Children's Health, Lifestyle Medicine

ADHD Treatment (Part I): Movement and Rest Medicine for Wee Bodies and Brains

The numbers are staggering. In 2016, over six million US children had been diagnosed with ADHD. Of all American children, one in 20 were medicated for it. Canadian data show similar trends. In fact, our top prescription medicationused in children between the ages of 6 and 15 is to treat ADHD, followed by inhalers for asthma.

These are heartbreaking numbers. And as a family doctor, I hear the personal side to these statistics from the stream of parents desperate for treatment strategies. Many families don’t want to pursue pharmaceuticals and, understandably, have concerns about side effects and long-term safety. So, where do you head if you’re looking for help?

Since ADHD has complex genetic, environmental and neurologic factors at play, there’s no easy one-size-fits-all plan. But, there are several strategies, backed by evidence, that help many children — starting with small (or big!) changes to the home environment and to your child’s routine.

Prescription 1: Physical activity

1. Help your child get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise daily, outside if possible. Heard of “forest bathing”? Kids are explorers at heart, and being present in nature can be akin to a child-friendly mindfulness practice.

 2. Offer yoga, which improves ADHD symptoms, develops quiet mindfulness, and builds balance and coordination (which can be problematic for some children with ADHD). Many communities offer classes for pint-sized Yogis and, if that’s not available to you, there are plenty of resources and videos available online (many at no cost).

 3. Try out a martial arts program, which offers excellent physical activity and can also help build discipline.

Prescription 2: Sleep

1. Focus on sleep hygiene, which includes getting to sleep and waking up at the same time every day. Keep your child’s room darkened (a subtle night-light is fine), quiet or with calming white noise, and at a cool yet comfortable temperature. Prior to bed, establish a calming routine such as a warm bath or shower, followed by reading together. Keep toys and other distractions out of the bedroom, aside from some soft stuffies and books.

2. Review your child’s recommended sleep duration, and if you’re having to wake your wee one in the morning, consider an earlier bedtime.

3. Look out for signs of sleep apnea, which can impact behaviour in children. If your child snores, mouth breathes during the day, or seems fussy or tired when he or she wakes despite adequate sleep duration, see your doctor.

Prescription 3: TV tune-out

1. Watching television and other screen time has been associated with ADHD-behaviour. Consider reducing or eliminating screen time altogether to see if behaviour improves.

 2. Limit screen time in the lead-up to bed. Blue-light emitted from screens can interfere with melatonin, the body’s natural sleep hormone, and impact your child’s ability to settle at night. Consider skipping television altogether on school-nights: it’s tough enough to fit in outdoor time, a family dinner and your cozy bedtime routine.

Engage other family members and caregivers in your quest to offer your child the best possible chance at healing through healthy everyday habits in movement and rest. Helping your child develop these habits now can help them be their healthiest and happiest for years to come.

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