Dr. Joan James has taught at the K-16 levels for over 40 years in a variety of settings including general education and special education (those with learning disabilities, mentally impairments, emotional disturbances, autism, etc.) in inner-city, rural, Native American reservation, university laboratory, and dual-immersion schools. She has a strong learner-centered teaching philosophy, writes educational articles, and presents at education conferences on the benefits of engaging, memorable, and motivating experiential (hands-on, minds-on) learning. She and her husband raised 3 daughters and are enjoying their five grandchildren.
What We Did At Home
As his grandparents, we also tried to do a lot at home to help improve his behavior and attitude. These things included:
- Lots of exercise – soccer team, walking to and from school with a grandparent and talking together while walking, hiking on the weekends, etc.
- Clean diet – limited sugar, food dyes, and food preservatives as diet can play a huge role in exacerbating ADHD and depression symptoms.
- Reading and doing homework together – turned off the T.V. and other distractions and we all read or all sat down together to do homework. At first, Christian had to sit on my lap to do his homework and needed prompting for nearly every sentence he read or every small bit of schoolwork he completed. Gradually, he became more independent in his work habits. It helped to incorporate strategies such as reading to a pet, reading to a younger child/sibling, adult read a page/child read a page, read to an adult while they are preparing dinner, etc.
- Limit technology – although Christian did play Minecraft and virtual sports on the Wii (often he worked up a sweat participating in Wii Sports), we limited the time he spent on technology. He had no cell phone, texting capability, or social media sites and only supervised use of the computer (to avoid him accessing inappropriate websites). T.V. time was also limited and monitored to include only shows that were appropriate for his age. We replaced technology with things like board games, legos, art work, and imaginative play, and used technology mainly to watch educational videos/shows or play educational games.
- Closely monitor medication – although ADHD and mood stabilizing medication can be helpful for some children, it must be the right medication at the right dosage for each child. With Christian, we felt that there were some negative side effects from the medication he was taking. Sleep disruption was a big one – he never got into a deep sleep and never dreamed and, therefore, was always running on a raw edge. The meds also slowed him down too much during the day and made his affect very flat. Although they made it easier for him to sit still, they seemed to take away his exuberance for life. We also felt that the medication was masking the more severe symptoms of his issues, but the underlying causes of these issues were not being addressed. With help from his psychiatrist, we worked him slowly down on his medication (it is dangerous to stop taking these medications cold turkey) until he was taking none at all. Without the medication, Christian started sleeping through the night and enjoyed some good dreams which, in itself, helped improve his behavior and attitude. While continuing to be impulsive in his words and actions and continuing to struggle with sitting still and focusing his attention on teacher-centered instruction, Christian acted more like an active, healthy, and exuberant fourth-grade boy. Talking through his problems rather than just lecturing him and doling out punishments was also having a huge positive effect.
- Eat meals as a family – Christian loved to help cook, set the table, and eat as a family. As we ate together, we told a lot of stories from our own childhoods and stories of Christian when he was younger. We also shared about what had happened that day in each of our lives. This time to talk, be heard, and laugh together was invaluable.
- Counseling – Finding a good counselor to work with children like Christian is extremely helpful.
- Supervised play dates – Children like Christian have a hard time interacting appropriately with their peers, but they do need opportunities to improve these skills. We would have Christian invite kids from school to come to our house for a play date, go on a hike with us, or even have a sleepover. Christian and his friend were always in earshot so we could help resolve any potential issues before they got out of control.
- Youth Group – the positive and spiritual influence of a church youth group can be very helpful for children like Christian.
The interventions we implemented at home were all helpful in improving Christian’s behavior and attitude. Limiting time spent interacting with technology and, instead, spending quality time together as a family doing homework, playing games, going on hikes, and sharing stories was very valuable. Providing opportunities for him to build his social skills through supervised play dates, sports teams, and youth groups also had positive results. Moreover, assuring that he had counseling to help build his social and emotional skills, plenty of exercise, a healthy diet, and appropriate medication were also very helpful.