Helping Children of Divorce

Ten years ago my husband and I ended our marriage. Our small son, Jared, suffered through our bitter quarrels and our inability to avert the disaster that lay ahead. Neither of us had the Lord to help us, and two non-Christian counselors recommended separation because of “irreconcilable differences.” Jared became the innocent victim.

A year after our divorce, my ex-husband moved to Oregon, 1,500 miles away. Five-year-old Jared cried in my arms, “Why did Daddy leave?”

I took my son to a counselor. During the counseling session, he turned all the sandbox figures face-down in the sand as the counselor urged him to talk about the divorce. He drew a picture of our family with his father and me on one side, our pets in the center and himself on the far edge. He was dressed in black and had a confused look on his face. When the counselor tried to talk to him, Jared hung his head over the end of the couch upside down and giggled. A hurt little boy was crying for help.

We have a big job as parents, but as divorced parents, our job grows even bigger. Jared’s healing would take a lot of time. In her book Helping Children Cope With Separation and Loss (The Harvard Common Press), Claudia Jewett says healing from major loss takes a minimum of two years but usually between three and five. How much time Jared’s healing took would largely depend on my own healing and my willingness to let go of anger. I watch my son heal more every day, and I have learned much in the process about how divorced parents can help their kids.

  • Pray. Prayer is the greatest tool we have in helping our children heal. Pray in private for the pains you see your child go through. Pray out loud, letting her see you verbalize her needs to God. Pray consistently. Then teach her how to pray on her own. Prayer allows our children to express their sad feelings and give them to Someone who can make a difference.
  • Listen. Parents should lay aside their own hurts while listening to the pains of their children. Jared “talked” about his pain through the pictures he drew and the figures he placed in the sand. I listened and helped him put words to the pain he expressed through his actions. “You’re really sad, aren’t you? When do you feel that way the most?”A parent can pick up a young child and hold him. With an older child, we can encourage conversation by listening, validating, affirming, and giving feedback. We should guard against interrupting, putting words in his mouth, or talking him out of his pain.

    The biggest roadblock to attentive listening is our fear of our children’s pain. It can make us unable to hear what they are saying. Look him in the eyes. Touch him. Let him know that you really hear.

    When Jared says he misses his father, I know it’s time to listen. I usually feel threatened that he misses his dad. Through practice, however, I’ve learned to quiet those inner voices and listen to the pain my son expresses. I say, “I’m sure you miss him. I’m sorry.” Quiet tears fall from a little boy becoming a man, still filled with the pain of a divorce that tore his parents apart. These tears say, “I am powerless. I miss my daddy. Why can’t you make it okay?” And I listen and stroke his 14-year-old head as I did his 12-year-old head, his 7-year-old head and his 4-year-old head. And I say, “I’m sorry.”

  • Set boundaries. Jared threw temper tantrums until age 10. These reactions kept me intimidated and off-balance. But what my son was asking for was a boundary for the out-of-control feelings he was experiencing. Because I was trying to compensate for his loss and because my own feelings were out of control, I was unable to provide the boundaries we needed.As I dealt with my pain, I was able to help him with his. I provided clear boundaries that helped him get his emotions under control. When Jared was older, a counselor assisted me in shedding my anger and helping my son to do the same. Both my son and I learned that anger held us in bondage and created bitterness. As we both learned more, stronger boundaries grew.
  • Tell the truth. When Jared was 8, I took him to an eight-week divorce-recovery group sponsored by a local church. The children attended classes upstairs while the parents met downstairs. Each week leaders led the children through a series of games and exercises to help them understand their feelings about the divorce. One exercise involved making “rose-colored glasses.”The children made cardboard frames and pink-plastic lenses. Then they talked with the children about “seeing life through rose-colored glasses,” especially their desire to see their parents back together again. In fact, their parents weren’t going to reconcile, and the leaders helped the children come to terms with that.

    Jared did. The pain didn’t go away, but he felt free from false expectations and crushed dreams. Upstairs, the parents learned how to reinforce the message that was being taught to their children. Each session opened the door to more truth, understanding and healing.

  • Repent. When Jared was 11, I realized that I had never asked his forgiveness for the stupid, hurtful things I had done. One day we sat down, and I shared those areas that I needed to ask his forgiveness. I had already asked his forgiveness for the divorce. But there were also times that I had yelled at him or lost control. I asked for his forgiveness for those things. A huge weight lifted from my shoulders when I said, “Will you forgive me?” I did not say, “If I hurt you, I’m sorry.” Saying “I’m sorry” didn’t say “I seek your forgiveness,” nor did saying “If I hurt you” acknowledge the fact that I knew I had.This took courage, but Jared respected me for doing it. After I had asked forgiveness for the big stuff and acknowledged, “Yes, I did that to you,” it became easier to ask forgiveness for the day-to-day things like misplaced anger, an insensitive remark or impatience with his behavior.

    As a result, it has become easier for Jared to ask for forgiveness for his own shortcomings. He is growing into an adult who is able to acknowledge his own unwholeness and seek healing and forgiveness in his life — in spite of what he has been through.

Divorce is never an enjoyable road to travel. But with perseverance, it is possible to help guide our children through these rough places. Jared and I are doing it, and so can you.

Prayer and help from God is very important in healing from a divorce. For more reading on a true relationship with God, the article “A New Relationship With Jesus” might help answer some of your questions.

Are Young Children Being Overmedicated?

A recent issue (2-23-2000) of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reported a large-scale study of 200,000 pre-school aged children that showed a significant increase in drugs prescribed for a variety of problem issues and especially for ADD and hyperactivity.

Between 1991 and 1995, prescriptions of psychiatric drugs,especially Ritalin and SSRI antidepressants, such as Prozac,increased 50%, from 100,000 to 150,000, for 2- to 4-year-old children. Four year olds consumed 60% of the medicine, three year olds took 30%, and 10% of the scripts were written for two-year-old children. Substantial increases in medicine usage was reported for all drug categories studied except antipsychotics. Researchers were particularly concerned with the substantial increase in the use of clonidine, a high blood pressure and insomnia medicine for adults,for the control of hyperactive children. When combined with other attention deficit medications, some children were reported to have slowed heart rates and fainting spells.

