parenting guide:
how to deal with children with adhd

Toddlers and children regularly get overexcited at birthdays, parties, Christmas and even by running around in the garden. But, if you feel your child is too excitable and has problems concentrating, or you have difficulty monitoring their behaviour, they may be showing signs of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It is estimated that about 1% of children in the UK have ADHD.

In recent years, ADHD has become increasingly recognised and diagnosed in the UK. There is still some discussion between doctors about its diagnosis. Some doctors diagnose hyperactivity and ADHD as two separate disorders, whereas others believe that hyperactivity comes under the umbrella of ADHD.

Some children will learn to adjust their behaviour, however it is worth talking to your health visitor or GP if you are at all worried. There are a number of strategies to overcome this problem, both at home and at school.

what is adhd?

Children who have ADHD may appear over active compared with other children of their age. They may have a very short attention span, and be impulsive. They may have learning difficulties at school, be constantly 'on the go' or seem to be in a world of their own.


Hyperactivity means overactive. A hyperactive child may not only run around a lot, but will also show some of the following signs:

  • a very short attention span
  • constant fidgeting and being unable to sit still
  • constant talking - your child seems to tell you all their thoughts at the precise moment they occur
  • talking at inappropriate times - interrupting and 'talking out of turn' at school
  • an inability to take part in 'quiet' activities such as reading, drawing or doing a jigsaw puzzle
  • being extremely disobedient
  • being impulsive

Determining if a child is hyperactive can be difficult because this sometimes depends on how tolerant you or your child's teachers are to this behaviour, and how it compares with the behaviour of other children. As one mother said, “With my third child, I couldn't understand why she seemed so difficult. If you told her to do something, she wouldn't, and if you told her not to do something, she would. It got to the stage where I had to discuss it with the health visitor.”

attention disorder

Children with an attention disorder have a very short attention span and find it very difficult to listen to, or act on, instructions from a parent or a teacher. Other signs include:

  • forgetfulness
  • disorganisation
  • seeming to lose things often
  • difficulty in focusing attention or being unable to pay attention to detail
  • difficulty in following instructions
  • easily distracted

As with hyperactivity, the signs are hard to spot because all children will probably display these traits sometimes - just like adults, children get overexcited and can have 'bad' days on occasions. For instance, how many times have you wandered into a room and forgotten why you were there? Try not to be too hasty in thinking your child has a problem - if you are worried, talk to your child's teachers and find out how they behave at school. If their teachers report similar behaviour to that at home and this is causing you both concern, talk to your health visitor or school nurse.

what causes adhd?

Nobody knows what causes ADHD, although there have been many theories put forward, none of which have been proven.

what does it mean for my child?

Children with ADHD have problems at school because of their inability to concentrate and their seemingly disruptive behaviour. They may form a poor self-image, because they are constantly being told to 'sit still!', 'be quiet!' or they are reprimanded for not doing as they were told or for seeming to be lazy at school. ADHD often continues into adulthood, but there are many ways to help your child overcome some of the associated problems.

how is adhd diagnosed?

Your GP may refer your child to a paediatrician for an assessment. The doctor will also want to know about their behaviour in other environments.

how is adhd treated?

In some cases ADHD can be treated with drugs. It is important to talk to your doctor about the benefits and the possible side effects of these drugs. Many people mistakenly believe that sugar and additives in food are the cause of hyperactivity and ADHD. There is no evidence to suggest that cutting food containing artificial additives out of your child's diet will help.

Also, many specialists recommend help in the classroom and counselling. These will help the child with their behavioural problems.

There are many things you can do at home to manage your child's ADHD. Always try and give clear instructions and let your child know exactly what you would like them to do. Look out for your child's talents, such as painting or sport, and encourage them to spend time doing these things and doing them well. This will help to build up self-confidence. Try to be positive - the constant reprimands that are often a feature of an ADHD child's life can easily erode their fragile ego and self-esteem.

Finally, remember that every child and parent is different. There are lots of support groups available - talk to other families to find out what worked for them. Talking to other families going through what you are going through will also help you come to terms with how your child's behaviour may affect your family life.