Sitting still and listening in a classroom is challenging for most kids and is just one of the many reasons why school is not a great fit for my family (we’ve been homeschooling for a year). But for kids with ADHD, time in the classroom can be unbearable. They tend to:
talk out of turn
engage in impulsive behavior
They also tend to get in trouble for these behaviors because they distract the other kids from focusing and make it hard for the teacher to manage the whole group. As a result, these kids can start to dislike school, get lower grades, and they often lose self-esteem. It is a serious issue because if not treated, these kids have a harder time finishing school and can grow into adults who have a greater chance of:
Abusing drugs & alcohol
The CDC reports that as of 2012 approximately 11% of children 4-17 years of age (6.4 million) have been diagnosed with ADHD.
You can use the checklist in this link to determine if your child has a problem with inattention or hyperactivity/impulsivity that would fit their definition of ADHD.
What do I know about ADHD?
I know quite a lot, actually! My brother (who is 15 years younger than me) was diagnosed with ADHD when he was in high school. I tutored him quite often because homework and special projects were always a challenge for him. I was a grounding presence, constantly teaching him how to organize his thoughts and how to focus on the present moment.
He was tested for learning disabilities, but it was clear that was not the problem. Still, tests were hard for him to complete in time, his grades were low and school counselors were urging my mom to medicate him.
We just wanted him to be successful, so my mom did get a prescription filled for Ritalin, the standard medication for ADHD. He refused to take it. So instead, she focused on reducing sweets, managing his screen time, and making other lifestyle changes. It was hard and he barely made through high school, but he did make it. He is now a responsible grown man, doing great at a job he loves, while he supports his wife and 3 kids.
I learned great deal, through my brother’s experience, about how lifestyle choices can affect the brain (though I wish I knew then what I know now about natural remedies).
I also saw how easy it was to succumb to the pressure of school authorities to medicate and dampen the symptoms of the problem just to fit certain standards and make the teacher’s job easier.
Standard Treatment for ADHD
Ritalin and Adderall are the most common medications prescribed for ADHD. They are very effective in helping children focus better, but the side effects are pretty horrible for both:
Common side effects:
- trouble sleeping
- loss of appetite
- dry mouth
- increased heart rate
Serious side effects can include:
- heart rhythm problems
- psychosis, hallucinations, or feeling like bugs are crawling on your skin
- Raynaud’s syndrome
- slowed growth in children
Can you imagine a young child dealing with psychosis and addiction? There are dozens of other medications doctors can prescribe too, some of them classified as non-stimulants, but they have a reputation for not working as well. Luckily, there is much you can do before considering medication!
Natural Solutions For ADHD
1. Identify The Cause And Remove Triggers
If your child has signs of developing an attention disorder, determining the triggers and addressing them should be your first step.
Known causes of ADHD include birth trauma, maternal drug use, premature birth, and low birth weight. Environmental toxins definitely have an impact as well though. The CDC cites lead exposure as being a culprit in some cases, though mercury and aluminum exposure have a strong correlation with ADHD too and are way more predominant in our culture these days (through food, dental fillings, and an increasing load of vaccines).
The CDC also states that although they haven’t been proven to cause ADHD, eating too much sugar, eating junk food, watching too much TV, playing video games, and long periods of inactivity can make symptoms worse, so are recognized as triggers.
Avoiding the causes and removing the triggers can help immensely, even if there’s a history of ADHD in the family.
2. Heavy Metal Detoxification
Purging your child’s body of heavy metals is a good idea, even if you don’t think it’s the main cause of his/her symptoms. This is a great article explaining more about the prevalence of metals in our environment, in our bodies, and how we pass on this toxic load through the generations.
Detox can be done through diet, incorporating these foods into a daily smoothie:
- wild blueberries
- barley grass juice
- Atlantic dulse
You can also give your child a detox bath with these ingredients:
- 1 cup epsom salt
- 1/2 cup baking soda
- 10 drops of essential oil, optional (citrus oils like wild orange, mint oils like spearmint, rosemary, clove, and myrrh are well-known for their detoxifying properties)
3. Traditional Chinese Medicine
Many of you may be puzzled as you imagine your hyperactive child laying still for several minutes with a dozen acupuncture needles. Is that even possible?! You may actually be surprised at how receptive your child is to acupuncture once they know how relaxing it can be! And with younger kids, needle retention is very brief.