A number of reasons were suggested for this increased use of medication in children. The “quick fix” mentality of much of our culture has permeated health and mental health care. Parents are being pressured more and more to have their children conform to the behavioral control demands of day-care. Doctors are getting better at diagnosing behavior disorders at an earlier age. Overall, there is much greater acceptance of the use of psychotropic drugs now versus 10 years ago.

TV Watching Linked to Child Obesity

According to a new study published in the medical journal, Pediatrics, the more television that preschool children watch, the more likely they are to be overweight.

“The TV in the bedroom is an even more powerful predictor of a child being overweight … (than) just the number of hours per week that they watch,” said Dr. Barbara Dennison, the pediatrician who conducted the study.

Dennison, who studied more than 2,000 1- to 4-year-olds, said parents should be as concerned about how long their children watch television as much as what they watch.

“A lot of parents say, ‘Well, my child only watches educational TV.’ Yet, young children do not learn well just by passively watching TV. They need interaction,” she said.

Dennison suggested no more than an hour of TV a day for preschoolers and none for children under age 2.

Shannon Lodholm, who has three children ages 18 months to 6 years, admitted her children do watch quite a bit of TV.

“We watch a lot of cartoons, probably at least three hours a day,” Lodholm said.

She added, however, that getting the kids out of the house is a good idea.

Dr. Walt Larimore, Vice President of Medical Outreach at Focus on the Family, agreed, adding that parents should try to get outside with their kids, too.

“Anything that we can do as parents to … exercise with our kids not only gets them away from TV and gets them moving — which is good for their physical health — but it gets them communicating with us, which is good for their mental and their spiritual health,” Larimore said. “Learning what to eat, when to eat, how to eat, where to eat, getting away from that TV and exercising are all simple, low-cost things that improve our family’s health.”

He also recommended that parents watch TV along with their kids.

To view an abstract of the study, please see the Pediatrics website.

The Highly Healthy Child

The physical health wheel refers to the well-being of a child’s body. What are your child’s physical needs to help his or her body grow properly? Are his body chemicals, parts and systems working as closely as possible to the way they were designed to run?

Parents who want to help facilitate their children’s physical health will do what is necessary to prevent disease whenever possible and treat disease, when it occurs, as early as possible. When illness or disorder occurs, being physically healthy involves learning to cope and adapt as needed. In addition to having immunizations provided, a child needs regular physical activity, rest and proper nutrition. Under normal circumstances, providing these basic needs for a child will help him grow and thrive as he develops.

It’s important to note that a child whose body lacks optimum physical “wholeness,” such as those who have suffered an accident or have a congenital disorder of some kind, can still be highly healthy if his emotional, relational and spiritual health is good.

For example, my daughter Kate was born with cerebral palsy. Kate experienced a significant amount of brain damage while still in the womb. Her doctors believed she had suffered a stroke before she was born, which resulted in the left side of her body being weaker and more spastic than the right side. The right side was affected as well. The brain damage dramatically slowed Kate’s physical development, and she faced several challenges before she even became a teenager.

By the time she turned thirteen years of age, Kate had already had many operations to straighten her limbs and eyes. She had worn braces and splints, casts and patches and she was in a wheelchair for a while. At age 12, she developed a severe seizure disorder, which forced her to spend time in an intensive care unit on a ventilator. She nearly died.

Now a young adult, Kate has overcome many medical obstacles, but she still isn’t “normal” physically. Nevertheless, her mother and I consider her to be fairly healthy physically, because Kate has learned to cope and adapt. She takes care of herself, is up-to-date on her immunizations, takes her medications, makes it to her doctor appointments and does her own self-care. Her health is not perfect, but her physical health is reasonably balanced.

Under the circumstances, it would be easy for Kate to cave in to the physical challenges she continues to face. Instead, she works hard to keep emotionally, relationally and spiritually healthy. Her ability to do what it takes to be as physically healthy as possible is strongly dependent upon the other three areas of health.

Does your child face difficult physical challenges? Don’t give up on the notion of helping him become highly healthy. With encouragement and support, the child with physical limitations can accomplish feats thought to be impossible for him. And there’s much more to being a substantive human being than having a near-perfect body. The activity of the mind and soul are more central to being highly healthy than physical health itself. Kate says, “A healthy child is one who is not only physically healthy—exercises, eats the right amount of each food group (including a little chocolate thrown in now and then)—but is also emotionally and spiritually healthy.” Those are words to live by, Kate.

Curbing Appetites in Children

My attention was caught by a newspaper headline which read, “Appetite-curbing hormone found to cut calorie intake 30%.” The research which triggered this headline was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Sept. 4, 2003. London researchers injected volunteers with a hormone called YY3-36, or PYY for short and it seemed to work. Recipients ate less for the next 24 hours.

Now we may have, potentially at least, another tool to battle the epidemic of obesity. However, there are far more questions than answers related to this new “kid on the block.” And, more and more hunger-squashing products are on the horizon.

In my opinion, the answer does not lie in pills. Genetics cannot be changed. One can try a diet. There are many diets currently to choose from, each claiming to have the correct recipe for success. Or, one can focus more on exercise. Surgery to change the gastrointestinal tract’s anatomy is a last, ultimate and desperate choice, and this has almost no place in managing young obese children.

I am privileged to have trained at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston at their Weigh of Life Program. It was there that I learned a valuable lesson: the long-term answer for weight issues lies in lifestyle changes.

Here are a few key thoughts regarding those changes:

  • Make daily activity for 30 minutes your goal, all year round. It should be convenient, consistent, and comfortable.
  • The child should moderately exert themselves, and should get their heart rate and breathing rate significantly increased during the activity.
  • Do the activities with the child; have a fixed time to do it.
  • Reduce the amount of C-foods: cookies, coke, candy, cheese, crackers and chocolates.
  • Eat only in one place and eat slowly. Increase the amount of protein, and have protein with every meal.
  • Take the TV out of the bedroom.
  • Journal all your child’s physical activities and nutritional habits.

