Raising a child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is no walk in the park and can be more challenging than most jobs.
ADHD is the most common psychiatric childhood disorder, affecting one in every 20 children, and is currently on the rise.
While medication plays a crucial role in managing the symptoms of the disorder, behavioural interventions, along with educational and emotional support, are also pivotal.
We also provide expert-approved tips from Health24’s ADHD expert and psychiatrist Dr Renata Schoeman to make life easier for your kid and you.
My son started at a mainstream school, although I detected early on that he had some learning barriers. The best thing that could've happened to him was getting into Vista Nova school as a primary school learner. His words to me at the end of his first day were: "Mommy, everyone there is like me."
His physiotherapy and occupational therapy all formed part of a normal school day. He was finally himself – happy, productive and less stressed.
My advice to any parent would be to relax and let things unfold in their own time. Be confident in making hard decisions, and unashamed of having a child that is different, and doing what is necessary. Be proud of the small accomplishments, and above all, walk your own path of enthusiasm and purpose. Kids learn what they live.
Don't rush your child by a timeline; don't judge them by their peers. More importantly, be kind to yourself because you will be called on to be more than just an average parent. Realise that not everyone will understand your journey.
Give them and yourself a lot of grace. I have two boys with ADHD, one is hyper, one is calm. ADHD doesn’t always look the same!
I have a 10-year-old daughter with ADHD. Keeping normalcy during the period of diagnosis and starting to experiment with treatment was key. We didn’t want her to feel like there was something wrong with her, so the way we explained it to her is that her brain is like a sports car. It’s great to be fast, but sometimes we need to slow it down a bit. The medication works like brakes in a sports car. This helped to keep her self-esteem up.
To manage her ADHD, I stick to a routine but still allow flexibility for the difficult days. I encourage her interests like art, music and fashion design. We ensure that she takes part in at least one sport, ensuring regular exercise, and one cultural activity, ensuring the development of her creative side.
We use the "Categories" game to help teach her focus and to help when she gets overwhelmed. Breaking big tasks into smaller tasks also helps her stay focused. When she struggles, we remind her that the aim is progress, not perfection.
Play time and silliness is a MUST – we paint together, bake together, make lots of silly jokes, and just generally allow a lot of fun learning opportunities. Rather than forcing her to focus, we’re teaching her that her ADHD can help her master a wide variety of activities.
My son (now 29) was diagnosed with ADHD when he was five years old. Back then, things were different. There was less understanding and empathy. If I could offer parents advice, it would be the following:
- Get help. Have a "naughty, troublesome" child assessed. ADHD is not a sentence. In fact, for me, it suddenly had a name.
- Accept it. This is the single biggest hurdle you will overcome.
- Join a support group if you can.
- Try to put as much structure and order into place as you can. Reduce clutter. Keep things simple, including their bedroom.
- Work around reducing your own stress and manage your own expectations of the "perfect child".
- Introduce exercise and sport. Soccer worked wonders for my son.
Most importantly, first empower yourself so that you know how to handle your child.
We’re a family of four, and all of us have ADHD. I feel very fortunate that I am able to homeschool my three- and seven-year-old because I can tailor their education around their strengths and weaknesses.
Kids with ADHD are smart. They just need an environment where they can move around and follow their specific interests. Their ability to hyperfocus on things they love can be a superpower. It definitely comes with challenges, though.
The intense feelings and emotional meltdowns are exhausting for everyone. I would definitely advise teaching them mindfulness at an early age. Deep breathing and yoga can be done as early as two years old. Does this mean my household is a calm place? Nope! It's a daily struggle. We just have to keep trying different things and try not to lose our minds in the process.
My four year old has ADHD. We have to move everything out of his reach when he has a breakdown so that he can’t hurt himself or anyone around him. After a while, we got to a point where we could recognise that the bad behaviour from him actually came from losing emotional control.
It’s a hard battle. Bring in lots of rewards and appreciation for good behaviour such as "high fives" and thank yous. We have him help with house chores including taking out the trash, putting up the silverware, loading the washing, etc. and it has helped a lot.
When we start to see him get really frustrated and start his sensory-seeking, we take him outside and wear him out, for example, by taking him to the track and running with him, or even giving him a big ball to push around. Running is one of his best ways to blow off steam. We noticed when he has a lot of built-up energy he starts to misbehaving more often. Heads up, parents – you’re strong, and it will get better.
Don't say things to your child like: "What's wrong with you?", "Why do you do these things?", "Are you stupid?" Because you already know what's "wrong" with them. They need extra grace, extra processing time, extra chances. And, when you expect normalcy, you're setting them, and yourself, up for failure.
My secret tip is unconditional love and patience. Be your child’s advocate. And also be their biggest fan. Positive reinforcement is key. Don't ask them to do more than one task at a time. Essential oils have been a Godsend to assist with a good night’s sleep. Limit gaming/electronics and TV time as it can be overstimulating. It will get easier!
Psychiatrist and Health24’s ADHD expert Dr Renata Schoeman gives the following tips for parenting a child with ADHD:
- Children with ADHD are often intelligent, creative and lateral thinkers. Choose to love your child for whom he or she is, rather than showing/feeling disappointment in them for not being who and how you wanted/imagined them to be. Reward effort, rather than marks.
- Routine and structure at home are crucial. Rules should be clear and brief. They will push the boundaries, but they usually don't choose to be naughty or to irritate you. Be consistent, reasonable and fair in disciplining them.
- Children with ADHD often suffer from poor self-esteem, anxiety, or depression. Make sure you give positive feedback and encouragement, rather than negative feedback and punishment. Refer the child for evaluation if you are concerned.
- Remember your important role in providing your child with a safe environment in which he or she can develop and grow. You are the most important role model for the child.
- Make sure your child is eating healthily, exercising, and sleeping enough. One hour before bedtime, make it a rule that there's no screen time.
*National ADHD Awareness Day is commemorated on 14 September every year and aims to provide information about ADHD, its diagnosis and treatment solutions.
Some comments were sourced from Filter Free Parents' Community Facebook group.