CAN PARENTS PREVENT ADHD?

readingadhd

“My kid is so hyper…I am worried he has ADHD.”   Lot of parents voice this fear to me.  While hyperactivity may be  concerning, ADHD is much much more than just “being hyper”.  This post, though, is not about diagnosing ADHD.   It is about my journey and thought process in trying to avoid ADHD in my children.

Like many first-time parents, I can tell you that I did a lot of thinking and worrying about a myriad of things.   But being a pediatrician and seeing parents struggle with their child’s ADHD, I couldn’t help but think, “Can I prevent ADHD in my kid and other kids?”  Certainly there is a genetic component in many families that one cannot control.  We can do our best to have a healthy pregnancy by not smoking or drinking and getting timely prenatal care.  We can try to decrease our home and occupational exposure to chemicals, pesticides, and lead.  We cannot, however, prevent birth trauma, prematurity, and the stresses and catastrophes of life.

Some environmental factors, though, are indeed in our control.  One of them is to encourage the love of LISTENING.  Do babies really listen?  Unquestionably!!  Listening to a loving and gentle voice talking, singing, and cooing will teach them to concentrate.  Don’t put an “educational DVD” on.   There is absolutely no comparison between a baby who listens to his parent (or caregiver) singing a nursery rhyme versus a baby who listens to the same thing on TV.

Also, AVOID TV (as much as possible) in front  of the baby or the toddler.  As a new mom, sometimes I found myself taking care of the baby with the TV playing in the background.  While, I agree that keeping track of what is happening in the world restores some parental sanity, it can be done in small doses.  The fast-paced explosion of sounds, lights, and colors from TV or the computer can train their impressionable brain to seek that fast pace all the time.  Later, they can have a hard time focusing on slower activities like reading/reading comprehension and math logic.

Don’t forget that eating a HEALTHY VARIED DIET is crucial.  I can’t help but notice a pattern of sleep and behavioral issues in children who eat processed cheese products and high-sugar cookies/drinks for “snacks.”  Surely, these “foods” don’t provide any nutritional value to the body and by the way, we shouldn’t really call them food.

Be a SMART SHOPPER of toys and activities.  Fostering the fun in doing sit-down activities is important. Puzzles are great at not only building fine motor skills, but they ask the brain to concentrate, use logic, and build visual-spatial skills.  I personally like the wooden puzzles.  Once your child is able to pick up objects with the “pincer (forefinger and thumb),” introduce the big wooden puzzle blocks.   Start board games when you think they are ready and play as a family.  Age-appropriate blocks and legos are another excellent way for boys and girls to literally build their imagination.   Encourage the love of playing physical sports, but don’t forget the “mental” sports!

Remember the goal is to help increase their brain’s ability to focus, listen to their environmental cues, and respond appropriately.  Believe me, these are skills that they will use in all spheres of their life.   While I wish I could say that doing all these things can prevent ADHD, many factors are just not under our control.  Every child is unique, and it is hard to predict which child will have ADHD and which will not.  It is best to talk to your pediatrician who knows your child and your family well.

Please comment and let me know what you think.

Photo courtesy of freedigitalimages.net/phaitoon

THE SUMMER PARENT TRAP

ID-10033418

Summer is here.  Let the camps and play-dates begin.   After all, the busier the kids are, the more accomplished they will be as adults, right?   Wrong.  Every summer, I become adept at chauffeuring rather than PARENTING, scheduling rather than TEACHING, the future rather than the PRESENT.

Well, not this time.  Summer presents a unique opportunity for parents to do major life-planning (for their kids).  Not the getting-into-the-Ivy-Leagues kind of planning. Parents…this summer…let’s plan to foster good habits in our children.  Keep the bed and wake times structured.  Don’t let them sleep into the late morning.  Teach them to pick up after themselves.  No more clothes or games all over their bedroom during vacation.  Let’s plan to foster independence.  Get them used to doing chores and duties during the summer.  Let’s plan and teach them the true meaning of friendships, so that they stand up for friends in need.  Let’s plan to teach them thoughtfulness, kindness, and respect.  I could go on and on.

These are just some of the habits and values that will guarantee their success in life.  The music, the arts, the sports, and the camps are all wonderful and important.  But, they are poor substitutes for what we REALLY need to teach our children.

What do you think? Let me know your thoughts on this topic.

TWEEN SENSE

“Oh… I really hate middle school.” I can’t tell you how many times I hear this from parents. Why such strong feelings? If you have a middle schooler at home, you probably know why. The mean kids, the hormones, the changes…the list goes on and on. In the tender tween age of 11 to 14, middle schoolers are probably the most confused age group on Earth. Just like toddlers, until you understand their psyche, you cannot get through to them. So, how can you help? Just understand them.