There are many more points to cover, but the key message here is to avoid disappointment — the answer will never come from a pill or an injection that makes you eat less! Exercise is one of the key tools when it comes to winning the war. So, dust off those running shoes, get sweaty and do it today. Don’t wait to start next week or next month. The best time is now.

Abdominal Pain in Children

Most pediatricians enjoy looking after children. In order to be a good pediatrician, one has to have the same qualities necessary of a good parent, and patience tops the list. When it comes to looking after a child with chronic abdominal pain, a big dose of patience may be required.

Just how common is chronic abdominal pain in children? It is common enough that an average-sized pediatric practice sees at least one child who suffers from it every few days. These patients tend to be females in their preteen years; they are oftentimes driven perfectionists and have sensitive personalities. The problem may get so bad that the child misses school, drops out of extracurricular activities, sees more than one specialist, tries alternative remedies out of sheer frustration and becomes worse instead of better. The stress this condition places on the family, the school, marital harmony and the child is somewhat like shelves buckling under the heavy weight of too many books.

The diagnosis of a child with recurrent abdominal pain, sometimes described as functional abdominal pain, may only be made after a thorough exam and assessment. A parent may be asked to help by paying close attention to the child’s symptom pattern — possibly keeping a diary of symptoms and behaviors. Experts from the academic world tell us that this type of abdominal pain can be followed over time in a regular, calm, reassuring fashion. However, the diagnosis of recurrent abdominal pain does not typically include these symptoms:

  • Loss of weight
  • Vomiting on a consistent basis
  • Regular nightime symptoms severe enough to wake the child up
  • Blood in the stool

This childhood condition is fascinating, because it illustrates how the body and mind can interact. For example, why does our gastrointestinal tract often take center stage when we are under stress? Why not the big toe? Why not the earlobe? We do not know conclusively why functional abdominal pain occurs. My academic colleagues are still looking for the “smoking gun” and probably will continue to add to an already impressive list of possible reasons and theories. Certain conditions seem to potentially worsen this troublesome abdominal pain, however: constipation, a low fiber diet, a teacher who is harsh, divorce in the family, a demanding athletic coach or music teacher, bullying, or a perfectionist attitude in either the patient or her parents.

Where can parents find help when this painful challenge starts to toss the family against the rocks? It helps to have a caring and supportive physician, but that in itself is rarely enough. Education may be your most important resource. Further reading is recommended and a number of good books are available. And, you may want to consider going to a pain specialist and/or a psychologist.

With the recent media attention given to appendicitis and how a missed diagnosis may often lead to complications, it comes as no surprise that a diligent parent would be worried about a misdiagnosed appendicitis. Just remember that the pain associated with appendicitis rarely comes and goes. Instead, it tends to get progressively worse and it is usually associated with other symptoms such as vomiting, fever, loss of appetite or pain over the area where the appendix is located (half-way between the belly button and the right hip bone).

In medicine, we are taught to never say never. Yet, I personally have never seen a child with chronic abdominal pain whose symptoms cannot be followed closely, and with reassurance — as long as there is no vomiting, nighttime symptoms, blood in the stool or weight loss. If these other symptoms are present, then these children need further testing and examinations, but if they are not, the child can usually be managed in a firm, but supportive and caring way. The children should not be allowed to use their symptoms, unfortunate as they may be, to manipulate those around them.

Finally, my advice to parents is that they should always try to do their best and be patient. A doctor may never be able to do what time often offers a child with recurrent abdominal pain: healing.

Surviving and Thriving with Your A.D.D. Child

For a psychologist who treats children and adolescents, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), is an everyday concern. Recent statistics indicate that as many as 50% of children currently presented for mental health services may be affected by attentional problems. Moreover, ADD can be a difficult disorder to accurately diagnose and to effectively treat. Other childhood problems may impair functioning in only a few areas. However, ADD involves an inherited neurological defect that has the potential to hinder growth and development in all areas of life. My goal, for all ADD children that I treat, is to help them not simply survive their disorder, but to thrive, in spite of it.

Healthy development, in spite of ADD, involves several steps. The first is to understand that ADD is a biologically determined difficulty. Current medical technology allows us to take pictures of the brain. These images document diminished blood flow and reduced electrical activity in the frontal lobe of persons diagnosed with ADD. This disorder is not the result of poor child rearing practices or a child who simply insists on being naughty. Many parents spend so much time blaming themselves or their child, they have little energy left to cope with the disorder itself. Being clear on the origins of ADD helps to minimize unnecessary and unproductive guilt.

A second way children with ADD thrive is when they receive the maximum of health care resources, not the minimum. A thorough assessment of the child’s symptoms, behavior and functioning is needed. Moreover, such assessment needs to take place over multiple settings and situations, not in a five minute behavior sample in a physician’s office. It is also quite common for children with ADD to have additional diagnosis, e.g., learning disabilities. In addition to making sure the diagnosis of ADD is accurate, any additional disorders need to be identified and treated as well. Lastly, parents need to search for a physician who is invested in ADD patients and who is willing to do long term tinkering with their medications. Children change and grow and so do their medication needs.

A third area to look at is educational resources. All children with ADD need some special consideration, e.g., being able to take medication at school. Many ADD children, however, will require the maximum amount of special accommodations in order to thrive. These special helps include, but are not limited to, such things as resource room time, tutoring, front row seating, oral testing, text books on tape, homework charts and positive behavior contracts. Unfortunately, many schools, even good ones, will not automatically provide special help. Parents may have to become strong and assertive advocates to obtain needed accommodations for their child.

