Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a mental health condition that causes abnormally high levels of activity and impulsiveness. It is usually diagnosed at around seven years of age. It can also occur in adults, but because symptoms typically appear between ages three and six, parents and medical practitioners tend to catch it early.
For many families, having a child with this disorder often leads to a seemingly unending practice of taking medication. Parents would do everything in their power – even buying the most expensive medicine they can afford – to help their little one get a chance to live a comfortable life.
However, what many of them don’t realize is that drugs aren’t the only solution. From practicing better sleeping habits to undergoing neurofeedback therapy for ADHD, here are seven non-drug-related ways to help children with ADHD focus:
1. Encourage good sleeping habits.
Sleep is vital for growing children, but it becomes even more critical for a child with ADHD.
Based on studies, even an additional half-hour of sleep can help manage impulsivity and restlessness. Plenty of kids with ADHD are also susceptible to having sleeping disorders – and each condition can make the other worse.
For instance, children who can’t settle down before bedtime may not be able to fall asleep quickly. The next day, the exhaustion from the previous evening would leave them with worse ADHD symptoms.
To encourage good sleeping habits, parents should try the following strategies:
- Maintain a consistent bedtime schedule, both on weekdays and weekends.
- Keep the bedroom dark and cool.
- Prevent any exposure to blue light (e.g., TV and computer screens) at least two hours before going to bed.
It also helps to have a soothing ritual to help children with ADHD wind down, like reading a bedtime story. This will help them settle down and ease their minds when certain tasks are accomplished in a specific sequence.
2. Make dietary changes.
Besides sleep, researchers also found that what children eat can also affect their behavior. According to the Mayo Clinic, food products containing preservatives and coloring may heighten hyperactive behavior up to a certain level.
Below are some examples:
- Sodium benzoate – can be found in salad dressings, fruit juices, and carbonated drinks.
- Food coloring (yellow numbers 5, 6, and 10, and red no. 40) – used in sorbets, juices, pickles, cereal, granola bars, yogurt, soft drinks, children’s medicine, ice cream, and gelatin desserts.
Aside from avoiding certain foods, parents should also consider adding more omega-3-rich foods to their children’s diet. According to recent studies, omega-3 fatty acids found in soy products, flaxseeds, walnuts, and fish such as salmon could reduce ADHD symptoms.
Take note that supplementing with these fatty acids has yet to be recommended as an alternative treatment. Experts point out that giving them a balanced diet with whole grains, fish, and lots of fruits and veggies (and less sugary foods) is much more important for kids with ADHD.
3. Practice mindfulness with them.
The research explored the effects of an eight-week mindfulness training program in children and adults with ADHD and noted improved symptoms, particularly in depressive and anxiety symptoms. This shows that taking a few deep breaths or sitting quietly before a test or class makes a big difference for ADHD patients.
But while this shows much promise, further research is still needed to support its effectiveness.
4. Introduce them to music.
Music offers more to human health than you might think. It is believed to be beneficial in helping children with ADHD gain more focus.
Music helps hone and strengthen kids’ attention span and social skills, thanks to its rhythmic and structured nature. Playing musical instruments also cultivates the different parts of their brain, not to mention that it opens up opportunities for them to try working with a group.
While there are only a few studies about it, scientists have already confirmed that children who play an instrument tend to do better in tests involving the brain’s executive function (the ability to organize and switch tasks smoothly) than those who don’t.
Youngsters who are more interested in sports can also benefit from this, as listening to their favorite songs helps calm them down long enough to do their homework. This is because music helps the brain release dopamine, a chemical known as the “messenger,” which boosts a person’s focus.
5. Engage them in more outdoor activities.
Outdoor activities also help children with ADHD improve their concentration, especially when done in a natural setting filled with greenery. Based on a 2011 study published in the journal “Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being,” regular exposure to green space outdoors effectively reduces the severity of ADHD symptoms. This is in comparison to activities done in other settings.
6. Enroll them in behavioral therapy.
For many cases of ADHD, doctors recommend behavioral therapy as the leading solution. Also called behavioral modification, this method involves setting rules and goals for the child to resolve problematic behaviors. Doctors may also recommend parental therapy to provide parents with knowledge and the proper tools in helping children with ADHD manage their condition.
7. Try brain training.
Some people train their brain to improve memory or intelligence with the help of EEG biofeedback. But did you know that children with ADHD may benefit from this treatment, too?
Using electroencephalography (EEG) sensors attached to what looks like a bike helmet, scientists can monitor children’s brain waves while playing a game using only their brain (no joystick or gamepad involved). The idea is to show the brain what it feels like to concentrate. This gives the patients more control over their brainwaves, ultimately reducing ADHD symptoms.
According to experts, training the brain helps boost children’s ability to focus and “switch on” their brains for extended periods. This is because it allows them to form new neural connections that deliver messages within the brain.
Focus and Determination
Helping children with ADHD become more focused without medication takes determination and the right kind of knowledge. Use the strategies presented in this article to help your child live an improved and more comfortable life.
About the Author: Dr. Upasana Gala is the founder and CEO of Evolve Brain Training, an award-winning neurofeedback-centered institute that focuses on using non-invasive brain training techniques to maximize the brain’s true potential. Earning a doctorate in Neuroscience from the esteemed Baylor College of Medicine, Dr. Gala has spent over a decade trying to unravel the way neurochemical and neurophysiological changes in the brain affect the way we interact with the world. Her goal is to share her knowledge, encourage others to tap into and expand their brain’s capabilities, and dispel any myths surrounding our most complex organ.
Mental Health Month 2021
Access for All
May is Mental Health Month, a time to spread public awareness and education about mental health disorders and reflect on the impact of mental illness on individuals and their families.
It is also a time to recognize and commit to changing the racial and economic inequities in our health care system, particularly with respect to mental health.
www.rtor.org and Laurel House are committed to the advancement of racial equity and social justice, and to making mental health services accessible to all.
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