How To Make an ADD Child Shine
You Put Artificial Stuff In Food, You Get Back Artificial Behavior
I—like other successful professional persons—suffer and always have from attention deficit disorder (ADD). I consider it a blessing, to be honest. It made me who I am—a physician who gets it for all the millions of kids whose parents think of their condition as a lifelong liability. I see ADD as an opportunity. I think in order to cope and lead in today’s world you almost have to have some form of ADD and learn to make what many consider a behavioral vice into a virtue.
ADD and ADHD (attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder) continue to be on the rise. Nearly 10% of school children are tagged with these labels and, according to a recent article in the journal Chemical Neuroscience, prescription medicines for ADHD in 2011 totaled nearly $8 billion in sales. Yet it is one of the most misunderstood, misdiagnosed and mistreated problems in childhood. New insights into both the diagnosis and treatment reveal that parents and teachers can actually turn this behavioral and developmental quirk into working to the child’s advantage rather than disadvantage.
Here are 9 tips I offer parents and teachers to bring out the best in the child without exhausting themselves.
1 DIFFERENCE NOT DISORDER
Understand the “D” in ADD can mean a “difference,” not necessarily a “deficit” or “disorder.” In fact, a more accurate “D” word is “description.” ADD describes a child’s own way of thinking, learning and acting rather than a pathologic diagnosis. Some children come wired differently. They think, learn and act different. Consequently, they need a different style of parenting and teaching. Yet ADD can become a deficit, a disorder and even a disability if the child’s behavior is not appropriately identified and managed.
2 UNDERSTAND WHAT ADD IS
The four main features of ADD are:
i) Selective attention. Most children with ADD/ ADHD have problems paying attention to subjects that don’t seem relevant to them, yet actually are able to pay deeper attention to items that the child perceives as important and particularly relevant. For example, a goalie on a hockey team goes into the state of hyperfocus when the guy with the puck is coming toward him. Yet, he can zone into a state of inattention when the puck is at the other end of the ice.
In more than 20 years of coaching Little League, I try to place kids with ADHD in the position of pitcher or catcher because they can hyperfocus on home plate. The child with selective attention in school focuses on the bird in the tree outside the classroom window and seems inattentive to the teacher describing the features of some irrelevant war that happened a thousand years ago. Yet, give that child a part in a play that reenacts the history lesson and he shines.
ii) Distractibility. The child with ADD/ADHD has difficulty filtering out clutter and distracting images and thoughts, so much so that his mind wanders off of the main subject and into seemingly irrelevant and distracting scenes. For example, during class while the teacher is outlining a math problem the child sees a moth land on the teacher’s desk. He focuses more on the moth and less on the math and oftentimes can’t seem to get his mind off the moth. When given a big helping of homework, he is so overwhelmed with all the stuff he has to read and learn that he has difficulty getting started.
iii) Impulsivity. The child with ADD/ADHD leaps before he looks and acts before he thinks. These traits make him more accident-prone and get him into trouble with teachers and peers. The term “inappropriate” often characterizes his actions. He may shout out what he thinks is the right answer in class, not waiting his turn. And because of this impulsive nature, he can seem to have trouble with empathy, meaning the inability to get behind the eyes of another person and imagine the effects of his behavior on that other person. The impulse to shove a classmate comes before the child even has a chance to think about the trouble he may get into for pushing, let alone how the pushed-against-the- wall classmate may feel. Yet, parents beware: some kids are unfairly labeled “hypersensitive.” Given the appropriate channeling (notice we “channel” not “treat”) they grow up to be empathetic kids who care—exactly what we need to overcome the epidemic of bullying.
iv) Hyperactivity. While some children have quiet (called silent) ADD, more common in girls, others get an “H” added for hyperactivity. It’s not only that they are very active but they are “hyper” at inappropriate times such as in the classroom or at the dinner table.
Your child’s perception of himself depends upon how he perceives others perceive him. If he always hears negative tags like “lazy,” “dumb,” or “bad,” sooner or later he’s going to want to live up to them.
