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Help Children Cope With Life With ADHD

Is it tough for your child or teen with ADHD to see the big picture — what their particular challenges are and how to live, and thrive, with them? Here’s how parents and teachers can help.

It was early on a Saturday morning in December 1991. I crawled out of bed knowing that I had to brave the cold to get to my weekend basketball practice. I was tired and late, so instead of waiting for the car to warm up and for the windows to defrost, I scraped a small hole in the front windshield — just big enough for me to see the road directly ahead. We lived in the middle of nowhere and I was fully confident that I wouldn’t encounter any traffic on the four miles of back roads that would take me into town. By the time I reached Main Street, the ice on my windows would have melted.

About a half mile from my house, there was a four-way stop intersection. I could not remember a single instance when I ever saw a car driving on that narrow gravel road. The land was flat and you could see in every direction for miles. Usually when I got near this intersection I would look both ways and gun it right through the stop sign. Stopping seemed like a big waste of time for a busy guy like me. Well, guess what? That day, my car windows covered with ice, I gunned it … right into the side of some poor guy’s Toyota Corolla. No one was seriously hurt, although my knees still bear scars from where I slammed them into the dashboard. On the upside, I am a much safer driver now!

Occasionally, when I think about my ADHD brain, I am reminded of that car wreck all those years ago. Having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD) is a lot like driving with a dirty or iced over windshield. You get glimpses of what’s going on around you, but the picture is never clear. There are lots of blind spots, and then decisions are made based on inaccurate or partial information, which often times leads to accidents, both small and great. Learning to live and thrive with ADHD has a lot to do with figuring out how to clean those windows. With that in mind, here are three suggestions on how you can help your students and children avoid getting into wrecks:

1. Drum it into your child’s head that the time to prepare for the day — any day — is the night before. It seems like such an obvious, simple thing, but it is an especially important routine to try and ingrain in your child. People with ADHD are often running late because our stuff has a tendency to disappear at the worst possible time, and we never think to get everything ready in advance. To keep track of everything in advance, make a checklist:

Backpack? Check.
Homework? Check.
Notebooks and pencil case? Check.
Gym clothes? Check.

[Free Download: Routines for Morning and Night]

Is this tedious? Sure, but see if you can do this with your child for 30 days. I believe that you will notice a big difference in how the day starts not just for them but for you too. Teachers should also be giving their more distracted and disorganized students a checklist to take home — something that lists homework, any upcoming events that require action from the student, and anything else that can help students more easily navigate their school experience.

2. Make sure that your child has a nutritious breakfast. (With your first strategy in place, this second one will be a snap.) The effect of diet on ADHD is well documented, and you do not want your child running out the door with a Pop-Tart in their hand and nothing else. Poor food choices only make it harder for someone with ADHD to function at their best. Now that your student is ready to go to school from the night before, you can spend the time that was previously wasted on running around the house trying to find the other shoe on making and eating a breakfast that’s high in protein and good carbs. If it is a Pop-Tart kind of morning, at least buy a healthier snack.

3. Make sure that the student has frequent attitude tune-ups. These can be biweekly or maybe monthly, depending on how well your child or student copes with school and life. Living with ADHD as a school kid or a teenager can be challenging. Too young to be able to see the big picture and to imagine that there is more to life than school, students with ADHD need to have a chance to vent and to be encouraged. As an adult, make yourself available! Don’t be afraid to start up potentially uncomfortable conversations and don’t give up if you get the silent treatment and the eye roll.

More importantly, even if the child does not want to talk, you shouldn’t be afraid to. Share your own experiences — good and bad. Give encouragement. Keep it light. It might seem like they aren’t listening, but I assure you, they can hear every single word you’re saying. Those words, if they are kind and constructive, will make a world of difference.

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