Top Four Natural Ways to Treat ADHD in Kids and Teens
by: Candice Lapin
Often when parents receive the diagnosis that their child has ADHD, resignation takes hold. But, did you know that attention and focus can be nurtured like a muscle? In fact, I get so many calls each week from parents who want my advice on what to do? There are so many avenues that do not involve medication: mindfulness & meditation, diet, routine building, and exercise. In this multi-part series, we are going to examine four different ways with links to more in depth articles.
1. Meditation & Mindfulness
It goes without saying but one of the key tenets of kids, teens and adults that have ADHD is a lack of self-regulation and emotional regulation. That is why mindfulness can be so helpful—it targets regulation! All the impulses to go where the mind takes us are directly targeted by learning exercises that make us aware of how often we get distracted.
As early as 2008, UCLA’s researcher Lydia Zylowska conducted an 8 week study that had an extremely positive outcome for the participants of all ages. Participants were asked to participate for over 8 weeks in which their meditation was gradually grown from 5 minutes per day to 15/20 minutes of mindfulness. After the 8 week period, they had to report back their experience of symptoms. 78% of those selected and studied reported an improvement and reduction in their ADHD symptoms. 30% of participants reported a “clinical reduction” which means more than 30% of their symptoms were reduced! To read more about Dr. Zylowska’s findings in her book, click here.
2. Diet & Nutrition
Diet and nutrition effect mood and by extension—attention. What you eat can not only improve your focus and performance but the bad foods can also trip you up. It is so important to be aware of foods that can create sugar spikes and stay clear especially after school. When we work with families, one of the first things we notice is the after-school snacks.
If you are wondering what we advise: stay clear of sugar! Sugar is not just a leading cause of obesity in young children but it also can affect their mood. All those sugary sour patch kids—throw them away. They may provide a little boost as your child is coming down from medication but they can also seriously lead to sugar crash!
After school it is best to stay away from sugary snacks and give your kids protein! Proteins, nuts and greens will help sustain their focus.
To get a complete list of foods that we recommend for snacks, click here.
3. Routine Building & Executive Functioning Skill Building
Did you know that ADHD does not just speak to your child’s hyperactivity and inattention, it also speaks to your child’s ability to begin tasks, continue working on tasks and then complete them. You may have heard the neuropsychologist speak about “executive functioning”. But, did you also know that when you begin building routines with your child like homework routines, you also treat the symptoms of ADHD. By creating structure in how you work with your child, you will begin to create habits that treat the ADHD!
Many parents of kids that we work with who have the diagnosis of ADHD also remark at how much better their children do after a good hour or two of exercise! It’s not a secret that exercise can improve mood by giving us heavy doses of dopamine and serotonin. These two chemicals in the brain help with attention and mood!
According to scientists at Harvard Medical School, exercise also helps develop the same areas that are associated with executive functioning: planning, strategy, and attention! Exercise begins to turn on our brain to tackle things head on and operate at “best performance” levels.  By putting our ADHD children in after school activities like dance or soccer, we help them develop those pieces of the brain associated with building focus and attention!
5. Sleep Routine
One of the biggest issues that children with ADHD and ADD often suffer from is sleep deprivation. Yet, one of the biggest ways to combat this cyclical issue is with proper sleep hygiene and a sleep routine. Yet, that’s right. It is so important to stick to a single bed time every night including weekends.
By sticking to a single bedtime, you send signals to the brain that it is “time to sleep.” In order to support the same bedtime, the best thing to do is create routines and rituals around that bedtime. Say for example that your child has a 8:00 pm bedtime. Roughly 5:00 - 5:45 pm should be the dinner time because you are going to want to give your child ample time between the meal and bedtime to properly digest their food. You will also want to schedule time to brush teeth, get into pajamas and shut down electronics. We suggest shutting down electronics first roughly 1 hour before bedtime to signal the brain that it is time to wind-down. Rooms should be kept dark and without distraction. Nightlights, if any, should be dim. We also suggest reading time to help your child further wind-down.
Creating this bedtime routine will establish a nightly circadian rhythm for your child to help lessen issues with sleep. Remember, in order to keep the sleep ritual, you are going to want to skip the weekend reward of a later bedtime, because by Monday it ends up throwing off your child’s circadian rhythm.
As we move through the next few weeks, we will be introducing more information on each one of these topics, so that you can get as much information as possible!