As Professor Vance stated in the aforementioned study, children with ADHD are going to do anything to control their environment. When you look at it this way, it all makes sense. And behavioral problems are a natural reaction to your child’s on-going stress. When your child is acting up it may be good to analyze which stressors or anxiety is fueling this behavior. Show me a kid with behavior problems and most of the time you will be showing me a kid who also suffers from underlying anxiety. The key becomes how to help your child deal with stressors in the environment and lessen anxiety.
Here are some suggestions as to how to lower your child's stress, gleaned from my personal experiences as a special educator and as a parent:
• Make your child’s environment as predictable as you are able to. Things like schedules, posted rules, clear consequences for both appropriate and inappropriate behavior can help your child make sense of his or her world. Anxiety is lessened because they know what to expect.
• At the same time, you do want to introduce spontaneity and change into your child’s routine. You will need to teach your child how to cope with disappointments and the unexpected. Role playing can help with this as well as discussing “if/then” scenarios. You want your child to learn how to go with the flow and adapt to change in his or her environment.
• Give your child choices in their day-to-day routines so that they feel that they have some control. The choices may be selective as in “Do you want me to read you a story before or after your bath?” Choice can lessen a child’s anxiety by giving them a feeling of power over their world. When do we feel the most anxious? When we feel we have no control or say so over what happens to us. This is especially true for children.
• Develop some sensory integration strategies to help your child deal with any sensory issues that they may have. An occupational therapist can be an excellent resource if you suspect that your child does suffer from sensory integration disorder. In the meantime, make a list of calming techniques and strategies that have worked in the past to help your child de-stress and calm down. For example some children are calmer after swinging, swimming, listening to soothing music, or taking a bath. For more sensory integration ideas please read my post, “A Sensory Integration Approach for Helping Hyperactive Kids.” Eileen Bailey also lists some ways to de-stress which may also apply to children in her post, “10 Ways to Relieve Stress in Less than Five Minutes.”
If your child suffers from stress and anxiety there is help and support. One resource is Health Central’s Anxiety Connection where you can find some familiar faces (myself and Eileen). There you can learn more about stress, anxiety symptoms, and treatments for pediatric anxiety. Remember that whatever you are going through, that you are not alone. We are here to help and to listen.