The fourth way in which ADD children can succeed is through parenting which accepts their handicap, and yet tries to maximize their potential. Parents must recognize, for example, that ADD may delay your child’s developmental growth by as much as 30%. A child may be nine years old chronologically, but function as a six or seven year old in reality. Expectations for that child will need to be adjusted accordingly. I frequently tell parents, “God has assigned you a long term, high maintenance project. The road can be rough, but the reward great.” One way for parents to make it down that “rough road” is to join a support group for families coping with ADD. This can help parents understand their child better as well as obtain much needed support for themselves. A church-based ADD support group and/or the local chapter of CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder) is usually a good place to start. In addition, bookstores, public libraries, the internet and ADD organizations all have a wealth of information and resources for helping children with ADD in the areas noted above. Understanding and utilizing this information can help both parent and child to thrive.

In closing, what kind of rewards might godly parents seeking to raise godly “special needs” children expect? All children are vulnerable, and in need of care, and ADD children even more so. In one of my favorite passages, Matthew 25, Jesus gives us an idea of how He views our acts of service to those who need our help. Although the passage focuses specifically on needy, persecuted believers living close to the time of Christ’s return, I believe there is a more general principle taught as well. Jesus states that the lovingkindness and care believers show to others, more needy and vulnerable than themselves, He considers as if done to Him. “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these…ye have done it unto Me.” Take heart, parents of ADD children, Christ Himself is in charge of the ledger books on this one!

Characteristics and Causes of A.D.D./A.D.H.D.

Attention disorders may be one of the most prevalent problems of childhood. Three to five percent of the child population (roughly 2 million school-aged children) has some type of attention disorder—or one attention disorder child per classroom. What’s going on?

While professional debate continues on the exact characteristics of attention disorders, clinical research strongly suggests that people suffering from inattention fall into two categories—those who are hyperactive and those who are not. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) consists of motor hyperactivity and impulsive behavior, while Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) is characterized by inattention, disorganization and difficulty in completing tasks.

ADHD children behave in an impulsive and aggressive way. They often seem guiltless, are unpopular and perform poorly in school. They have little self-control and are very impulsive, noisy, disruptive, messy, irresponsible and immature for their age. If the image of “Dennis the Menace” comes to mind, you’ve got the picture.

In contrast, ADD children tend to be anxious, shy, socially withdrawn and somewhat unpopular. They tend to perform poorly in sports and in school, and often daydream and stare into space. They forget daily activities and are sluggish and drowsy. Terms like “space cadet” and “couch potato” fit well. But they are less aggressive, impulsive and hyperactive than ADHD children and have fewer relational problems, as well.

While all children on occasion will be impulsive or “hyper,” kids with attention disorders exhibit these characteristics all the time. They “misbehave” everywhere—school, church, grandma’s, the grocery store and home.

Diagnosing attention deficit disorders can be tricky. There is a big difference between suspecting a child has an attention problem and knowing for sure that the child has ADHD or ADD. Proper diagnosis and treatment by a competent professional is important for the long-term well-being of your child and your family. The following information is provided to help you determine whether you should seek professional help or if your child is merely tightly-wound and squirmy. For the sake of ease, the abbreviation ADD will be used for all types of attention disorders, unless a specific reference is being made.

Characteristics of ADD

Most experts agree that four characteristics or tendencies identify attention deficit disorders.

  • Inattention and distractibility. An ADD child has a difficult time focusing on the task at hand and sticking to it—he usually ends up daydreaming. He cannot concentrate on schoolwork or anything that requires sustained attention. Following through on instruction and completing a task is almost an impossibility, especially if the instructions involve multiple steps; and he gives the impression of not listening. But even more frustrating for the parent or teacher is this child’s ability to pay attention in certain circumstances, like when watching TV or playing video games. He may also shape up while at the doctor’s office or one-on-one with an adult. This adds to the problem. When parents and teachers see the child paying attention in one situation, they tend to conclude that he simply does not try in others, like when asked to do chores or follow instructions. The heart of understanding attention disorders is determining how much of the attentional choosing is conscious, and how much is biochemically determined. The problem is regulation of focus and attention.
  • Overarousal or hyperactivity. Some ADD children are excessively restless, overactive and easily aroused. This affects their emotions and body movement. It is important to remember that while hyperactivity used to be the primary description in attention disorders, it actually occurs in less than 30 percent of children who have ADD. (Sometimes hyperactivity is used to refer to the entire syndrome of attention disorders. Other times the term only describes overarousal. Keep these different uses in mind as you read various books and articles about ADD.) Hyperactive children have a tough time controlling their body movement, especially when they are required to sit still for a long time. This ranges from minor fidgeting to perpetual motion. Some hyperactive children also have restless sleep patterns. These kids are rarely focused—they will move from one thing to the next with little purpose. While a trip to the grocery store might be a mild adventure, a stop at the toy store can turn into an absolute disaster. Emotional variation also comes into play. An ADD child’s emotions fluctuate quickly, going from one extreme to the other. Whether they are happy or sad, the child’s feelings are expressed for everyone to notice. He may become very frustrated over a minor incident. But chances are he will forget the upsetting event just as quickly. This can be frustrating to a parent who is still bothered by the outburst and doesn’t understand why the child is no longer upset. This leads to the assumption that ADD children lack a conscience. But that’s untrue—they’ve just moved on to other thoughts and have put the outburst behind them.
  • Impulsivity. ADD children appear not to think before they act and have trouble weighing the consequences of their choices. They just can’t seem to wait—everything has to happen NOW. In young children, this may result in injury—an ADD child often literally leaps before he looks. He may jump off the back of the couch because it looks like fun, but not have the coordination to land safely. He may also fight frequently with his friends because of impulsive words and actions. He wants to be in charge socially because his dominance will prevent him from being bored; but his peers often find his aggressiveness irritating. In school, ADD children constantly interrupt the teacher, jumping up to answer a question before it is even asked. They tend to work impulsively, jotting down answers without thinking through the problems or thoroughly reading questions. You can often reason one-on-one with these children, with them logically analyzing the consequences of their actions. But put them back in the real world and they seem overwhelmed, resuming to act first and think later. ADD children have a lot of trouble following rules. They may know the rules and even be able to explain them. But 10 minutes later, when a parent or teacher isn’t looking, they are “at it” again. Their need for immediate gratification, coupled with the inability to stop and think, leads to impetuous non-thinking behavior. And from all appearances, these children just don’t seem to “get it.” Thus, they are often labeled willfully disobedient, inconsiderate and oppositional.Attention deficit disorder is not a problem of knowing what to do, it is a problem of not doing what the child knows.*
  • Difficulty with rewards. ADD children have problems working toward a long-term goal. They often want brief, repeated payoffs rather than a single, delayed reward. They want what they want right away, and even with repeated rewards, they do not respond to incentives as well as other children their age. And once the reward system is removed, the ADD child is likely to regress. Punishment also seems to have a limited effect on the child’s behavior. A scolding will usually work on the child’s behavior for only a few minutes before the misbehavior continues.
  • Difficulty with social skills. Many ADD children and teens misread social cues.
    This can affect the development of healthy interpersonal skills, leading to frustration and inappropriate or withdrawn behavior.

