What can I do to teach better habits?
Because ADHD children are easily distracted by extraneous stimuli (tv noise, siblings running through the room, doors shutting, or other random noises), it is important to help them learn effective habits and routines.
"Neurons that fire together, wire together. Neurons that fire apart, wire apart." (Meyer, D., personal communication, November 11, 2008). This means that the brain learns patterns when neurons fire together or fire apart. Patterns are established by neurons that fire for each aspect of an activity or behavior, so that if these aspects are present the behavior is more likely to occur. These include the environment in which the activity is being performed, the time of day, other stimuli which are present, and the order in which certain tasks are performed. Each aspect of an activity makes a certain set of neurons fire, so that when one neuron fires, other neurons that are linked to that pattern also tend to fire. For example, certain scents tend to recall specific memories. Pumpkin pie might bring up memories of the holidays. The smell of sea salt might make you think of the beach or the ocean. In the same way, if a child always does homework sitting in the same place, at the same time, with the same quiet environment, a good habit is more likely to be established.
Use this principle to help establish consistent and productive habits. Remember that to create or break routines, you must help behavior occur in the environment where you want it and not to occur in environments where it is not desirable. This takes time. If you prefer your child to finish homework in a timely fashion, avoid having the tv or other distractors present in the environment.
Go to bed and get up the same time every day. This helps to establish a good morning routine and is based on the same principle of neurons firing together.
Eat meals around the same time every day.
This helps establish routine, as well as maintaining blood sugar levels, thereby maintaining more consistent levels of attention, focus, and energy.
Make sure your child eat meals with family members, instead of separately. This provides a chance to model good behaviors and habits, establish consistent routines, and helps the child feel connected to the family unit.
Do homework when children first get home from school. If this is a consistent habit, a pattern will be established in the brain, making it more likely that this behavior will occur.
Supervise routines that you are trying to help your child establish. Children with ADHD have difficulty inhibiting responses, such as walking away from a conversation, interrupting, changing the subject, asking random questions, rapidly changing activities, making it extremely difficult to establish productive routines (Barkley, 1997; Hathaway & Barkley, 2003). However, with close supervision and redirection, ADHD child can benefit greatly from established routines and habits. Encourage your child, while providing firm limits and redirection.
Limit available choices. It is important for children with ADHD to be able to feel a sense of control over their environment, it is overwhelming to make choices when there are too many options (Gauvremont & Dumas, 1994). Try to provide at least two options, but not more than three.
Exercise daily through highly active sports or games. This will help calm your child and help use the extra energy he or she always seems to have. In addition, playing sports can help your child feel successful, amidst the failures that often accompany ADHD.
Play video games with your child on occasion. Get involved in your child's world and connect with them on their level.
Adapted from The Bible Cure for ADD and Hyperactivity (Colbert, 2001)
See Next: Focus Techniques & Activities