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  • Sam B.

Managing Early ADHD Behavior

In this week's blog post, I'd like to share some helpful tips and information about managing early childhood behavior for kids with ADHD.

Self-regulation is one of the major deficits that students with ADHD tend to have. But, what is it? In short, it's your ability to control yourself - your attentions and emotions. Can you wait for a reward? Can you follow rules? Can you contain your happiness or your anger? These are all forms of self regulation, and this can be particularly frustrating for adults working with younger children.

Executive Functioning is controlled by parts of the brain which can be delayed (developmentally) as much as 30% in children with ADHD. So, it's not a deliberate act of defiance - there is actual brain chemistry responsible for self-regulation issues. A 10 year old may be able to do academics at a 5th grade level, but their ability to self-regulate may be that of a 6 year old (1st grade level). Teachers and adults who work with the student need to be aware of this - they need to ensure that they work with the student at their level of Executive Skills. For example, the adults may need to give more explicit direction and have more patience when working with these students. They need to understand that the student will not be able to follow the normal behavior of their classroom peer group.

Having ADHD doesn't mean you can't focus or pay attention all of the time. In fact, it's a very intermittent issue. Again, this can be very frustrating for adults who work with children with ADHD. For example: "Why did Susan follow directions yesterday, but she cannot follow directions today? She must be acting out today!" This kind of thinking is very wrong. The lack of attention can be intermittent. The context matters a lot as well! Is Susan hungry? Tried? Are the tasks boring? Are we breaking a normal routine? All of these things matter as to whether Susan will be able to follow directions.

What about emotional control? This falls under self-regulation as well. Parents can help students with emotional literacy. The most basic way to do this is to help students pause and identify their emotions. You can work on calming down, which is also referred to as down-regulating emotions. Young children may have to practice pausing and overcoming impulsivity, like the desire to run up to an adult and hug them. With young children (ages 3-6), you can practice identifying emotions by using flashcards with pictures of adults exhibiting different expressions.

Remember that Executive Functioning can be taught just like math or language arts. We just have to be deliberate about that. Some kids will get it faster than other kids. But you have to be cognoscente of the level of Executive Functioning that the student is at, which (again) may be very different than their age or academic grade level. And, kids learn from mirroring behavior of adults and their peers. So, it's important to foster a classroom and home environment where they can see what being well-organized and well-planned looks like.

How can we work with kids? Be deliberate about practicing Executive Functioning Skills! DO NOT just assume that students will be taught this in school - very often, they are not. Vary the instructional style - use auditory, visual, and kinesthetic learning. Build awareness and recognition to behavior and emotions. Practice pausing, labeling and describing what's going on. Use positive reinforcement and be really descriptive in the words you use to reinforce good behavior. Do yoga and practice mindfulness. Practice deep breathing. Always remember: kids want praise and attention.

Star Tutoring can help students practice and build Executive Functioning Skills such as self-regulation. Contact us today to learn more!

For more great tips, check on this CHADD podcast on managing behavior with ADHD in young children!

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