Causes and sources of ADD

Although ADD continues to be one of the most thoroughly researched conditions of childhood, its exact causes are still not known. The neurochemical abnormalities that might underlie this disorder are difficult to document though research suggests that ADD has a biological basis. Many ADD children seem to arrive in the world with temperaments that leave them difficult to manage. Part of this predisposition may very well be inherited—very often kids are described as “a chip off the old block.”

But take heart. The symptoms of ADD are not externally created by parents. A child’s attentional problems do not result from faulty discipline. While it is true that parental frustration and negative reactions toward your child can aggravate the problem, guilt, anger and resentment can hurt a parent’s relationship with his child and hinder effective treatment. A nurturing home with clear and consistent structure is crucial to the treatment of ADD children. And while environmental conditions can play a role, the effects of changes in diet and other similar things show up more on an individual basis than in large numbers. There is very little evidence that ADD arises purely out of social or environmental factors, like dysfunctional families, vitamin deficiency, excessive amounts of sugar, lead poisoning, fluorescent lighting or faulty parenting.

Does my child suffer from ADD?

There is no simple test that determines a child has ADD. Diagnosis is a complicated process that requires the skill of a psychologist, psychiatrist, pediatrician or pediatric neurologist. A proper diagnosis orients the child and his parents or caregivers to the nature of his difficulties by providing information about his strengths and weaknesses, and any situations that would be particularly troublesome for him. It should also reveal his academic abilities, enabling him to get the most out of school.

Perhaps even more important, it is crucial to determine the presence of other problems—learning disabilities, mood disorder, anxiety disorder, conduct disorder, poor socialization, disruptive family relationships—and the evaluation will do this, as well. Treatment can then be appropriately provided for all of the child’s concerns.

Treatment of A.D.H.D.

If you find out your child has ADHD, don’t be in too big a rush to run out and make all sorts of changes. First, take some time to process your own feelings and reactions. Let God know how you feel and talk to some trusted friends or family members. There is “a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:4). There is every reason to have hope, but before you can start helping your child, you need a little time to come to peace with your own questions and reactions.

Remember that there are no quick fixes for attention disorders. In spite of claims to the contrary, special diets, electronic gadgets, or singular environmental alterations have not been proven to be helpful with significant numbers of ADHD children. The good news, however, is that there are many strategies and procedures that can improve your child’s behavior, self-esteem and overall quality of life. Here are five categories of interventions, each with some specific suggestions:

Understanding and parenting an ADHD child

Effectively parenting an ADHD child begins by increasing your understanding of ADHD. Books, tapes, seminars, support groups, and professional educators and mental health professionals are sources of information to help you broaden your awareness of how ADHD impacts your child’s behavior. Here are 12 specific tips for successfully parenting your ADHD child:

  • Provide consistency and structure. Above all, ADHD children need clear structure, definite descriptions of what they are being asked to do, specific consequences for their behavior, and consistent enforcement of these principles. They need an organized environment where the demands are clearly identified ahead of time. Surprises and the unexpected mean trouble. Try to keep daily events like bedtime, meals, and homework on a definite schedule. Be firm about limits and enforce them consistently. Limit the amount of TV since that brings even more distracting stimuli. Lots of rewards and praise for successful and appropriate behavior are also especially important.
  • Be sensitive to your child. Most children will be confused, discouraged, or upset when they learn their ADHD diagnosis. They might think there is something terribly wrong with their bodies or brains. Or they may want to use their diagnosis as an excuse, saying, “I can’t help myself. I have ADHD.” Just like you, they will need time to adjust to the diagnosis. Your child needs a lot of special understanding and encouragement at this time. Although most children feel relieved, because now they know why they have struggled so much, they will also need hope for their future.
  • Explain ADHD simply. One of your most difficult tasks is to explain ADHD to your child. Without an explanation he will conclude he is either “bad,” “dumb,” or “inferior.” He needs to know that you realize he has a difficult time sitting still, stifling interruptions, and keeping his mind on a job; he needs to know his academic problems are not his fault. Tell him you know he is doing the best he can, but that he has a problem which makes it hard for him to concentrate and get his work done.
  • Phrase your explanation in word pictures your child can understand. Tell him that every person is unique and that we all have strengths and weaknesses. Some people have vision problems so that they can’t see very well. These people wear glasses to allow them to view their world more clearly. Other kids have teeth that need straightening. They wear braces and retainers to correct their teeth so they can eat correctly, play the horn, or whistle.
  • Let your child know he is not the only one with this problem. There are lots of others in his school who also have attention deficit. If someone else in his extended family has the same problem, share this fact also. Let him know there are many parents, teachers, and very successful people who have attention problems.
  • Focus on what your child can do, not on his or her limitations. Your child may have difficulty concentrating while reading to himself, but does much better when listening to someone read aloud. Rather than force silent reading, which leads to frustration, let your child learn new information by reading to him, listening to a book on tape, or watching a videotape.
  • Remember the big picture. Schoolwork is important, but a child’s emotional and social adjustment and love for God are more important. Be thankful for all the things that are going well in these parts of your child’s life.
  • Teach and show by your life that mistakes don’t equal failure. An ADHD child may tend to see his or her mistakes as huge failures. You can model, through good-humored acceptance of your own mistakes, that errors can be useful and can lead to new solutions. Mistakes and problems are not the end of the world.
  • Communicate that this is a team effort. Yes, your child has to take responsibility for doing his or her chores, completing homework, and putting out his or her best effort. However, your child is not in this alone. Everyone will work together to make school and home life as successful as possible.
  • Pray together and work on projects as a family. Emphasize family traditions, stories, and legacies to help keep the problem of attention deficit in perspective. In the larger scheme of things, family, faith, and loving relationships are truly what is important.
  • Do not compare your child with his or her brothers and sisters or classmates. Accept your ADHD child as s/he is. Be the best cheerleader your child will ever see!
  • Take care of yourself. Most ADHD children are high-maintenance kids. The constant advocacy, attention to details, remediation efforts and patience needed for a child with attention disorders can easily wear you down. There will be days when you are at your wit’s end and you will feel like giving up and trading in the family minivan for a one-way ticket to New Zealand! Find time for yourself. Talk with a friend and maintain your sense of humor. Laughter is good for the soul. Your home needs to be safe, supportive, and fun. Do all you can to become that kind of parent and your child can learn to feel great about himself in spite of his attention problem!

