First, educate yourself on the child’s diagnosis. Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) often have difficulty concentrating on tasks, paying attention and sitting still. Some kids may be hyperactive or prone to impulsive, even violent behavior as they struggle to communicate and deal with their emotions. These behaviors often make it difficult for them to function at school, get along with their peers and can create conflict at home. It can be hard to witness, but there are many ways you can be a positive influence. I have found the Child Mind Institute to be a very reputable resource for information on behavioral health and strategies for helping children and families cope and grow.
A recent article in The Boston Globe written by the mother of a child with ADHD shared a very poignant description, “his brain’s in the fast lane, always.” The mother cites Dr. Edward Hallowell, a psychiatrist and founder of the Hallowell Centers for Cognitive and Emotional Health who tells kids, “You have a Ferrari engine for a brain, but you’ve got bicycle brakes. If you don’t strengthen your brakes, you’re going to spin out and crash.” And while we think of kids with ADHD as distractible, impulsive and hyperactive, he recommends redefining these as curious, creative and energetic.
Imagine from the child’s perspective, “what did I do wrong?” While behavior may be obvious to others, young kids with ADHD lack self-awareness. Setting boundaries and redirection should be consistent and firm, yet gentle. And while kids with ADHD may seem to seek and oftentimes generate lots of attention, they are hard on themselves and lack self-esteem. According to experts, involving your child or grandchild in their plan for discipline and/or learning environment can result in a more positive response to managing moods and controlling behavior.
Once you understand the grandchild’s condition, it’s important to get on the same page as the parents, so you understand your grandchild’s specific challenges and any triggers that might lead to outbursts or frustrations. Additionally, everyone must understand the best approach to manage the child’s needs and behavior so that parents, grandparents and other caregivers are consistent and can best support the child, and each other.
Finding resources that open up the dialogue with children, siblings and peers can be especially helpful. As a grandparent, child advocate and author, I’m tackling the issues such as ADHD in my new series, The Amazing Ninja Brothers. In each chapter book for middle grade readers, The Amazing Ninja Brothers use special powers to help friends with misunderstood challenges.
The first book in the series, “Entering the Deep Unknown,” focuses on Tommy, a child with ADHD. Approximately 11 percent of children in the U.S. have been diagnosed with ADHD, so those who don’t have ADHD most certainly have friends or classmates who do, making it a highly relevant topic for all children today. “Entering the Deep Unknown” is a fast-paced story that will satisfy a kid’s fascination with superheroes while generating thought and discussion about ADHD.
Grandparents: You can help kids help each other by giving this book to a child or donating several to a library, school or hospital. All net proceeds will go to my Foundation, the Bridge to a Cure Foundation, which has a mission to increase the pace and success of pediatric research by unleashing resources already available today.
Most importantly, always remember that as a grandparent, you have the great privilege of being a wise friend, a playful elder, and the go-to person for your grandkids, uplifting and giving them a sense of safety and stability that they need to thrive and grow.