first, may just be the child’s unique way of seeing the world. Talk with the child or teenager to understand why they are doing a task a certain way. You might even learn a new way of doing things yourself.
Living with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder doesn’t mean its impossible to sit still and pay attention. Though some children (and even teens and adults) who are dealing with ADHD may struggle at times to stay focused and stay on task, with a little extra help, and some simple adjustments to their workspaces, they can be just as successful as anyone else.
If you or a loved one have symptoms or warning signs of ADHD, talk to a counselor or mental health professional about this neurodevelopmental disorder and how you can build a treatment plan that is right for you.
After receiving his undergraduate degree in psychology, Scott went on to work as a teacher and educational counselor while working towards his master’s degree. He has spent several years working with children and adults and has personal experience with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, Dyslexia, and Depression.