Teaching self-control and social behavior

Once you have the basic parenting principles down, it’s time to help your child develop better social skills and self control. While most children can sit through a meal without a major incident, an ADHD child will wiggle, rock, and squirm his way from appetizer to desert. And while most children can consciously focus their attention and resist the urge to move around, your ADHD youngster must learn how to do this. Let him know that he can still choose his behavior. It’s just a little harder for him than for his siblings or friends. And he will need your help to do it.

ADHD children need very specific, step-by-step instructions on how to control their actions. It will help if you can enlist the aid of your child’s teachers, school bus drivers, and recess monitors. Instruction in self-control in one situation will not carry over to a new setting unless the child’s caretakers are very involved in the effort. Learn how to communicate your child’s problem to others in simple, practical terms and ask them to help you set limits and teach your child self control. You can also use games and activities like Statue and Beat the Clock to help your child learn to ignore distractions and develop impulse control. (For more details on these activities, see Dr. Martin’s book What You Need to Know About Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder — Facts, Myths, and Treatment.)

Since the majority of ADHD children have experienced some social problems, immaturity or aggression, you will probably also need to help your child develop better social skills. Two of the major goals of social skills training are that ADHD children will become more knowledgeable about appropriate and inappropriate social behavior, and that they will learn how to behave in socially sensitive ways with their peers and classmates. Many schools and clinics provide social skill training that can be a great help to ADHD children. These programs usually help children learn (1) how to enter or begin a social interaction, (2) conversational skills, (3) conflict resolution and problem solving, and (4) anger management.

Seeking medical support

More children receive medication to manage ADHD than any other childhood disorder. And more research has been conducted on the effects of stimulant medications on the functioning of children with ADHD than any other treatment modality for any childhood disorder. Unfortunately, a great deal of misinformation has been perpetuated by the sensationalist, popular press. This extensive research, however, helps us to be fairly definitive about the benefits and liabilities of medication.

In general, we can say medication intervention is a significant help to ADHD children. Between 70-80 percent of children with ADHD respond positively to medication. Attention span, impulsivity and on-task behaviors improve, especially in structured environments. Some children also demonstrate improvements in frustration tolerance, compliance and even handwriting. Relationships with parents, peers and teachers may also improve. Medication will not make your child behave perfectly, nor will it make him smarter. What it can do is reduce many of your child’s attention difficulties so that he can tackle his problems more successfully.

Recently, the National Institute of Mental Health released the Multimodal Treatment Study of Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (MTA). This study is the longest and most thorough study ever completed comparing treatments for ADHD. The study found that medication in combination with intensive behavioral therapy was significantly superior to all other types of treatment.

Although medication alone was found to be more effective than intensive behavioral treatment alone, the combination of the two was necessary to produce a variety of improvements, and also led to the use of somewhat lower dosages of medication. Also, for the improvement of social skills and anger management, behavioral treatment was found to be very beneficial and necessary. Medication alone, in other words, does not help a child make friends or know how to resolve conflict in appropriate ways.

The primary benefits of the combined use of medication and therapy are improvement of the core problems of ADHD — hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattentiveness. Attention span seems to improve and there is a reduction of disruptive, inappropriate and impulsive behavior. Compliance with authority of figures is increased, and children’s peer relations may also improve, primarily through reduction in aggression. If the dosage is carefully monitored and adjusted, medication has been found to enhance academic performance. Medication by itself will not rectify learning disabilities. If a child has visual or auditory processing deficits, for example, medication will probably not change the learning problem. But it may well help your child pay better attention, so that he can better apply his educational instructions.

The most important finding to emerge from the vast amounts of research about ADHD is that no one treatment approach is successful alone. Neither medical, behavioral, psychological nor educational intervention is adequate by itself. We must be conscious of treating the whole child or adolescent.

Some parents feel guilty about having their child take medication because they mistakenly think they are tranquilizing him. This is simply not true. Medication actually helps stimulate the parts of the brain that are needed to concentrate. The decrease in external movement does not mean he has been tranquilized. It means he is able to focus more effectively.

All medical decisions, of course, need to be based on the comparison of the benefits and alternative treatments available, and any possible side effects. Although your physician can give you more details, here are a few of the possible side effects of medication.

The primary side effects noted for stimulant medication are insomnia, anorexia or loss of appetite, weight loss and irritability. Most of these appear at the beginning of treatment and only last for about a few weeks.

Appetite suppression is another possible side effect. Your child may be less hungry for a time. This affect may be less noticeable if the drugs are taken with or after meals, as the effects wear off before the next meal. Adjusting the dosage can usually alleviate this symptom over a week or two.

Other mild, but less common side effects, can include sadness, depression, fearfulness, social withdrawal, sleepiness, headaches, nail biting, and stomach upset. These symptoms will usually resolve spontaneously with a decrease in dosage. Some of these symptoms are mild and can be considered acceptable side effects in light of clinical improvement. You and your child’s physician will need to make the decision regarding the advantages of decreased distractibility versus side effects such as nail biting. Alternatively, a trial of a different medication can be initiated.

