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Dear Dr. Wong:
I am having a tough time in the last few weeks, being stuck at home with our two children because of the pandemic. Don’t get me wrong, I love them dearly; but it is hard to deal with them all day, doing home-schooling and keeping up with my work.
Our younger son is in Grade 2; his teachers have suggested he needs to see his doctor. He has been very disruptive in class since Grade 1, but I thought the teachers were inexperienced and couldn’t handle his hyperactivity. Now I can see how frustrating it is to teach him. He is bright, but he can’t pay attention and gets distracted by anything around him.
Our 10-year-old daughter is very argumentative, and she knows how to push her brother’s buttons. They are constantly fighting. When I talked to my mom, she reminded me that my brother and I were the same growing up. Both of us were diagnosed with ADHD. Apparently, I took medicine for a short time and lost weight, so my parents stopped it.
School was a huge struggle for me. My older brother was worse and took medicine until he was a teenager. He is now addicted to drugs and alcohol. My parents blamed the medicine for his addiction. Is there anything that I can do to help our children other than medicine?
Answer. Being parents of young children during the Covid-19 pandemic is challenging. Many have to continue to work at home, parent their children and home-school, all at the same time.
Having children with ADHD magnifies the challenge. If you still have ADHD as an adult, it is even more difficult for you to organize yourself and your family, plan the meals, do the laundry, and keep the house clean. The list of things to do is endless.
Research has shown that children with ADHD can benefit from regular physical activities, good sleep hygiene and healthy eating. These are all ingredients of good health for everyone, but much more so for those with ADHD.
Many ADHD children are physically hyperactive. Although they can play videogames for hours, that is not physical activity. You need to schedule outdoor activities with them, going for walks or runs, riding the bicycle or scooter: use your imagination. You may want to plan it twice a day; take a break from their schoolwork as well as from your work. The important thing is that if you don’t schedule it, physical activities may not happen. Your children will become more restless in the evening, which can affect their sleep.
It is also important to schedule bedtime and wakeup time in the morning. The beginning of pandemic coincided with our March break, it was fun for children to go to bed later and sleep in. Some parents made the mistake of allowing this to continue afterwards. It is important to get back on a schedule similar to school days. Don’t let them take naps during the day; this will affect their bedtime and can become a vicious cycle.
Many children like to stay on screen, watching shows or videos or playing videogames, until bedtime. The light emitted from these screens can reduce natural melatonin production by the brain that makes them tired. It is important to stop screens an hour before bedtime. Encourage them to read books instead. Your children may still enjoy reading stories with you.
The pandemic brings benefits and challenges to healthy eating. There is less eating out and fast-food, but more snacks are consumed. However, you can involve your children to help you with meal preparation and baking. This does require planning when you shop for groceries and scheduling these activities with them.
It is very important for you to do all of these with your spouse. Raising children is teamwork, it should not be your responsibility only.
There are two Canadian organizations that support children, adults and families with ADHD: CADDRA and CADDAC. Their websites (caddra.ca and caddac.ca) have many tips for parents, especially during this pandemic time. Go to these websites and look for additional helpful information. They also have daily activity schedules for children and adults that you can adapt and modify. Good luck.
Dr David Wong is a retired pediatrician in Summerside and recipient of 2012 Distinguished Community Paediatrician Award of Canadian Paediatric Society. His columns will appear in the Guardian on the last Tuesday of every month. You can see a collection of his previous columns at askdrwong.ca. If you have a question for Dr. Wong, mail it to Prince County Hospital, 65 Roy Boates Ave., Summerside, P.E.I., C1N2A9.