3 KEEP A JOURNAL
List the behaviors that most concern you, your child’s teacher and other persons of significance (eg scoutmasters, coaches). Try to put these under the 3 categories of “attention span,” “inappropriate behaviors” and “learning difficulties.” In your journal, chart the severity and progression of the concerns on your list. Are they getting better, getting worse or without change? How much are these behaviors interfering with your child’s educational and social development and his level of happiness? Are they just quirky nuisances that time and maturity will heal or are they progressing to the severity that they are interfering with your child’s development and your relationship with your child? If, in consultation with your child’s teacher, healthcare provider and your parental intuition, you decide that your child truly may have ADHD and needs professional, educational and medical help go to the next step.
4 SMART MOVES
Suppose you, your child’s teacher and healthcare providers decide your child truly does have ADHD and needs help. You go online and search for the top doc in the world for your child’s “Ds”.
You open your consultation saying “Doctor, I’m a showme- the-science type of parent. I want the most scientifically proven and safest medicine for my child’s behavior and learning problems.”
The doctor listens attentively to your needs and surprises you with a prescription that reads: “Eat more fruits, vegetables and seafood and go outside and play.”
That sounds like what your mother would say.
Once they took recess out of schools Ritalin usage went up. Any correlation? I believe so.
Once schools started serving junk-food breakfasts and lunches, learning and behavior problems went up. A correlation? Yes.
This is the “prescription” for your child’s “Ds” that you’re about to learn.
5 IS IT REALLY MDD?
A parent once brought her child into my office for “ADHD counseling.” After attentively listening to her concerns, I asked, “How much time does he spend outside playing?”
“Oh he prefers to stay indoors and play video games,” she replied.
“Is he involved with any sports?” I asked.
“Not really,” she responded. I surprised her with my next diagnosis: “Your child does not have ADHD; he has MDD—movement deficit disorder.”
Again, Dr Mom was right—go outside and play. One of the most common complaints that teachers have of students labeled with ADHD is: “He stares out the window.” That’s because he wants to be out the window.
In my early childhood, before the “Ds” were invented, we hyperactive kids were simply labeled “challenging children.” My fourth grade teacher, Sister Mary Ursula (Latin for “little bear”), had the perfect “medicine” for my behavior and inattention. Every school day around 11 am and 2 pm she would put her hand authoritatively on my shoulder and say, “Billy, you’re fidgeting too much again. Go outside and run around the schoolyard three times, then come back and sit still.” It worked.
Fast-forward Sister Mary Ursula’s ADHD treatment to the year 2016. Schools are now trying an interesting approach for increasing children’s attention and behavior. The kids labeled with “Ds” come to school a half hour earlier, called “zero period,” and do strenuous exercise before they begin school. Many of these children are actually able to come off their medications by doing “movement therapy.”
What is it about the simple remedy of “go outside and play” that works so well for children with ADHD? Let’s take a trip inside the brain to find out why movement is the mind’s best medicine. During vigorous movement (run, dance, play soccer) the blood flows faster to the child’s brain. Increasing blood flow to the brain releases the brain’s natural calming and learning “medicines” as well as an endogenous “medicine” that actually makes the brain regenerate called brain growth factor (BGF). Think of your child’s brain as the greatest garden ever grown. How do you get a garden to grow better? Feed and fertilize it. That’s exactly what Dr Mom’s prescription does: feeds the brain smart foods and fertilizes it with smart movement. Even before these exciting neuroscience discoveries, Sister Mary Ursula was, in effect, saying to me, “Go outside and run to make your own brain medicines.”
We have helped children in our practice by having them take periodic homework breaks and jump for five minutes on a mini trampoline, take a brief run or a mini workout with exercise bands. Children’s bodies are made to move and their brains benefit.
My wish for schools: no child (on his) behind.
When children use their special something and succeed at it, it pulls them up. We call this the carryover effect, meaning success in one endeavor carries over to academic and behavioral success.