There are no reported cases of addiction or serious drug dependence to date with these medications. Studies have also examined the question of whether children on these drugs are more likely to abuse other substances as teenagers, compared to children not taking stimulant medications. Recent studies document a decreased risk of later substance abuse if ADHD children are treated for their condition.

Another possible long-term side effect that has been considered has been the suppression of height and weight gain. Presently, it is believed that suppression in growth is a relatively transient side effect of the first year or so of treatment and has no significant effect on eventual adult height and weight for most children. However, suppression of growth is a problem for a very small percentage of children. It is wise for your physician to monitor your child’s growth while they are receiving stimulant medications.

In ending this section, remember that medication is never the sole treatment program for ADHD. What you do after the start of medication, and the other therapy and training he receives along with the medication will determine the lasting benefits. Medication is a very important aspect of a balanced treatment, but it cannot do it all.

Ensuring appropriate educational assistance

It’s no wonder an ADHD student has problems with school. Nowhere else is your child required to concentrate so long in the face of so many powerful distracters. Students must learn class routines, conform to teachers’ rules and inhibit their impulses to do otherwise. And they must control their body movements, maintain an appropriate level of arousal and delay gratification until report cards are issued. You can see why the ADHD child experiences so much frustration and failure at school. This also explains why it is often the classroom teacher who raises questions that bring about referrals for an evaluation for ADHD.

Unfortunately, while the teacher knows your child has a problem, he or she may not realize the problem is ADHD and may not know what to do about it. Consequently, it may be up to you to initiate a thorough assessment and treatment plan, including seeing that some modifications are made in your child’s learning environment.

Here are a few guidelines for making educational interventions with your child:

  • Be sure your child’s school staff accepts the legitimacy of ADHD.
  • See that your child is in a classroom that is structured and predictable, but not punitive or sterile. The ADHD student needs clear rules and consistent scheduling. Assignments should be clearly communicated, both to the child and to the parent. Instruction should be stimulating, clear, and uncomplicated.
  • Distractions should be minimal. This may mean seating your ADHD child close to the teacher and away from obvious distracters such as windows, active classmates, gerbil cages or pencil sharpeners.
  • Immediate and frequent feedback is required. Your child will periodically need to be given directions or instructions so that long periods of unproductive activity are minimized.
  • The ADHD student needs both verbal and tangible positive consequences for attention to tasks and completing assignments. Other meaningful positive and negative consequences will be needed to assist the student in learning appropriate classroom behavior.
  • Directions and instructions must be clear, concrete and concise. Give only a few directions at a time and use as much visual, auditory and hands on demonstration as possible.
  • The curriculum needs to be adjusted to allow the ADHD student to be successful. This is done by modifying the instruction methods to accommodate the child’s difficulty in paying attention and concentrating. Help with organizational skills is necessary. Some flexibility is needed to allow for the student’s low frustration tolerance. Assignments may need to be shortened. Computers can be used to compensate for poor handwriting ability. Assignments might be divided into smaller parts to help the student feel successful and to give more frequent opportunity for feedback.
  • It is crucial for the entire team of educators, mental health professionals, medical personnel, and parents to maintain regular communication. Everyone must work together toward the common goal of ensuring your student the best educational experience possible.
  • Maintain an advocate status with your child’s school. There are many other students to take up the school personnel’s time. Don’t wait for the six-week progress reports. Become very familiar with your child’s teacher and the classroom routine. Be courteous and tactful, but maintain a constant vigil on your child’s behalf.

Legal rights of ADHD students

The Federal Government has established several provisions that affect the education of children with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. One of these is the Individual’s with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and the other is Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. These laws require schools to make modifications or adaptations for students whose ADHD results in significant educational impairment. Qualifying children with ADHD must be placed in a regular classroom to the maximum extent appropriate to their educational needs, but they must also receive supplemental aids and services, if necessary.

Sustaining spiritual support

Not long ago a little boy with ADD asked his mother, “Mom, why can’t something be wrong with my arm and not my brain?” Later he added, “My broken arm will get better but you can’t fix my brain.”

You may have had the same kind of questions, along with, “Why my child?” or “Why would God allow this to happen?” I certainly don’t have the answers to these “why?” questions any more than I would claim to understand the mind and long range plans of God.

I do, however, believe ADHD children have potential to live very creative and fulfilled lives. There is every reason to be optimistic about their abilities to mature, yield fruit in season and prosper in whatever they do (Psalm 1:3).

Parenting is difficult with any child, and even more challenging for a child with special needs. That is why the spiritual resources of a Christian parent can make all the difference in the world. You don’t face this task with only your own strength and understanding. You have God’s promises of direction and power.

Pray regularly for your child. God has made some rather remarkable promises – He will answer our prayers (Mark 11:24); God has never failed to keep His promises (1 Kings 8:56). He does not lie. Remember these promises and claim them as you pray for and parent your ADHD child. God will not miraculously remove your child’s ADHD, but He will help you grow in patience, sensitivity and other parenting skills.

If part of God’s purpose is to help a parent develop patience and long-suffering, then blessing you with a child who has attention deficit is a guaranteed way to meet that goal! And, if parenting any child is worth a college education, then raising an ADD child should give you a Ph.D.! The task is continuous and the challenge is great. Put a solid spiritual foundation gives the Christian father and mother additional resources and a basis for hope even when some progress reports will be temporarily discouraging. God can provide encouragement and guidance for you and your child. And He can lead you and your child to rich, rewarding and successful lives.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3: 5-6). These verses capture the essence of every parent’s need.

A.D.D./A.D.H.D.: A Reason to Hope

I gave my son a goodnight peck on the forehead, left his room and headed for the kitchen. Though I hated to admit it, I needed to follow up on his chores. Discouragement flowed over me anew as I paused in the doorway. Crumbs littered the counter, and a streak of jelly meandered from a gooey knife. Poking from a lower cupboard, a box of sandwich bags served as a doorstop. Tipped against the open cookie jar, a forgotten bag of chips reminded me that all meals were not created equal.

