Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Preventing the New Chicken Pox

When I was little everyone got the chicken pox. It was just a part of growing up. One day you'd come home from school all itchy with little red dots on you. You'd have a nice a oatmeal bath and spend a few days at home then it was on with life as usual. It seems today we have a new chicken pox: ADHD. Now, you might think I'm overstating, and I am being a bit facetious, but it seems like everyone has ADHD. Instead of oatmeal baths, every kid is being treated with Ritalin and Adderall.

I make these observations based in my education and experience. We are over diagnosing ADHD. Any kid who doesn't want to sit through a history lesson or a 45 minute sermon is quickly diagnosed with ADHD and often without a psychological evaluation and is medicated without attempting any behavioral intervention.

Here are my suggestions for helping children escape this seemingly overpowering diagnosis. (These are based simply on my observations and have not been researched. Discuss any behavioral changes with your therapist should you be involved in any current treatments.)

  • It's okay to be bored. Allow your children to not be entertained for every waking moment. It seems like kids today always have something to do. Even waiting in line at the grocery store they're playing on mom's iPhone, kids don't get a chance to get bored. Why is boredom so important? We aren't always entertained. When you go to work, there aren't always bright lights and fancy jingles keeping your attention. Sometimes we go to work and we're bored. It's important for children to learn to be bored so that they learn to apply their attentions by choice. When you're bored, you have to choose to give your attention to something, a skill very few children have any more. A child who was bored when they were young will grow into a student who can choose to pay attention during a long lecture and an adult who can sit through meetings at work without issue.

  • Limit and Delay Exposure to Technology. Nowadays it seems like parents are introducing technology earlier and earlier. They even make iPad covers for babies. Technology is great for many things, and it's especially good at giving us instant gratification. If you want to know the weather you can touch a single icon on your phone and poof! there's the weather, no need to even walk to the window. If you want to know who is guess staring in an episode of a show you're watching you don't have to wait until the credits, you can just ask Google. Too much technology too soon teaches children that they get what they want immediately. They never have to wait and therefore they don't learn to do it well. A child without technology who learns to wait will grow into a student who can stand in line when asked and an adult who can wait at the DMV without becoming a royal pain to everyone around them.

  • Turn Off The Tube. Television has one great secret for keeping your attention. It's so great because it happens in all programing and it's always happened and you've never noticed. Next time you're watching a show, pay attention to how often the perspective changes. You're watching the same person talk and looking at them straight on, then from five feet away, then a close up, then over the shoulder, it changes back and forth every few seconds, and you've never noticed. We don't notice this because our brains have been taught to expect a new image every few seconds. When we put our children in front of the television to watch some show or movie (even special "kids" programs that supposedly make your baby smarter) we are teaching their brains to expect a new image every few seconds. We are teaching our children to be ADHD by introducing television earlier and earlier and letting kids watch it more and more. Limit how much television your kids watch and encourage them towards activities they require they pay attention for longer periods of time like listening to music or books on tape, or reading. A child who learns to enjoy other forms of entertainment will be a student who thinks more creatively and an adult with a greater attention span.

  • Add More Quiet Time. For many children the only time it is quiet is when they are sleeping. If the child is awake there's some sort of noise either television or music. This can be very stimulating, and for young children, overly stimulating. Add in more times of quiet (you'd be amazed how this adds peace to your life as well). In particular, start the morning with quiet. When you're getting the kids up in the morning turn off the TV, radio, or iTunes. When a child wakes up to a stimulating environment that's what they expect for the rest of the day. Give your children a peaceful start to the day. Wake them with a soft voice and soft lighting. Let the day get more energetic and stimulating slowly. My suggestion would be to not have any extra noise until after breakfast or until you've left the house in the morning. A family that wakes up peaceful will have less stressful, more calm mornings and everyone's day will be better.
For some parents, you're already doing these things. For others, these are foreign concepts. For some of our day cares and child care givers these are strange concepts. Like I said above, these aren't proven in any sort of research, just my observations of typical things that are counterproductive for many families.

I do want to say that ADD and ADHD are serious conditions that honestly do affect many children. If you believe your child is having symptoms of either disorder talk with your doctor. If the diagnosis is to be considered, please speak with a professional trained to diagnose and treat mental health disorders and consider behavioral interventions prior to or in conjunction with medical treatment.

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