I often see parents of hyperactive children who say that they feel frustrated, overwhelmed, and tired from dealing with their child’s limitless energy. They are also frustrated that their child is doing poorly in school, has difficulty listening and following directions, and is often getting into trouble.
They report that they have tried everything to settle down their child’s behavior and some even blame themselves that their child is not listening to them. Some even tell me that they have failed as parents because they cannot control their energetic child.
Coping with hyperactivity can be challenging, but there is no right answer to how to handle a hyperactive child. Hyperactivity is also not caused by how children are raised.
It is important to know that hyperactive children cannot always control their behavior like other children do. It is important not to blame the child. Also, remind parents to be cognizant of factors that can interfere with a child’s self-control. Stress, death in a family, tension between parents, poor sleep, and illness can all lead to an increased level of hyperactivity.
I suggest the following tips to help parents cope with a hyperactive child:
Providing structure is important for hyperactive children. A structured environment helps a hyperactive child to know what is expected of them from day to day.
A lot of parents I encounter often do not have a routine with their children or fail to follow a routine they established. This often leads to trouble, as children become confused with what is expected of them throughout the day.
Lack of structure also causes arguments, frustration, and low self-esteem. Parents often blame themselves for bad parenting, and the child’s confidence diminishes because they feel they are always being yelled at.
Set clear rules for the whole family. Write them out and keep them in a place where they are visible.
Hyperactive children need rules they can understand. Have them repeat back to you what you have told them to make sure they understand. Consequences, such as taking away privileges, should also be explained to the child and enforced for breaking rules. For example, you can tell your child that if they hit their sibling, they will receive a consequence such as taking away their time to play a game.
Break Down Instructions
Remembering a long list is difficult for children. This can make a child feel overwhelmed, leading them to not listen to your demands and often leaving you frustrated. Breaking down a task into smaller chunks makes it do-able and realistic for a child to follow.
Making a list of the steps allows a hyperactive child to focus on one small step at a time. For example, instead of giving them the instructions, “do your homework,” you can tell them to first take out their textbook, then take out the assigned questions, read a paragraph at a time, make notes on each paragraph, and so on.
Giving praise and rewards is important when a child completes a task. Because hyperactive children have difficulty completing a task, it is important for the child to know that the task is worth completing.
Often times, parents complain that their child will start something and never finish it, or they will tell their child to clean their room and it never gets done. I tell them to get their child involved in setting an incentive in order to motivate them into completing the task. You can even break the task into smaller parts, such as clean one side of their room today and the other half tomorrow. But don’t forget to assign a different incentive for each task they complete.
Provide Unstructured Time
Children, especially those who are hyperactive, need plenty of unstructured time. If a child attends school, I often tell parents to have their child engage in after school activities in order to release excess energy. It can be difficult for children to complete their homework after sitting in school all day. Having them run around and exercise after school and before homework can help reduce overactivity during homework time.
I often tell parents to try to remove sugar and food additives from their child’s diet. My clients’ parents have seen a decrease in their child’s disruptive behavior and hyperactivity level, and an increase with their focus, when they reduce a child’s intake of sugar, food dyes, and preservatives.
Eating healthy is key. Foods like vegetables, whole grains, protein, and taking vitamins such as fish oils and B-complex can help improve a child’s mood, mental focus, and brain function.
When a child is overstimulated, implementing relaxation techniques can be helpful to reduce high levels of activity. Some fun ways that I tell parents to help their kids relax is to make believe with their child that they are a cat stretching their arms and legs, or a turtle sensing danger and shrug their shoulders up and then relax them when the danger is gone. Relaxation exercises can help get a child from an overstimulated state to a restorative.
Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net