I sighed in frustration. Why would a boy who had mastered his ABCs by age 2 struggle at 14 to put together a couple of sack lunches?

Incidents like this had slowly transformed our home into a place of defeat. My husband and I constantly wrestled with our approach to parenting and besieged each other with questions. Were these occurrences our fault or due to Jason’s poor choices? Was this a case of “I won’t” or “I can’t”? We simply didn’t know, and our anger and annoyance were increasing.

Why did Jason persistently fail to help out around the house? Was he just plain lazy? How would he ever make it in life if he couldn’t manage a few chores and some homework? And why were none of our lectures, constant reminders, rewards and punishments bringing about lasting improvement? Maybe it was just a phase, but we also had certain expectations.

Then panic set in. Jason was failing his first semester of high school.

As it so often does, in our dark moment, light appeared. We discovered the answer that had long eluded us as we struggled to understand what was happening to our son. The underlying cause for Jason’s troubles, and ours, was a neurobiological condition called Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).

ADD and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are believed to be caused by malfunctioning neurotransmitters in the brain. ADD and ADHD affect an estimated four percent to 12 percent of America’s schoolchildren—as many as 3.8 million. And while families may be reluctant to consider ADD as the reason for home and school problems during the teenage years, those who are willing to pursue a diagnosis and treatment may experience dramatic changes. We did.

Before Jason’s diagnosis, his chronic forgetfulness, lack of perseverance and self-enforced isolation were sucking the joy out of his final years at home. After discovering and treating his ADD, his self-confidence returned, his interest in college and career resurfaced and he smiled a lot more. We had missed that.

Undiagnosed until high school

Many children with ADD are tested and diagnosed in their early school years. In our case — largely because Jason had a laid-back personality, maintained straight A’s until he reached seventh grade and spent long hours in front of the computer — we were blinded to the possibility that he might have trouble staying focused on tasks.

Beginning in seventh grade, however, Jason’s academic performance deteriorated steadily, and by Jason’s freshman year in high school, my husband and I were no longer shocked to see D’s and F’s on Jason’s progress reports. Missing assignments, forgotten books and low test scores became the norm. Teacher conferences confirmed what we already knew: Jason was not performing anywhere near his potential.

At home, Jason never remembered his chores, rarely completed them according to our expectations and had adopted “don’t worry” as his standard response to every attempt on our part to discuss what was going on. We had a feeling his trite motto was thinly covering his own deep concern about the way things were progressing.

One day on the Internet, a story linking ADHD with giftedness caught my eye. Surprisingly, similarities exist between the behaviors identified with ADHD and those typical of bright, talented, creative children. While I knew Jason was not hyperactive, his early school performance had convinced me he was very bright. Eagerly I searched one Web site after another about attention deficit disorders. The more I read, the more I wondered if we were living with the symptoms of an attention problem. I even printed out one person’s testimony and showed it to Jason. He was so discouraged at that point he read it reluctantly. His half-hearted response, “Yeah, that’s pretty much how I feel,” became a glimmer of hope as we called our doctor.

Armed with recommendations from our physician and friends, we prayerfully chose a psychologist to test Jason. The evaluation included parent, teacher and counselor observations; intellectual, academic achievement and attention testing; and a review of Jason’s school records.

On the day we met with the psychologist to receive the diagnosis, both my husband and I were anxious but hopeful. Perhaps we were about to discover the key to helping our son. We were also torn. In a way, we hoped he wouldn’t have a disorder he’d be required to manage throughout life. But on the other hand, if he did have ADD, perhaps with treatment he would improve and regain what he had lost personally, academically and socially. When the psychologist confirmed Jason’s ADD, we were relieved.

Choosing to medicate

The decision whether to use medication to manage ADD can be difficult and can be chosen only case by case. Psychostimulant drugs, used because they enhance neurotransmitter function, are typically taken for years, and their long-term effects are unknown. Still, we chose to give medication a try.

Our physician recommended Adderall, which Jason takes before and after school, and although he’s had no problems with the drug, he is re-evaluated twice a year. The psychologist who tested him for ADD has been helping him with organizational and self-confidence issues associated with his being undiagnosed for so long.

His teachers are part of the solution as well. We chose to inform them of Jason’s ADD, soliciting their input regarding his in-class performance while on medication. Their e-mails reveal their enthusiasm for the changes they are observing and their willingness to help.

Since we know that some people show little or no improvement with medical therapy, we were thrilled when Jason’s response to Adderall was both immediate and positive. “It’s like putting on the right pair of glasses after having blurred vision for years,” he said after just two days on his medication. If he misses a dose, he says he feels fuzzy.

Relief and joy

Our lives are quite different from the norm before Jason’s diagnosis. His report cards contain all A’s and B’s. His chores are done thoroughly and willingly. He remembers to wear his dental retainers and take his lunch when he heads out the door. His teachers report no missing assignments, and his cooperative attitude is greatly appreciated by his brother, father and me, as well as those at school.

We are seeing exciting social changes as well. Jason’s more attentive persona seems to be facilitating new friendships with both guys and gals. He’s again attending youth group and learning to play golf. He’s decided to take a summer school math class in order to be eligible for computer programming. And, because his grades and attitudes demonstrate responsibility, we are gladly allowing him to get his driver’s license.

Discovering Jason’s ADD has enabled each of us to enjoy his teen years and anticipate great things ahead as God shows him, and us, the unique purposes for which Jason was created.

The lunches? I still check them sometimes. Old habits die hard, I guess. But now I do so with great anticipation. There they are — packed and waiting, side by side on the second shelf of the refrigerator. The kitchen? No more jelly streaks on the counter. The place looks like a home décor photo from a women’s magazine. Well, almost.

Copyright © 2001 Cynthia Schnereger. Used by permission. This article first appeared in the September, 2001 issue of Focus on the Family magazine.

Life Counseling Center LLC. | 2021