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Effectively Managing ADD/ADHD

Updated on January 29, 2016

What is ADHD or ADD?

Diagnosing ADD and ADHD

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are frequently misdiagnosed. There are many people who actually have these "learning disabilities" that have not been correctly diagnosed. And, on the flip side, there are also many people who don't have one of these conditions who have been incorrectly diagnosed as having either ADD or ADHD.

Not only are ADD and ADHD frequently misdiagnosed, there are also only two regularly used drugs for ADD/ADHD: ritalin and adderall or amphetamine salts. (and their generic counterparts) Both drugs grow more and more inefficient with use and have notable side effects.

For these reasons, I recommend not worrying about an official diagnosis until all non-invasive techniques have been found ineffective and medication is absolutely necessary or until an official diagnosis is required to obtain necessary cooperation from schools or other organizations.

With that being said, there are a number of techniques, practices, attitudes and lifestyle habits that can be adopted which will make an immense difference in the behavior and success of a child with ADD/ADHD and in healing or maintaining the relationship between parent and child. None of these practices are harmful for children who do not have ADHD or ADD to adopt and may be beneficial for them as well. For these reasons, I recommend finding solutions that work for your family instead of worrying about obtaining an official ADD/ADHD diagnosis.

What ADD/ADHD Is and What it Is Not

I took adderall for the first time when I was 19. About thirty minutes after I took my first dose I stopped what I was doing and just sat for a good twenty minutes. I was stunned. I experienced a profound silence that I had never experienced before. It was as if someone had finely tuned the predominant radio playing in my mind and turned off the 7 or 8 radios that were poorly tuned and usually contributed something between half-discernible melodies and white fuzz to the stage of my brain.

That's the best analogy I have come up with to describe ADHD/ADD. It's as if there are a number of radios and radio stations, most badly tuned, constantly vying for one's attention. This leads to impulsivity, inattention, inability to focus, forgetfulness and can be very tiring and irritating, which can lead to poor reactions to stressful situations.

ADHD/ADD means a person's mind works differently than the average mind. It does NOT mean that that child is bad or stupid. Many ADHD/ADD students are gifted or talented and still struggle in school, not because they aren't capable of doing well, but because they lack the understanding of how they can do well in a traditional school setting. In addition, many people with ADD/ADHD also struggle with low self esteem because parents, teachers and co-workers are constantly criticizing them for their symptoms and they don't have the resources or knowledge of how to control or change the behaviors being criticized.

ADD/ADHD is not just a yes/no diagnosis and it is not consistent in someone's day, week or lifetime. Not everyone with ADHD has the exact same situation. Don't worry if what works for one person doesn't work for you. Everybody has different triggers and struggle to focus with different activities. Additionally, an activity may be easier at one time than another. Coming to understand an individual's triggers and effective coping methods will help him or her function in society and be happier and more relaxed. Continually re-evaluating symptoms and coping methods will allow adjustments to be made as the manifestations of ADHD change throughout an individual's lifetime.

Medications Should Be An Effort, Not the Only Effort

Medication can be a great option, but should be an effort in the fight against ADHD, not the only effort!  Proper lifestyle and focus techniques will enhance one's performance with or without the use of medication for ADHD or ADD.
Medication can be a great option, but should be an effort in the fight against ADHD, not the only effort! Proper lifestyle and focus techniques will enhance one's performance with or without the use of medication for ADHD or ADD.

Get Active and Involved

Whether seeking advice for yourself or for your child, getting involved in a music program and a sports or fitness program will provide both a creative outlet and a constructive outlet for their physical energy. In addition to providing appropriate outlets for pent-up energy, the practice and focus involved in these events tends to be less obvious and more enjoyable to the participant than the focus required by school work. This means that constant, daily practice in his/her/your chosen sport and music will allow him/her/you to practice focusing, without it being a chore. This focus can then be applied to more stressful activities such as work or school.

As the months go by, the participant's focus will continue to increase. And, if he can feel his focus fading, he has can spend a few minutes on his instrument or in the backyard doing drills for his sport to help him regain his focus. After a short break he will have used up some of the excess energy and enjoyed a few minutes of relaxed focus. Both of which will help him return to his studies or work effectively.

Martial Arts

While any sport would do, I highly recommend martial arts. A quality school will instill self-control and discipline into its students and teach them to meditate. Learning age-appropriate meditation and breathing techniques gives your child another tool in his toolbox against the negative side effects of his ADHD. These techniques can be applied before study sessions and in moments of restlessness, where-ever he or she is. Not only could it help him or her study more efficiently, but it if a parent senses a poor reaction to stress mounting, the child can be encouraged to use his techniques to control his or her emotions and the episode can be minimized or avoided.

The discipline and the meditation techniques taught in martial arts studios will help your child understand that with enough effort, he can control his thoughts, mind, body and spirit. This will help your child feel more in control of his or her life. By overcoming the subconscious feelings of being a slave to the speed of his mind, stress levels will reduce and behavior will improve. This can be very important to inter-personal relationships.

Drugs are Not the Only Treatment Option for ADHD

A stress ball can make a big difference!
A stress ball can make a big difference!

