Between play dates and soccer practice, homework and swimming classes, and the general chaos around the home, being a parent can certainly be a challenge. But if you have a child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), you’re probably well aware that it can bring a few extra challenges along the way. You’ve trusted Mamavation to bring you topics like 12 backyard projects to get kids outdoors, tips on how to take your food allergic child to a restaurant, & safest Makerspace STEM projects, now join us as we go explore how to manage ADHD without medication with Dr. Dawn Brown, Psych MD from Houston.
Disclosure: This post was written by Dr. Dawn Brown Psych MD. Bio at bottom of post.
Table of Contents
ADHD is a Big Issue In the United States. Side Effects of Medication to Little Patients Can Be Overly Burdensome. But There Is Hope in Natural Methods Too.
An estimated 6.4 million children are currently diagnosed with ADHD in the United States and with that diagnosis often comes with the medication. But, many parents are not willing to medicate their children on a daily basis. Studies have shown that Ritalin, a common ADHD medication, can lead to side effects such as blurred vision, slowed growth, trouble sleeping, nervousness and a decreased appetite. Children can also have trouble sticking to the medication schedule, with one study showing that only 22 percent were still taking the medication after two years.
The good news is that there are a number of lifestyle changes, eating habits, exercise routines, and other natural ways to manage ADHD that can be effective. The rest of this post will cover 6 different strategies we use to avoid medication.
Make Sure You Are Establishing a Set Routine. This is Key to Managing ADHD in Children.
Children with ADHD typically respond best to a home and school life that have structure and routine. Having daily activities to focus on helps them to stay organized and allows them to take one task at a time.
One of the most problematic periods for parents can be getting their children off to school in the morning. Preparing all the school supplies and clothing the night before can help to reduce some of that uncertainty and stress.
You can also help your child by creating a neat and organized home environment. As well as reducing the clutter and making life more manageable, it will also teach your child that everything has a time and place.
Make Sure Your Child with ADHD Gets Enough Sleep Every Night
Sleep can be a game changer for children with ADHD. It’s common for these children to suffer from sleep disorders, with each condition potentially exacerbating the other. Just getting half an hour’s more sleep a night can reduce the symptoms of ADHD such as impulsivity and restlessness. Implementing good sleep practices can help you get that extra sleeping time. So, what should you do?
- Set a consistent bedtime that remains in place even on the weekends
- Make sure the bedroom is cool, dark and has plenty of fresh air
- Break bedtime down into a set routine that helps them settle down
Make Sure Your Child with ADHD Is Hydrated
The human brain is made up of 80 percent water, so anything that dehydrates the brain can have a significant impact on cognition and judgment. A new study published in the Journal of Attention Disorders found that children with ADHD drunk more artificially sweetened juice than children without the condition. They were also less likely to drink more than 3 glasses of water a day.
To keep your child properly hydrated, it’s recommended that they drink between 7 and 10 glasses of water a day, depending on their age.
The Dietary Choices of a Child with ADHD Absolutely Impacts Their Impulse Control & Focus, So Keep It Clean.
The eating habits of many families in the United States are making the symptoms of children with ADHD worse. Junk food, fast food and even children’s meals at schools are high in simple carbohydrates, low in protein and healthy fats, and deficient in nutrient-rich vegetables. Children also snack throughout the day, eating processed foods that are high in sugar, synthetic flavors, and artificial colors, all of which can make the symptoms of ADHD worse.
Children with ADHD can struggle during meals, with structure once again essential to getting them used to sitting and eating at certain times. Without this structure, they can be too distracted to eat at meal times and instead binge on snack food throughout the day.
Studies show that a low-sugar, high-protein diet that’s free from additives, along with supplements like zinc, iron and fish oil, can be effective at keeping ADHD symptoms in check. An elimination diet that cuts out sugar, dairy, gluten, eggs and certain meats can also improve the symptoms of ADHD by up to 70 percent.
Physical Activity is Important With a Child with ADHD, So Get Them Moving
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children with ADHD get at least 1 hour of physical activity every day and no more than 1 to 2 hours of screen time. Physical activity is a great way to burn off excess energy, but the benefits can be much further reaching than that. Physical activities that encourage kids to focus on their movements, such as dance, martial arts, or sports help to improve their concentration which can decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Activities that require constant motion are the most effective for children with ADHD. Individual sports like swimming, tennis, running, and gymnastics are excellent, as are team sports like soccer, which allows children to develop their social skills while being in constant motion. Most coaches know very little about ADHD, so it’s important you share a little of your expertise so they can understand how your child is likely to behave and react.
Encourage the Right Behaviors Instead of Always Scolding–Behavioral Therapy Works!
Behavior therapy has traditionally been used alongside ADHD medication, but it can also be beneficial when used as a standalone treatment. Behavioral therapy focuses on the reinforcement of desired behaviors through the use of rewards and praise and reducing bad behaviors by setting limits and making the consequences clear. There are three basic principles of behavior therapy:
- Set specific goals – Parents should set children clear goals such as reading every evening or focusing on their homework for a certain amount of time.
- Introduce consequences and rewards – Children should be rewarded when they meet these goals and face certain consequences if they are unable to exhibit the desired behavior.
- Be consistent – You should maintain the goals, rewards, and consequences you put in place for a sustained period of time to shape the child’s behavior.
We hope these relatively simple steps show you that managing your child’s ADHD without medication is very possible and can even be more beneficial than conventional treatments.
This is a guest post by Dr. Dawn Brown Psych MD, a top Houston ADHD doctor and founder of ADHD Wellness Center. Committed to building awareness and employing programs to preserve the safety of our future, Dr. Dawn aims to draw attention to the actions we can take right now against the mental health issues of tomorrow. Follow her on Instagram @drdawnpsychmd.