ADHD Organization Help: 9 Strategies for Stress-Free Evenings at Home

Homework, dinner, bedtime — weeknights are tough on everyone. Use these road-tested tips to smooth the everyday routine for children with ADHD who need organization help.

Better Weeknights for ADHD Families, Part 2

5. Run. Jump. Kick.

For some children with ADHD, it’s hard to tackle homework or chores immediately after school. One way to re-establish focus is through exercise. “Evidence shows that 20 or 30 minutes of exercise—taking a walk, playing in the backyard, doing some jumping jacks—can help a child focus for about 45 minutes to an hour afterward,” says John Ratey, M.D., an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. “It should be something fun, an activity he does with friends or with you.”

6. Give Frequent Feedback.

ADHD children are often impulsive at school, making them targets for teachers’ reprimands and disapproval. At home, your child needs extra encouragement and frequent feedback to counteract that negative commentary.

To avoid parent-child power struggles, make fewer verbal demands. Instead of telling your child what to do (which is often perceived as nagging), use a nonverbal cue. “Children with ADHD may lock into certain behaviors and lose focus, but parents can often redirect them with a simple nonverbal cue,” says Lynne Reeves Griffin, author of Negotiation Generation: Take Back Your Parental Authority Without Punishment! Griffin suggests handing your child a sharpened pencil or lightly tapping your finger on his worksheet when he is distracted. “When parents use nonverbal feedback, it helps children get focused quickly. This is encouraging to a child who is struggling,” Griffin says.

When your child does something that helps the evening go more smoothly, acknowledge his contribution. Children feel valued when their actions are appreciated. Using phrases like, “Thanks for your help” or “I appreciate your cooperation,” makes a child feel good about himself.

7. Stay Calm.

Children with ADHD thrive when surrounded by adults who provide order and balance — those who offer a calming presence amid chaos. Unfortunately, many of us wear a big red button on the front of our shirt that reads, “Push here to see me explode.” And children press it as often as they can. Sometimes, kids with ADHD get so wound up that they want others to join them in their chaos.

Hal Edward Runkel, author of Screamfree Parenting: The Revolutionary Approach to Raising Your Kids by Keeping Your Cool (Broadway), agrees that serenity begins with parents. “Kids follow our example better than they follow our words,” Runkel says. “No child responds well to chaos, and those with ADHD have even more difficulty with disorder.”

Runkel suggests the following stay-calm strategies: In the midst of a child’s eruption over homework, imagine yourself as a movie actor. How would you like to see yourself behave? Or give yourself permission to act silly to break the tension. “Maybe that means strapping on an imaginary bulletproof vest before he talks with you,” suggests Runkel. Levity may be what you need to rein in your emotions — and it may be so surprising to your child that she stops in her tracks.

8. Use Sleep Strategies.

For many children and adolescents with ADHD, a good night’s sleep is only a dream. Children’s sleep can often be disturbed by mental and physical restlessness. In fact, insomnia is a hallmark of ADHD. Not surprisingly, families are always looking for solutions and strategies to help their child get to bed at a reasonable hour.

If your child takes medication, look for the “sleep window” — the time when he falls asleep with the least difficulty. "It is a period of about two hours after the noticeable effects of meds have worn off but during which there is enough stimulant effect to ward off the nervousness and hyperactivity of a nonmedicated mind,” says Glen Hogard, an ADHD coach.

Also think about using an ADD-friendly alarm clock to signal time for bed. “I work with parents to develop a routine for their family. It usually starts with a warm bath, tooth-brushing, and some light stretching or calming breathing techniques,” Hogard says. He suggests some light reading before lights out. “If you establish a bedtime routine, you help your child prepare her mind and body for a good night’s rest.”

9. Watch Your Words.

When conflicting priorities collide, parents often feel overwhelmed. This leads to harsh words or an edgy tone of voice. How we talk to a child affects how he perceives himself. When you tell your son that he’s impulsive, you are labeling him, so, chances are, he will continue to act that way, Runkel explains. “When you battle against his behavior and tell him to get in control, his behavior gets worse. He becomes openly impulsive,” Runkel says. It’s important for parents and caregivers to stop labeling children. Focus on the things you can control — your behavior and your attitudes toward your child.

Here are several examples of verbal options:

  • Instead of saying, “You’re getting me mad,” say “This situation makes me angry” or “I’m having a tough time with all of this tonight. Aren’t you?”
  • Instead of saying, “You’re a little out of control tonight,” try “Let’s try to find something to calm both of us down this evening” or “Let’s take a break and listen to some music or dance around a little.”
  • Instead of saying, “You seem distracted,” try “Let’s work on finding a way to focus” or “I know homework isn’t fun, but we need to get it done. So let’s get focused.”
  • Instead of saying, “You’re making a mess” or “You’re getting a little sloppy,” try “Could you use a hand?” or “How can I help you clean this up?”
  • Instead of saying, “There are no monsters in your closet, just go to bed,” try “Lots of kids have scary dreams. How do you want to get rid of the monsters?” or “How about I stay in the room for awhile until you fall asleep?”

Getting through weeknights takes tenacity and extraordinary patience. When pressure is getting the best of you, focus on your ultimate parenting goal. Says Dr. Braswell, “Teach your child to be self-sufficient and preserve a loving parent/child relationship at all costs.”

This article comes from the December/January 2008 issue of ADDitude.

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TAGS: Routines for ADHD Children, ADHD Medication and Children, ADHD Sleep Advice, Homework and Test Help, ADHD Time Management, ADHD Relaxation Tips

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