Ask Our Experts: How to Parent a Child Struggling with ADHD

Parenting itself is a challenge; parenting a child with ADHD or other disorders and conditions can be overwhelming, leaving parents with more questions than answers. According to the CDC, 11% of children ages 4-17 have been diagnosed with ADHD (attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder) as of 2011; that’s 6.4 million children. For ADHD Awareness Month this October, we’ve asked some of our top ADHD and special needs authors to shed some light on how to parent a child struggling with the disorder.

Multiethnic Arms Raised Holding ADHD

What is one of the top misconceptions parents have about raising children with ADHD?

One of the top misconceptions is that there really isn’t much out there to help their kids besides medications, behavioral and cognitive therapy, and school modifications. I feel that there’s far too much reliance upon medications, and not enough is being done to inform parents of all the non-drug options that are out there that can be used to help their kids focus and behave better. Here is just a sample of the non-pharmaceutical strategies I discuss in The Myth of the ADHD Child: meditation, yoga, a diet high in omega oils, avoiding junk food, spending more time in nature, limiting media time, daily physical exercise, expressive arts, family meetings, offering meaningful choices, using music to calm and focus, holding a positive image of your child, showing your child how to self-monitor, teaching emotional self-regulation.

—Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D., author of The Myth of the ADHD Child:  101 Ways to Improve Your Child’s Behavior and Attention Span without Drugs, Labels, or Coercion


How does a change in diet help benefit a child struggling with ADHD?

Because of their brain developmental delays, almost all children with ADHD have issues with their immune system and their digestive system. Many people and health professionals don’t understand the fact that if the brain is out of balance, the other systems may be out of balance as well. When the brain is imbalanced and underactive, this produces a “leaky gut” and reduces the secretion of digestive enzymes and acid in the stomach, leading to countless digestive issues. All of this together leads to food and chemical sensitivities, like gluten, casein or heavy metals etc. Eliminating these foods from the diet and supplying children with vitamins like Vitamin D may help with brain growth and immune balance, which can help reduce this inflammatory response and reduce ADHD symptoms. Ultimately, for long term changes to occur, the brain needs to be reconnected and brought in to balance. Dietary interventions have been shown to be just as effective as medication to reduce symptoms, but neither one of these approaches is the long term solution alone.

—Dr. Robert Melillo, author of The Disconnected Kids Nutrition Plan: Proven Strategies to Enhance Learning and Focus for Children with Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, and Other Neurological Disorders


Parents who learn their child is atypical in some way often struggle with a sense of loss and disappointment, which can also drive a wedge in the relationship with their child. What activity might a parent do to help reconnect with a child struggling with ADHD?

Parents of ADHD children can get exasperated, if not downright frustrated with their child’s behavior. Children with ADHD process information differently, so cultivating a new way to view them is important. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. “Special time”: create daily 20 minutes of time where you are alone with your child, where he or she gets to choose the activity, or just to hang out. Bonding without external distractions will help you rediscover what a wonderful kid you have.
  2. Bonding activities can include – whatever your child likes! Cooking, art, or something active like playing ball in the yard or even having your kid teach you to play their favorite video game can help you both enjoy each other.
  3. Create memories: do activities that you can talk about and reminisce in the future (“remember that time when…”) / Shared memories creates long -lasting bonds.
  4. And finally, remember to laugh together -a lot. Sharing joy can be an important piece of the parent-child bond.

—Dr. Rita Eichenstein, author of Not What I Expected: Help and Hope for Parents of Atypical Children

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