6 FEED YOUR CHILD SMART FOODS
Begin the day with a brainy breakfast. The brain is affected by nutrition. If a child begins the day with a junky breakfast, expect junky behavior and learning. A smart breakfast is high in protein and medium in healthy fats and carbs. What diet should your child be on? Simply put: the real food diet. That means containing no artificial sweeteners (such as high fructose corn syrup and chemical sweeteners), no chemical flavor enhancers, and no artificial food colorings. You put artificial stuff in food, you get back artificial behavior.
Examples of brainy breakfasts are oatmeal with cinnamon, yogurt and blueberries; veggie omelet or organic Greek yogurt with homemade granola. One of our family’s favorite breakfasts is a smart shake, which contains lots of fruit, blueberries (the brain berry), yogurt and greens (such as kale). Remember, the biggest shake mistake most people make is not to put healthy fats in the shake. Fats not only are more filling and keep the child satisfied longer, they help many of the brain nutrients be absorbed better from the fruits and vegetables. Healthy fats to add to the shake: nut butters, coconut oil and avocado. Oftentimes our children would carry their shakes out to the car and sip on the way to school—a good breakfast guide for busy families.
Top 4 Smart Moves
1. Seafood (wild Pacific salmon)
2. Berries (especially blueberries)
An easy way to help you remember these: go fish, go blue, go green and go nuts!
Send your child to school with healthy snacks such as a healthy protein bar or homemade trail mix.
7 BE SURE YOUR CHILD SLEEPS WELL
Recent studies have uncovered that one of the most common hidden causes of “ADD” and other learning and behavior problems at school is lack of optimal sleep. Many doctors believe that before treating a child with ADD medication, they should have his sleep habits fully evaluated and be referred to a pediatric sleep specialist. Examples of medical and psychological problems leading to poor sleep and consequent learning and behavior problems are: obesity, anxiety depression, allergies, obstructive sleep apnea and joint pains.
8 FOSTER YOUR CHILD’S SPECIAL SOMETHING
Every child has a special gift or talent such as a sport, art or music. Discover this “special something” in your child and run with it. Children who have learning or attention challenges often feel different; to a child, feeling “different” often equates with feeling less. Self-esteem takes a nose dive, which further aggravates this already quirky behavior. When children use their special something and succeed at it, it pulls them up. We call this the carryover effect, meaning success in one endeavor carries over to academic and behavioral success.
10 Things I Like About Me
Have your child make a list of the 10 things that he likes about himself and frame it on his wall. For example: “I’m a good soccer player,” “I’m funny.” This exercise becomes a constant reminder of all the qualities he appreciates in himself and you appreciate in him and takes the constant pressure off his “difference.”
9 FRAME YOUR CHILD POSITIVELY
The concept of framing is an important skill for parents and teachers to learn in helping the child with ADD. This is especially true if a child has to stand in line to get his “focus pill” from the school nurse every day, has special tutoring or in some way is singled out as having a problem. For example, you’re attending a parent-teacher conference and your child’s disruptive behavior and inattentiveness comes up. When you hear from the teacher, “He sure is disruptive,” balance this with “he does have a curious personality.” If the child is tagged as “stubborn,” comment that “he has a persistent personality.” If someone says, “My, he’s hyperactive,” point out “he sure is enthusiastic and energetic.” When the teacher, you, and your child repeatedly hear your child being framed positively, it changes the whole focus to help everyone look at the bright side of ADD. Most of these children are bright, funny, creative and energetic. In fact, many creative people who have made this world a better place, such as Mozart and Edison, had they lived today would most certainly be tagged “ADHD.” Your child’s perception of himself depends upon how he perceives others perceive him. If he always hears negative tags like “lazy,” “dumb,” or “bad,” sooner or later he’s going to want to live up to them.
So often we find children tagged with ADHD think outside the box. Given smart foods, activities and schooling that matches their needs, these children can grow up to become business leaders, inventors, entrepreneurs, team leaders or charity founders. Celebrate your child’s difference.Dr Sears is author of more than 30 books on child rearing including the forthcoming The Sweet Book (Freedom Press) in fall 2016.