Top 10 Ways to Raise a Happy ADHD Child

David Letterman has his Top 10 list. Here's mine for helping kids with attention deficit grow up happy, confident, and connected.

blue and grey screen with the words "Top Ten"

Believe in the potential greatness of your child -- and make sure he or she does, too.

Edward Hallowell, M.D.

I have been diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia, and I've been learning about these conditions all my life. As a child and adult psychiatrist, I've been treating them since I was a fellow in child psychiatry, in 1981. I've been marinating in these topics for a long time. So I challenged myself to come up with a "Top 10" list for raising happy, confident children who have ADHD. Here it is.

10. Never worry alone. As a parent, you will worry. That's fine. But make your worrying productive, not toxic, by doing it with someone else. Worry with an expert, another parent, your spouse, your child's teacher, the doctor, or any other person you trust.

9. Learn as much as you can about ADHD--from books, lectures, publications like this one, support groups, and other reliable sources. Beware of the Internet! It’s full of wrong "information."

8. Believe in the potential greatness of your child--and make sure he or she does, too. Adopt a strength-based approach to ADHD. For sure, understand the challenges inherent in the condition, but understand that, with proper, ongoing help, your child can become a champion. I compare an ADHD brain to a Ferrari engine with bicycle brakes. I tell the kids I am a brake specialist. Truly, that's what the treatment of ADHD is all about: strengthening your brakes, so you can use the power of your engine to win races.

7. Find the right doctor to oversee ADHD treatment. I've seen too many kids in their teens who have fallen behind because they did not have proper guidance and treatment early on. Ask around. Talk to your pediatrician, your local CHADD chapter, and teachers and others in the know at school for recommendations about the best experts in your area.

6. Do all you can to get your child into a school that "gets" ADHD--and does not punish or humiliate students who have it. Once you have chosen your school, make friends with your child's teachers. They'll work harder for parents and students they like than for those who treat them poorly.

5. Make sure your child gets lots of physical activity. John Ratey has shown, beyond doubt, that exercise dramatically helps ADHD. If possible, make sure your child takes what John calls "brain breaks," a chance to get up and move around, at least every hour.

4. Pay attention to sleep and nutrition, and consider having your child learn how to meditate. Yes, kids with ADHD can meditate!

3. Take structure seriously. For every problem that arises, consider a new structure as a first solution. For example, if getting up is tough for your child, buy a flying alarm clock. If remembering assignments is a problem, consider working on a home-to-school-to-home notebook, with the teacher’s help. Have simple, consistent rules, so you don't have to make them up every day.

2. Learn the facts about medication before you decide to use it. Stimulant medication, when used properly, is safe and effective. Make sure your child feels comfortable about taking medication before he starts it.

1. Give your child daily doses of positive human contact, or what I call "the other vitamin C," vitamin Connect. Many kids with ADHD go through a day, even a week, without a friendly glance or encouraging word. Work to guarantee that your child gets multiple doses of the other vitamin C every day.

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