For Children With ADHD, ‘It Gets Better’ With Help

During Mental Health Month, Our Kids Media is featuring a series of articles to raise awareness about depression, anxiety, suicide and other forms of mental illness — and how we can help save our children.

For Children With ADHD, 'It Gets Better' With Help

Parents can help children with ADHD reach their full potential by first being informed about the neurobiological disorder.

As a psychiatrist (and a parent of a child with ADHD), I want to reassure parents of children with (or exhibiting signs of) ADHD, it gets better when they receive the right intervention.

The best thing a parent can do is to be informed. The more you know about ADHD, the better you will be able to help your son or daughter with the challenges they face.  There is no biological test that can confirm a diagnosis, so it is often a discussion between parents, teachers and health care professionals that determines the diagnosis of the child involved.

It’s important to remember that all children are not the same, and therefore can’t be treated the same. If you have a child that has ADHD, and one that doesn’t, it’s challenging to remember that you can’t expect the same behaviours from both. When your child is fidgety, when it seems like they aren’t listening, or they’ve forgotten something again — if you know are aware these are their struggles, your response will be different to the situation. It’s often difficult to remember that this child isn’t bad (in relation to their brother or sister or other children), but that their ADHD causes them to be impulsive, inattentive or both.

As a parent, it’s important to help your child to be successful and to reach their maximum potential. Young people with ADHD respond better in well-structured environments. You can help them with homework and chores by creating a routine. As many children with ADHD have trouble sustaining attention, breaking items into small tasks with an immediate reward at the end has proved to be quite effective. Instead of suggesting your son clean his room, ask him to fold his clothes. The way to reward your child varies with age. Charts have a better impact in smaller children. For older children or teens, you can offer them to pick out what’s for dinner, let them watch their favourite television show or spend extra time with their favourite video game.

Increase your child’s self-esteem. This point is very important as many young person with ADHD have a low self-esteem. Focus on their strengths and things they do well.  For instance, individual sports and activities, such as track and field, or swimming, are generally more fulfilling and successful than group sports.

Help make the things they find most challenging easier. One of the best ways to do this is to help your child be organized. It can be helpful to tape lists to mirrors, doors and lunches. Calendars, timelines, agendas and alarm clocks can all be tools that can be helpful. And helping your teen get on a regular schedule can do wonders for their organization.

Make sure you spend quality time with your teen. Going for a walk with them is a great way to be able to connect with them and get some exercise. Sharing feelings, connecting with someone they trust, and getting regular exercise are great ways for your youth to have positive interactions and shed some pent up energy.

As a parent you can also help to make sure your youth is good to their body. Eating a healthy breakfast can decrease stress and improve performance at school and work. Caffeine and sugar rich drinks can increase anxiety and agitation. Ensuring your teen has a balance diet, and stays away from alcohol and drugs can help improve life balance.

Depending on the severity of your child’s ADHD, treatments will include therapy and sometimes medication. In combination with the above, you can get your child on the road to recovery and a successful life ahead.

[Dr. Stan Kutcher is an internationally-renowned expert in the area of adolescent mental health and a national and international leader in mental health research, advocacy, training, policy, and services innovation working at the IWK and Dalhousie University. He currently holds the Sun Life Financial Chair in Adolescent Mental Health, where he applies knowledge translation techniques to advance adolescent mental health promotion, education, research and training locally, nationally and internationally. Dr. Iliana Garcia–Ortega and Christina Carew are part of his team that works to provide easy-to-understand materials about mental health and the brain that are offered free to everyone. Visit for more information.]

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