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Understanding ADHD: A Perspective for Parents

ADHD and its symptoms affect not just the child but the parent as well. The challenges of dealing with a child with ADHD may be plenty, but what shapes the child's recovery depends on how the parent responds to their behavior.

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Teaching children the difference between right and wrong, giving them the understanding they need and discovering a whole new meaning of patience is a highly demanding, full-time job for parents navigating their child’s first couple of years. If your little one has ADHD, the same endeavor may pose to be even more challenging.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM V), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a chronic neurodevelopmental disorder most prevalent among children and adolescents worldwide. It can be an inherited disorder, with a 50 percent transfer rate if one of the parents had/have ADHD. The condition is broadly characterized by hyperactivity, inattention and impulsivity. These symptoms are apparent by the age of 7 but may be evident in younger children as well.

It is important to have a pediatrician, child psychiatrist or a qualified mental health professional evaluate suspected ADHD symptoms. Early detection and intervention may help reduce the severity of the symptoms and enhance the child’s growth and development.

ADHD is classified based on the severity of the symptoms and is categorized into three types: 

  • Inattentive only or previously known as Attention-Deficit Disorder (ADD) – More common among girls. Individuals in this category are not overly hyperactive. They find it difficult to organize their day or to follow instructions. They are highly prone to getting distracted and forgetting information which makes it hard to complete tasks.
  • Hyperactive or Impulsive – The individuals in this category show both hyperactive and impulsive behavior. The cohort present in this category falls generally below the age of 10. They are not necessarily inattentive, but rather often restless and impatient. They find it difficult to follow instructions and wait their turn to listen or act.
  • Combined inattentive/hyperactive/impulsive – Individuals in this category present a combination of the symptoms from the above two categories. This is probably the most common ADHD diagnosis when it comes to children or adolescents.

Let us bust some myths surrounding ADHD!

MYTH #1: Children who are hyperactive have ADHD.

False! Hyperactivity or high energy is a common trait among young children. If your child is able to perform well in school, implement executive functions, pay attention to instructions and behave accordingly, your child does not have ADHD.

MYTH #2: Only boys present symptoms of ADHD.

False! Girls present symptoms of ADHD, too. They typically show more subtle and internalized symptoms like inattentiveness, low self-esteem, and fewer behavioral problems. Girls diagnosed with ADHD tend to internalize anger and pain compared to boys and this often puts them at a higher risk for anxiety, depression, eating disorders and difficult personal relationships.

MYTH #3: Children with ADHD could behave better; it is simply just defiance.

False! Children with ADHD are not acting out on purpose. They tend to become defiant when they are expected to do things that are hard for them or when they are interrupted while doing something they enjoy, like playing video games or watching a cartoon. Even if these children try to be or do their best, they often end up unsuccessful because they cannot pay attention nor control their impulses.

MYTH #4: With age, children grow out of ADHD.

False! It is true that with age the symptoms of ADHD may change. Hyperactivity may diminish as the child grows older, and a few have been known to present milder symptoms as the years go by. However, other symptoms like inattentiveness might increase and become the primary concern. These symptoms could continue into adulthood and pose more significant behavioral threats to the individual.

MYTH #5: ADHD is 100% curable with medication.

False! ADHD has no known cure. However, the symptoms can be managed with the right intervention at the right time. Treatments may include medication or behavioral therapy like psychotherapy, parent-child interaction therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy. A notable addition is neurofeedback therapy, one of the latest techniques in the field, as it is proven to provide long-term results even after discontinuing the training. Either one or a combination of these can be used to treat symptoms of ADHD.

MYTH #6: It solely depends on the child to overcome issues stemming from ADHD.

False! Parent-child interaction is of utmost importance for the child to overcome or manage symptoms of ADHD as parents are their first and most frequent point of contact. Children often need help with executive functions. Guidance from parents on this front can help children gradually acquire the skills needed for daily functioning. Teachers and the school environment also play an important role in helping the child discover their capabilities and manage learning and practical life challenges.

ADHD Parenting Tips

To effectively guide a child with ADHD, evaluating their strengths and weaknesses first is a must. Parents and teachers need to get creative to be able to hold the child’s attention or have them execute a task. A one-size-fits-all plan cannot be used for children with ADHD as each child is unique.

Tip #1: Believe in your child & stay positive. Understand that your child’s behavior is not intentional – be supportive, encouraging and be the guiding force. Praise them and offer positive feedback consistently. 

Tip #2: Simplify life for your child. Set clear expectations and rules, establish a routine, maintain a checklist, offer rewards for positive behavior and explain the consequences of negative behavior. Help them practice relaxation and cultivate good eating, sleeping and exercise habits for the long term. 

Tip #3: Resist the urge to be controlling or commanding. Be calm and choose to explain even if you have to do it a hundred times over. Build a friendly relationship with your child and be involved in their life. Talk to your child, play with them, watch a movie with them, have fun and get creative. 

Tip #4: Be mindful of parental overreactivity. This is a situation where a parent, due to the stress of raising a child with ADHD, becomes “less patient, pay more attention to disruptive behavior and act more impulsively.” To avoid this overwhelm, learn to detect or anticipate negative behavior. Knowing what may trigger your child can help you be prepared to tackle the issue. Also, remember that children often mimic the actions of elders/parents, so aim to work toward setting the right examples and becoming a role model for your child. 

Tip #5: Seek support from doctors, therapists and educators. Work closely with your child’s school teacher or therapist on implementing measures that help your little one cope with daily challenges. Stay connected and monitor your child’s progress with the help of experts who are also after the best interest of your child. 

Improvements in diagnostic and therapeutic tools today promise the effective intervention and targeted treatment of ADHD in children. These tools combined with supportive education can help reduce or reverse the adverse outcomes of ADHD. Reach out to your nearest pediatrician, child psychiatrist or a qualified mental health professional to determine the best course of action. Connect with support or awareness groups. Most importantly, educate yourself first because strengthening the relationship you have with your child matters most.

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