Advice on ADHD: Here's help

02 March 2014

YOUR child can’t sit still for 10 seconds. His constant fidgeting is enough to drive you up a wall. And homework is a nightmare as it takes him hours to complete because he can’t focus.

Even the smallest task becomes a drama and you find yourself constantly scolding your child.

How do you cope with children suffering from attention deficit disorder (ADD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) without damaging their self-image ? and without slowly going round the bend yourself?


It’s important you don’t think you’ve failed as a parent because your child has  a learning problem, says educational psychologist Truida Botha of Fairland in Johannesburg.

By all means go for therapy. Its normal to feel despondent but instead of taking it out on your child rather cry on a psychologist’s shoulder, she says.

Remember you are not alone. There are many parents in the same situation. There are support groups, teachers who understand and therapists who can help. Look for a support network that works for you.


If you’re tired and burnt-out you can easily take your frustration out on your child. Prevent this by making a concerted effort  to recharge your batteries regularly.

You can only be kind to your child if you ‘re kind to yourself, says Heather Picton, the founder and chief executive of ADHASA (the South African support group  for ADHD sufferers) and author of the book Hyperactive Children: Caring and Coping (Wits University Press).

Ask someone you trust ? such as gog or a childminder ? to look after your child while you take a breather. Women in particular find it extremely therapeutic to go out with their girlfriends, says Cape Town psychologist Dr Anthony Costandius. ??Ask a close girlfriend if you can meet her once a month for coffee just to unload. This is especially important if you’re a single parent. THE DISCIPLINE MONSTER Experts agree structure is vital for ADD/ ADHD kids. You must set clear boundaries, Botha says.

If you have to repeat an instruction several times before your child takes any notice make it a rule that you’ll say it once only and think of a suitable punishment if your child doesn’t listen the first time.

Write down the rules and punishments clearly and legibly and stick them on the fridge so your child can see them every day, she says.

Choose a punishment to suit your child’s personality. Botha suggests withholding certain things.

Every child has his specific passions. If you child likes watching Heroes on TV tell him that because he broke a rule he can watch only 20 minutes of the next episode instead of the entire programme. Or he can go to his friend’s party but you’re fetching him an hour earlier.

For small children time-out works well.

Put a mat on a spot in the house where there are no distractions. Choose an open area where you can see your child and where nothing can distract his attention.

Once you’ve warned your child he’s breaking a rule and he still refuses to listen, tell him to sit on the mat and think about what he’s done. Let him sit for a minute for each year of his age. So if he’s six he must sit on the mat for six minutes.

If he gets up take him by the hand and put him back on  the mat and start again.Once the time-out is over kneel next to your child and tell him to say sorry. Then give him a hug and a kiss and tell him you love him, Botha says.

Separate your child and his actions. Tell him you’re punishing him not because he was naughty but because what he did was naughty and that you like him but not what he did.


Because ADD/ADHD children are scolded so often reassuring them of your love is vital in building a healthy self-image.

If you walk into your daughter’s bedroom and see she’s left her school uniform  lying on the floor again, first find a way to compliment her before scolding her. Also make a point of praising her in front of guests. Try not to start scolding the minute you walk through the door. When you get home and see your child has spilt paint on the carpet, first hug and kiss him and then sounding surprised say, Look, how did this happen? Focus on things they’re good at. Find something they like such as a sport which will help them get rid of excess energy, suggests Cape Town educational psychologist Sanet Schoeman. ADHD children are however not always good with team sports and it’s important to choose the right kind of sport. Cricket is not a good choice because it’s too drawn out and they lose interest. Karate, golf and horse-riding are better options. TAKE ADHD ONE DAY AT  A TIME When you get home after a long day at work first sit down and relax before devoting attention to your child, Costandius suggests. Your own emotions and stress levels will largely determine how active your child will become during the course of the evening. It’s important to look after yourself as an ADD kid can be hard work.

Get homework over and done with as soon as possible. Help your child with his homework but don't do it for him, Costandius says. If the child is making good progress let him take a break and reward him, Schoeman says.

Tell your child that once he has read a page he can jump on the trampoline for 10 minutes. Reward him as soon as he’s done something well ? ADHD children can’t wait for rewards.

Also remember ADHD children need to play, she says. Jumping on a trampoline is a good idea because it channels their energy.

Don’t feel you have to give your child extra stimulation when you get home, Costandius says. The child is often tired and overstimulated by the end of the day. It’s hard for working moms because they already feel guilty they’re not devoting enough time to their kids, says Cape Town occupational therapist Nita Lombard.

But it’s better to quietly page through a book with your child than to start playing with educational toys.

Some ADD/ADHD kids struggle to make friends because they’re so impulsive and can’t wait their turn. Help your child learn social skills by inviting over other kids and keeping an eye on their play so you can intervene when necessary, Schoeman says.

Also establish a bedtime routine so your child knows when it’s time to go to sleep. Stop all stimulating activities such as watching TV one to two hours before bedtime. Supper-, bath- and bedtime should always follow in the same order.

The most important thing is that your child has to know you love him. Remember your first role as a parent is to care for your child and love and nurture him, Botha says. Show him you care even if you feel you’ve reached the end of your tether.

It will help to make your and your child’s life easier.

? Contact ADHASA on 011-888-7655 or e-mail

- Lucia Swart

Find Love!