Coping with an overactive child

a frustrated and angry looking...

One of the joys of childhood is a seemingly boundless supply of energy, but when energy becomes hyperactivity, it can be a problem. According to the NHS, Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is now the most common behavioural disorder in the UK, and is thought to affect in the region of two and five per cent of the nation's children.

If you are concerned about your child, or even worried that you may be suffering as an adult, here are the signs and symptoms to look out for, and tips on how to cope with the disorder.

What is ADHD?
The term attention deficit hyperactivity disorder refers to a group of behavioural symptoms, including inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness. While kids are often easily distracted or restless, if you notice a very short attention span, constant fidgeting or overactivity, or a tendency to act impulsively, it could point to a problem. Sometimes sufferers display additional symptoms such as trouble sleeping or anxiety.

ADHD typically presents symptoms at an early age, and a change in circumstances may trigger a noticeable increase in symptoms, so it is often the case that parents see a problem when a child starts school. Usually diagnosed in children between the ages of six and 12, the symptoms often improve with age, though some adults continue to show symptoms. It is unknown exactly what causes ADHD, but it can run in families, and factors such as a low birthweight or premature birth may play a part.

What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of inattentiveness, hyperactivity or impulsiveness may seem a little vague, but there are more specific areas that you should pay attention to if you think your child may have a problem. For instance, if they make careless mistakes in their school work, seem forgetful or frequently lose things, seem unable to listen or follow instructions, or struggle to undertake tasks, chopping and changing between activities, they may be suffering with ADHD. Watch for an inability to sit still, constant fidgeting, excessive talking or movement, being unable to wait their turn or interrupting conversations, and an apparent lack of a sense of danger.

Some, though not all, may display signs of anxiety, disruptive behaviour, usually towards figures of authority, antisocial behaviour, and depression. The behavioural problems usually occur in more than one situation, i.e. both at home and at school. The disorder often occurs in children with learning difficulties, and is more prevalent amongst boys than girls.

Diagnosis and treatment
If you believe your child might be experiencing ADHD, your first port of call should be your GP or your child's teacher, who may also have noticed signs of a problem. The school should have a special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO) who can offer advice and educational support, while your GP may be able to refer you to a specialist paediatrician or psychiatrist. Medication, though not a cure, can also help ADHD sufferers to concentrate better, feel calmer, and learn new skills, so that their daily life and education doesn't suffer. Talking therapies such as behaviour therapy may also be available, as well as parent training and education programmes that can help you to cope with the challenges of having a child with ADHD.

Coping at home
When your child has ADHD, it's easy to become frustrated, and that can often spill over into lost tempers. However, it is essential to remember that they cannot help their behaviour and learn simple ways that can help to keep things calmer and less chaotic at home.

Routine and clear boundaries can be helpful both to parent and child. For instance, planning the day ahead in detail, with seemingly simple activities such as getting ready for school, broken down into steps will mean your little one knows what to expect. In the same way, break instructions down into very specific steps so that your child clearly understands what needs to be done.

A clear set of rules about what is and is not acceptable behaviour should also be explained, with rewards or praise to reinforce the good, and consequences, such as a privilege being removed, for overstepping the line. In both of the above, consistency is key to success, and when success is achieved, no matter how small it may seem, be very specific about why you are pleased, explaining exactly what your child did that was so good. A reward scheme for good behaviour, where they can earn points or stars towards a privilege, is a great way to incentivise your child.

It is also important to keep an eye out for signs that your child may be on the verge of losing control, so be aware of frustration or overstimulation, and act before an explosive situation can begin. Try to distract your child and remove them from the situation, allowing them to calm down and avoid an episode. This tactic may mean that playtime with friends has to be kept short.

General tips for coping also include giving your child plenty of physical activity during the day, cutting out foods that contain additives and caffeine (speak to your GP or specialist if you are unsure about what may be exacerbating the symptoms), and try to stick to a bedtime and morning ritual.

Living with a child who suffers from ADHD can be challenging, but support is available. If you would like advice or to speak to others in the same situation, try the Living with ADHD website, or the charity YoungMinds.

Does your child suffer from ADHD? What advice would you give to other parents struggling to cope? Leave your comments below...
Helping Kids With ADHD: A Parent's Guide