1. Know that they are going to be more and more self-centered. They cannot help it. Preoccupation with the mirror, their clothes, their friends, and their things is the norm now. Parents, try to find subtle ways to discuss inner beauty with them. When it comes to body image, use words like “healthy,” not pretty or skinny. Help them understand that many children do not have the advantages they have. Perhaps they can volunteer with friends for a local charity.

2. Gone are the days when you were the “cool” mom and dad. Now, you are just barely acceptable. Accept it. You don’t need to be their best friend anymore. That’s fine, but perhaps you can subtly direct them to friends who would be a good influence.

3. They blow things up (in their mind). A run-of-the-mill comment or situation can magnify and become a big deal to them. Their emotions are not in their control. Step into their shoes, understand the breadth of their feelings, and teach them coping skills for the kind of situations they deal with socially.

4. They are dreamers. They are doodlers. Their head is in the clouds. That’s understandable, since they are trying to figure out who they are. Parents, encourage their imagination and creativity. Let them dream big.

Finally, understand that this is a stage of life. With time, their thought process and mind will mature and become more reasonable. In fact, in a few years, you will have a good laugh about all their middle school drama. So parents, don’t hate middle school. Be ready for it.

STRANGER ANXIETY: It’s my party and I’ll cry if you don’t hold me!!

Full of giddy anticipation, my parents flew across the continent. Delayed flight.. Bad food.. Fear of flying.. they did not care. They were seeing their grandchild and it was her first birthday.

Upon their arrival, the birthday girl took one look at them, her lower lip curled, eyes welled up with tears, and she began to bawl. It did not get any better during the two weeks they spent with me. I could sense their disappointment, but they kept saying, “Don’t worry. That happens.” She spent most of her birthday clinging to my leg and avoiding all of the guests. Birthday cake …forget about it..she wanted nothing to do with it.

I knew she was at the peak of stranger anxiety and there was no way around it. During this phase, a kid feels that mom and dad (especially mom) are their safety net. Anybody else, she feels, is someone who can take their parents away from them. From a child development perspective, stranger anxiety signals the beginning a basic understanding of relationships and family. The more she sees someone on a regular basis, like a nanny or grandparents, the less anxiety she will have to them.

But what do you do when family members visit? Or at birthday parties? The key is to understand the child’s plight. You are her safety net. So reassure her that you will hold on to her until she feels safe. Ask your family members to not talk or smile or gesture to the child, until she is ready to look and talk to them.

If you are always entertaining people at your home or meeting friends for playdates with your child, she will probably develop less stranger anxiety. Having bad stranger anxiety does not mean your child will be an introvert for life. Lastly, remember, this phase will go away around age two on its own. All she needs is reassurance of your presence and your love.

Did your little one have any stranger anxiety? And what did you do about it?

Photo courtesy of: Freedigitalphotos.net

TODDLERS AND TANTRUMS

They are cute. They are fast. They only want what they want. Yes… I am talking about toddlers.

You may have noticed that your toddler is very quick on his feet. He is also very quick on the uptake. Unnoticed to you, he makes many connections in his mind. He realizes that when he climbs the fireplace or the stairs, you stop what you are doing, run to him, and pick him up. When he throws all the shoes off the shelf in the shoe store, he gets you to stop eyeing all the pretty shoes and look at him instead. If he bites you or hits his head on the wall, he gets even more attention including some “Noo!! Don’t that” type of reaction.

Needless-to-say, toddlers are attention-seeking smart-alecs who can’t express themselves. They define all attention as good attention, even if it means you are angry. They can’t communicate well enough, so they throw themselves backwards or stiffen up their body or cry interminably. Always remember that this is normal behavior for toddlers. They don’t call it “Terrible two” for nothing.

Your understanding of toddler psychology will make the terrible two easier for you and set your child up for good behavior for the rest of his life. Next time a tantrum is about to unfold, this is what you can do.
1. First, make sure he is safe.
2. Second, don’t turn around from what you are doing or frown or yell “No.” Act like you don’t care about what he is doing. Without looking at him, use a soft voice and say “We don’t do that.”
3. Next, distract him and take him to a different location or to a favorite toy or picture. If you are in a store, then leave the store. If you are driving, then you can pull over safely into a parking lot.

Ignoring undesirable behavior will not work unless desirable behavior is rewarded. The reward in this age group is attention. When he listens well and does not throw a tantrum, he is giving you a golden opportunity. This is your cue to reinforce his good behavior. Give him a ton of attention, lot of praise, and playtime with you. His toddler brain will quickly make connection that “Mommy plays with me when I listen to her.” Wouldn’t that be serendipitous?

Photo courtesy of: FreeDigitalphotos.net