Rush-hour traffic, hungry kids, and mountains of homework make weeknights stressful for any parent. For parents of children with attention deficit disorder (ADD ADHD), the hours from school dismissal to bedtime can be overwhelming.
1. Focus on Nutrition.
Some studies indicate that diet and nutrition affect children’s behavior and may reduce or increase the symptoms of ADHD.
Too much sugar and artificial coloring, for instance, can make some children with ADHD more hyperactive.
Have a healthy snack ready when your child walks in the door. After a long day at school, where lunch may have been a bag of chips and a soda, the last thing kids need is more junk food. “Avoid snacks that are high in simple sugars and fat; instead, choose foods that are high in nutrients,” advises Laura J. Stevens, founder of Nutrition in Action, Inc.
A nutritious snack could be whole-grain crackers with natural peanut butter and an apple; a slice of cold turkey or ham and an orange; or a banana and nuts (walnuts are particularly nutritious, because they contain omega-3 fatty acids, which may improve ADHD symptoms).
Similarly, what you serve for dinner — and when you serve it — can impact your child’s evening behavior. If your child gets home early in the evening — say, five or six — after playing sports or doing an extracurricular activity, consider having dinner on the table as soon as he walks in. A meal will help maintain blood sugar levels, which can establish focus and attention. Providing nutrient-rich foods is the goal.
“The human body is the most amazing chemical factory ever designed,” says Stevens, author of 12 Effective Ways to Help Your ADD/ADHD Child (Avery). “It takes in roughly 40 to 50 nutrients and makes more than 100,000 chemicals! If it doesn’t get the right nutrients in the right amounts, it won’t function normally.”
Stevens suggests the following dinner options:
- Mixed-greens salad with dressing made with canola oil; whole-grain pasta and meat sauce; whole-wheat roll; seasonal fresh fruit salad for dessert; low-fat milk.
- Fresh fruit salad to start; broiled salmon or other fish; baked sweet potato or white potato; steamed green vegetable; sugar-free, dye-free ice cream for dessert.
- Baked chicken; seasoned brown rice; carrot sticks and steamed broccoli or another deep-green vegetable; watermelon for dessert.
2. Consider Early-Evening Meds.
Longer-acting medications to treat symptoms of ADHD, such as Ritalin and Concerta, are generally preferable to short-acting medication stimulants like Focalin because they don’t require dosing during the school day.
However, many children have trouble focusing in the late afternoon and evening, when their meds wear off. Kathleen Nadeau, Ph.D., co-founder of the National Center for Girls and Women with ADHD, agrees. “It’s hardest to focus when you’re tired at the end of the day, and this is especially difficult for kids with ADHD,” says Nadeau. “Short-acting medication can be used to improve focus, as long-acting medication is wearing off.”
Talk with your child’s doctor about prescribing a short-acting evening medication, often referred to as a “booster dose.” Keep in mind, however, that timing of an ADHD medication dosage is critically important. “Parents will need to experiment to know how late in the afternoon they can administer a short-acting stimulant that will wear off just in time for the child to be able to fall asleep,” advises Nadeau.
3. Establish Your Own Routine.
Creating routines that work with your child’s unique needs is critical to managing evening chaos. Some families, for instance, find that heightened emotionality and impulsiveness make finishing homework in the evenings tough. If this is the case, experiment with your child’s schedule. Try doing homework at different times, or breaking it into small pieces. Another strategy is having someone sit in the room with him, reading a book or engaged in another quiet activity; it provides reassurance to the child.
Make the routine clear by creating a chart or poster with your child. Have her write words about or draw illustrations (or use pictures from magazines) of the things that need to be accomplished that day: feed the dog, go to soccer practice, and help prepare dinner.
4. Be Realistic.
A common source of parental frustration is the length of time it takes a child to complete tasks. Some children can take a shower, brush teeth, and get into pajamas in 30 minutes, but maybe your child can’t.
You should have reasonable expectations about what your child can do independently and which tasks need your active participation. Lauren Braswell, Ph.D., a clinical child psychologist, agrees that realistic expectations help the evening go smoother. “I see families struggle with what they can change and what they have to accept,” she says. If it takes your child longer to get through the evening chores or nightly homework, that’s just the way it is. “Educate yourself about the symptoms of ADHD, so that you can have accurate expectations of your child and of yourself,” Braswell suggests.
This article comes from the December/January 2008 issue of ADDitude.