Impulsivity & Hyperactivity

How Parents Can Help Accident-Prone Children

When you move around more than others, when you have difficulty focusing, when you act before you think, you are at greater risk for injury. Parents play an important role in decreasing the likelihood of accidents.

Skateboard Accident
Skateboard Accident

Although there’s little research to confirm it, those of us who live with kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) believe that they are more prone to accidents than their peers.

The very nature of ADHD increases the probability of accidents. Children and adolescents with this neurologically based disorder are hyperactive, distractible, or impulsive — or a combination of all three. When you move around more than others, when you have difficulty focusing, when you act before you think, you are at greater risk for injury. The risk increases if you have a learning, language, or motor disability, as 50 percent of children with ADHD do. If a child doesn’t understand directions, if he can’t follow what an adult is saying, or if he has poor coordination, his risk of injury inevitably goes up.

Prevention is the best treatment. Parents play an important role in decreasing the likelihood of injury. Parents provide medication, supervision, and super-sensitive radar about possible danger. With their help, children are much less likely to become injured.

Young Children: Ages 3 to 6

Children in preschool and kindergarten are on the move. Running, jumping, and climbing are a part of every day. A preschooler with ADHD is more likely to use poor judgment and climb too high on the jungle gym or pump too high on the swing. Getting hurt just seems to happen.

If your child is impulsive, he might dart out into the street without looking. Running up that escalator at the mall just looks like fun. At the pool, he might jump into the water without considering whether it’s shallow or deep.

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And while you might have that “sixth sense” that says, “I had better check on Billy,” your sitter doesn’t know him as well, and she may be more lenient when he’s jumping on the couch. Fun can lead to falls and broken lamps.

Every parent thinks of safety. At this early stage, you have to think about it even more. Consider his environment and activities when you childproof your home:

  • Stain-proof, sturdy furniture — hard plastic or resin — can stand up to climbing, dancing, and pounding. Think IKEA, not the antique store.
  • Don’t decorate with stackable furniture or tall bookcases that are tempting to climb. Place skid-free cushions underneath area rugs. Serve meals on plastic plates, cups, and utensils.
  • Keep kitchen cabinets and drawers locked. Put protective rubber edging on the ends of coffee tables, and keep extra pillows on the couch. If you have antiques in the living room, set up gates so your child can’t get at them.

Childproofing also sometimes has the added benefit of creating a more orderly, manageable home. Limit or refuse to buy multi-piece toys, for example, that are probably a safety hazard and that your child won’t help to pick up, anyway.

When you leave your child with a babysitter, tell her that Billy likes to jump on the couch, or that Jane has a tendency to sneak off. Train her to see situations as they develop, and set appropriate boundaries for your child. “Timmy can run around in the backyard, but inside, he must walk. And he cannot stand on the coffee table.” Ensure that supervision is adequate, even when someone else is doing the caretaking.

Older Children: Ages 7 to 12

The concerns for younger children pertain to older ones as well. In addition, older children are usually more active in sports and other outdoor activities, such as biking and scooter riding. They go to playgrounds, climb trees, and hang around swimming pools, but their judgment is probably less acute than that of their peers. The older child might seem more mature, but in fact he might be at high risk for injury. So the need for adult supervision remains essential. Working with your babysitter is even more important — during this stage, your child is likely to test her more.

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Kids with ADHD have usually been diagnosed by this age. So the first thing to do is offer your child the best prevention — treatment. Talk to his doctor and see if ADHD medication is recommended to address hyperactivity, distractibility, or impulsivity. Make sure your child takes the prescribed dosages on schedule, and that meals coincide with his meds. Remember, it is just as important for your child to take medication after school as it is during school hours. Monitor side effects and report them to your doctor.

Anticipate times of greater risk. If your son takes medication at 8 a.m. and the effects last until 8 p.m., beware of the early morning and bedtime hours when medication isn’t yet — or has stopped — working. Again, talk with your babysitter and make sure you know what activities your child is involved in.

Adolescents: Ages 13 and Up

You’ll need to continue to be vigilant through your child’s adolescence, and to anticipate the new problems that may arise as she gets older. For example, is your child driving? Data suggests that teens with ADHD might be more at risk for accidents. Distractibility might interfere with alertness. Impulsivity could lead to changing lanes too quickly or taking needless risks at intersections. The likelihood that a teen with ADHD — who is treated for the disability — will misuse alcohol or drugs or become sexually active is no greater than that of any other teen. But the probability that an untreated ADHD teen will partake in these activities is higher than it is for her peers.

Make sure you provide full treatment for the teen as you would for a child. Focus on the activities that are new — and dangerous — for teens. For example, see that your child gets driving lessons, and warn her about impulsive behavior on the road. For some kids, you may want to put off driving for another year or two.

As always, adult supervision is critical. When do you think a teen is most likely to use alcohol or drugs, indulge in sexual activity, or demonstrate delinquent behaviors? No, not on Saturday nights, but Monday through Friday, between 3 and 6 p.m. This is because most kids live with two working parents, and many are not supervised after school. Peer pressure, the lack of adult supervision, and the availability of alcohol and drugs create risky situations. Being aware of the risks and then taking precautions prevent accidents and keep your child safe.

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