But even for kids who are needle shy or cannot sit still, there are many other treatment options available: Tuina massage, cupping, cold laser, microcurrent, and shonishin (Japanese acupressure).
Side story here:
I was seeing an 8-year-old patient for his attention disorder and there was no way he would let me use needles. Even though his mom was urging me to assert my authority and do it anyway, I respected his wish and reassured her that other methods of treatment were just as effective as acupuncture.
We did Tuina massage instead. Every time, he would be squirmy and silly for the first 15 minutes and I’d engage him with jokes. But when I’d start working on his back and especially when I would massage his feet, he would fall asleep – every – single – time!
He looked forward to our treatments together and said that he could focus a little better in school, but the problem was that all the triggers for his behaviors were not being addressed.
His parents were divorced and he was constantly shuffled between the two homes. His dad was not supportive of what we were doing and the boy ate junk food, was constantly in front of the TV, and didn’t get enough sleep at his house. But his mom and I were happy that he was getting a much needed break when he was in her care and that he appreciated this natural approach to healing.
4. Balance Blood Sugar Levels
Riding the roller coaster of a sugar high and the subsequent crash can make matters much worse for a child with ADHD. To have the greatest success, decreasing the load of sugar in their diet is very important. Check out my post Have a Sweet Summer Without the Excess Sugar to learn how to balance blood sugar levels and make better choices (not just in the Summer, but for life!)
5. GAPS Diet & Rebuilding Gut Biome
The Gut and Psychology Syndrome diet is something you may want to explore for your child. Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride has had a great deal of success healing children and adults with not just A.D.D./A.D.H.D., but also autism, dyspraxia, dyslexia, depression, schizophrenia, and many autoimmune disorders.
GAPS children and adults all have digestive problems – colic, bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation, and malnourishment – to different degrees. McBride and many other researchers believe that all disease begins in the gut and these are digestive disorders, not behavior disorders.
The focus of the diet is to eliminate grains (which are abrasive to the intestines, break down to considerable amounts of sugar and contribute to poor gut flora levels) and refined sugar, and then restore gut flora with healing broths, fermented foods, and supplements.
It’s not as hard as it sounds. I’ve done it for myself and did not starve. There are a lot of yummy recipes, including many bread substitutes, that your family will enjoy.
You can Follow my Pinterest GAPS Board for ideas.
If the GAPS diet sounds too daunting, then at least try the other methods of restoring gut health that I’ve outlined here: Improve Your Family’s Gut Health to Increase General Health, Part 2.
I know it’s challenging to eat a basic diet like this when we’re so used to stimulating processed food, large amounts of sugar, and artificial ingredients that make up the Standard American Diet. But this is one of the main reasons why Americans have one of the highest rates of chronic disease in the world and why our children are suffering. It’s important to go against the grain (pun intended) and make your child’s health a priority, even if it’s inconvenient!
6. Behavior Therapies/Mindfulness Practices
Managing ADHD will be easier if your child is aware of his/her behavior and what affects it. Psychologists, licensed counselors, and social workers can all provide behavior therapy that trains both children and their parents on how to control behavior.
The CDC has a directory for behavior therapists, including online resources.
Your family can also engage in mindfulness practices on your own that will help ground your energy, teach body awareness, and to provide insight about behavior and what brings you out of balance and out of control.
Walking meditation is perfect for kids with a lot of pent up energy, and especially for those with ADHD. Here’s a simple, fun, walking mediation practice from Jaclyn Long at Mind Body Moms:
It may also be worthwhile to talk to your child’s teachers and see if they can incorporate mindfulness practices in the classroom (perhaps at the same time also making sure you’re on the same page about discipline and the way your child is treated in class).
Please reach out to me if you have any questions about treating your child’s ADD/ADHD naturally. I offer free consultations where we can discuss more about how TCM, whole food nutrition, and mindfulness can help your family. Well wishes to you…