I’ve given tips on the site before on how to try to treat your child’s ADHD without medication. I wanted to touch on that topic again, though, and give you a few more tips I’ve learned over the few years we’ve been homeschooling.
ADHD has two components: inattention and hyperactivity. Your child can have only one or both of these components. At one time, both of my kids had both components. My oldest has begun to settle down a bit and isn’t as hyperactive, but he does still have issues with inattention. My youngest still deals with both components.
For this post, I’m going to break the tips down based on which one they help with, to make it easier for you to find what you’re looking for.
- Short bursts. When your child has trouble paying attention, you might feel the urge to try to do everything all in one big chunk, to get it over and done with so they don’t have to try to pay attention anymore. This leads to frustration, impatience and maybe even tears. Try doing things in short bursts instead. Do some reading, take a break, do some math, take a break, do a science experiment, take a break. These breaks don’t need to be long – even just 5-15 minutes can help. By allowing them the opportunity to not pay attention for a few minutes, you’ll make it easier for them to pay attention when they come back.
- You pay attention, too. When you think your child isn’t paying attention, pay more attention to what they’re doing. Ask them questions about whatever it is you’re doing at the time, and really look at what they’re doing. You might be surprised to find that while they look like they aren’t paying attention, they actually are. For a child who struggles to pay attention, doing something else while he listens to you or watches you do something can actually be helping him to pay attention (more on this in the next tip). So before you get upset or think that you just need to give up, take a careful, close look and make sure you’re right that he’s not paying attention.
- Give him something to do. It can be frustrating when you’re reading a story to him or explaining how to solve a math problem, and he starts zooming toy cars around, complete with sound effects, or dumps out a bunch of change and starts playing with it loudly. He might actually be paying attention to you while he does that, but it’s driving you crazy because now you can’t pay attention. He’s on the right track, Mom, even if his choices aren’t quite right. Give him something to do – but make it something quiet. Play dough, a squeezable stress ball, a stuffed animal he can make move, or a piece of paper and some pencils, crayons, markers or whatever are all quiet things he can play with. Obviously, some will work better in some situations than others, and you might even find that having several options and using different ones for different situations will help even more. Some parents find that keeping these activities (the dough, the stress ball, etc.) strictly for these instances, rather than having them be toys available to play with all the time, also helps – the thrill of being able to use it helps with focus.
- Look for new methods. If reading aloud about American History doesn’t work for your kid, look for a new way to teach it. Maybe you can build dioramas, or maybe watching Liberty’s Kids on DVD would be better – or maybe you need to find animal shows on TV to teach biology, or use Khan Academy’s videos and practice problems to teach math. Or maybe those are the methods you’re using and you need to change to sitting down and reading aloud, or using a math textbook. The point is to try different methods and see if you can find something that makes it easier for your child to focus – maybe you’ll even find that changing up your methods now and then is what you really need. A few days/weeks of this followed by a few days/weeks of that might end up being just the thing your kid thrives on.
- Exercise! Lots and lots of physical activity is key for the hyperactive kid. Bike rides, laps around the house, long walks, or a quick game of one on one basketball before school is a start. Look for ways to keep that going during school, too. We got a mini trampoline that’s in our living room. While it’s too distracting to me for the kids to jump while I’m teaching them, we do take frequent breaks and they can jump on it then. It can be a huge help. You could also get a jump rope for the porch, an exercise ball for him to sit on, or let him do push ups or sit ups.
- Let him fidget. In public school, fidgeting is not only discouraged, but sometimes it’s actively punished. But for the ADHD child who’s hyperactive, sitting still isn’t just difficult, it can be truly impossible. And if they can manage to sit still, it’s likely that they’re so focused on staying still that they’re not able to learn. So let him fidget. Make sure he’s in a quiet chair or on the floor, and that his fidgeting stays quiet if it’s distracting to you, and let him do it. As with the inattentive child, give him a stress ball or some play dough to fidget with, and you might be amazed at how much and how quickly he learns, just because he’s not worried about trying to stay still anymore.
- Combine physical activity with a lesson. Some kids learn better when they actually combine physical activity with their learning. Jumping jacks while reciting the multiplication tables, push ups while spelling their spelling words, or riding a stationary bike while reading a book can do some amazing things for making these things stick in their brains.
- Find even more hyper friends. As strange as this may sound, every now and then, hang out with kids that are even more hyper than your own (or just go to Chuck E. Cheese!). This doesn’t always work, so you may need to test it with your kids. In some cases (and for my kids, this can often be true), being around kids that are more hyper than they are seems to drain off their energy. It won’t keep them calmer indefinitely, but you might find that you get a couple of days with a kid who’s more relaxed and less active. As I said, it also isn’t always the case, so if you want to test the theory, I recommend testing it at a time when you can handle the potential higher energy if it turns out your kid is one that feeds off that extra energy and amps up instead of calming down. And this will bring me to my next point.
- Find some more laidback friends. Your kid is always on the go, and your friend Jane’s kid is, according to her, more like a sloth. You both wish your kids were somewhere in between the two extremes – so bring them together. Sometimes the slower pace of another kid can help slow your kid down and bring him down to a lower level. If other kids that he wants to play with don’t move quite as fast as he does, he might slow down so they can keep up. If he talks really fast, as well, he might slow that down too, if for no other reason than that his new friends have had to ask him to repeat himself three times because they couldn’t follow everything he tried to say.
Whether you’ve been homeschooling for a few weeks or a few years, chances are you’ve already learned a thing or two about helping your child with ADHD. What tips would you give a parent?