Managing Classroom behavior

If your son or daughter has ADHD, talk to your child's teachers. (Beware, ADHD tends to rund in families, so if you have adult ADHD, watch your children for signs and symptoms as well!) Explain the situation and ask if they are okay with your student standing in the back when he's having a hard time focusing. Come up with a discreet signal that the teacher can use to suggest to your son or daughter that maybe standing in the back of the room and pacing for a few minutes might help. If your son or daughter can be moved to be sitting in the back of the room, he or she can pace for a few minutes without drawing too much attention to him or herself.

In addition to pacing, squeezing a stress ball or doodling can also help your student focus. Providing an appropriate outlet for the excess energy prevents stress level build up, reduces poor classroom behavior and increases focus and understanding. Whether or not your child is doodling anything related to the lesson is less important that him moving the pencil around the page and constructively releasing the excess energy.

Help make sure that your student is being challenged in school. Students who are hopelessly lost or are ahead with nothing more to do get bored. Bored students get restless. This is not a good situation for any student, let alone students with ADD or ADHD. Helping to keep your child busy and engaged and focused will be much more effective than trying to regain his or her attention once it is lost.

Talk to the teacher about having your child help a student who is struggling if he or she finishes early. There was a young man with down syndrome in my early elementary school classes. Whenever I finished early, I'd help him with his worksheets and reading. It provided this young man the help he needed and it kept me from getting bored and acting out in class.

Managing ADHD is Easier than Cleaning Up After Failing to Manage ADHD

Avoiding academic frustration is easier than fixing it once it gets worse!
Avoiding academic frustration is easier than fixing it once it gets worse!

Learn How You or Your Child Learns and Processes Information

Not all cases of ADD/ADHD are the same. Some students can focus on reading better than they can focus on lectures. Observe your child and see which method gets more details into his or her working memory long enough for completion or for notes to be taken. Encourage him or her to continue to try to develop focus in the weaker areas in case those are the only avenues available in more advanced coursework. But, help your child design his or her homework and study time around their preferred learning strategy. Learning new material is challenging enough. Don't make it worse by forcing your child to do it in a way that won't work for him.

If you find that your child pays better attention to detail with reading than with lectures, remember that in your interactions with him or her. Instead of verbally telling him or her what his or her chores are for the day, write them down. Identify your child's preferred methods of communication. (What interactions do you have that cause the least stress, anxiety and disharmony in your home? That's a good place to start looking for your child's preferred methods of communication) Once you've identified it, use it! As you learn to communicate in ways that are comfortable for your child, you can work together to expand his or her repertoire to include less comfortable methods of communcation.


People with ADHD/ADD tend to manage their symptoms best when they have a predictable schedule. Pick a bedtime and a wake up time and stick to them. Make sure they are sufficiently far apart that your child is getting the rest he or she needs. A lack of sleep does not help hyperactivity.

Also, consider writing down what your child is eating and how he or she is behaving for a 2-6 week period. Look for trends. Some foods can lead to heightened ADHD/ADD symptoms. Making sure your son or daughter is getting several servings of whole grains every day. Reducing the enriched flour, processed foods and sugars in your child's diet and replacing them with fruits and vegetables can make a large difference in his or her behavior as well. While these trends seem to work for most people, no two children are identical. Experimenting and keeping careful notes for a few weeks is the only way for you to optimize his or her schedule. It takes a little dedication, but the results are worth it!

Individuals with ADHD Aren't Broken

If it's your child affected with ADHD, be sure you are praising your child 2-3 times for every criticism. Many children with ADD/ADHD are criticized for bad behavior, both at home and at school, do poorly in school, and may not fit in with their peers because they don't know how to control their symptoms. Instead of understanding what is going on and learning how to take care of it, the majority of these children feel that they are "bad children," "broken" or "not as good as the other children." Be sure put forth a good effort to encourage good behavior and healthy self esteem by complimenting the good things your child does at least as often, if not 2-3 times as often, as you correct your child.

Pick your battles. Your child needs correction just as much as every other child. However, he or she also needs to feel loved and safe. On particularly rough days, be sure each criticism or correction is constructive and consider whether or not your words are necessary, or if your child would be better off hearing love and patience than having that specific issue corrected in that moment.

Try to help your son or daughter understand that he or she aren't less smart or broken or disabled, just that he or she is different and has different challenges to face than other people. (Just like everybody else.) Keep a positive attitude and encourage your child to work with you to control his symptoms and learn to function healthily in society. Remember that he or she will have rough days and that he or she may be putting in more effort towards good behavior than first meets the eyes. Seek to understand where your child is at and to help your child understand where you are at. Communication is important in learning to successfully manage ADHD/ADD in children and teens.

In addition, teach your child (as well as yourself!) to engage in positive self-talk. Constructively criticizing ourselves is fine. Beating ourselves up is not. Encourage your child to think about what he or she is good at as often as he or she thinks about what he or she needs to improve. Ideally, we should follow the 2-3 positives for every negative when talking to ourselves as well!


There's a stigma about seeing mental health professionals in our community. It's really unfortunate. Don't let that stigma stop you from seeking suggestions from a child psychologist. If these suggestions, and other things you're trying don't work, take your child and your notes to talk to an expert. Ask them for tools that can help arm both you and your child to work together to overcome his or her symptoms. Be open and be willing to make changes in how you approach parenting your child. Getting an expert opinion doesn't make you weak, a failure or abnormal, it makes you smart. If you need expert advice, seek it.

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