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Don’t be fooled by the name. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is more about self-regulation than attention. Kids with ADHD often struggle to regulate emotions, activity level and impulses in addition to attention, and may even have difficulty regulating the amount of information their brains process. Most of us can just “tune out” background noise or ignore the sight of birds flying overhead. What would it be like if you couldn’t “filter” or regulate your senses? One time you might notice nothing and another time notice everything all at once, with no ability to choose between the two. Now imagine you’re only three years old: everything is new and not much of this stuff makes sense to begin with. I’m sure you can see how things might become very frustrating, very quickly. It’s no fun for the three-year-old either.

What Can You Do?
When your child’s difficult behavior threatens his emotional or physical well-being and your sanity, it’s time to consider some non-traditional parenting strategies. First, take a deep breath. My son is almost nine… they do live through it, although at times you might be afraid YOU won’t!  Second, pay close attention to all the factors that you DO have control over and start keeping a log of what seems to trigger behavior as well as what seems to improve it. Don’t be afraid to get creative! Here are some of the things that made a difference for my kids:

  • Food Additives & Diet: Food coloring is a huge trigger in my house, resulting in an inevitable storm of hyperactivity, anger and defiance. It’s not uncommon for my son to become physically violent. Recent studies (Deans, 2010) have linked behavior problems in certain allergy-prone ADHD children with food additives. Switching to organic foods can eliminate chemicals as a factor.
  • Sugar: I don’t care what the general wisdom says about sugar, if my son has it he’s obnoxious and out of control. So far, no team of researchers has volunteered to come live at my house and help regulate my children’s behavior. Until they do, I make the call.
  • Allergies: The most important thing to understand about allergies is that there are two types of allergic responses: acute, life-threatening (IgA) allergic responses and “sensitivities” or low-level (IgG) responses. Lowering allergen levels and allergy immunotherapy shots have helped both of my older children with attention, memory and hyperactivity. Common food sensitivities can include eggs, dairy, wheat/gluten and soy and reducing or eliminating them can make a difference for some kids.
  • Sleep: All of my children have had sleep disturbances from a VERY young age. Sleep deprivation exacerbates “isms” such as attention and hyperactivity and can cause developmental issues. Routine can help, but in some cases not enough. Our pediatrician recommended melatonin, so talk to yours if sleep is an issue. Don’t overlook the fact that YOU need some sleep too!
  • Exercise: This seems obvious, but a really good physical outlet is helpful. Small, toddler-safe trampolines (like the [easyazon-link asin=”B0015INF3K” locale=”us”]mini ones with handles[/easyazon-link] on them) or [easyazon-link asin=”B000CBSN9M” locale=”us”]balance boards[/easyazon-link] can help. It’s the biochemical equivalent of a dose of short-acting Ritalin and wears off in about the same amount of time (2-4 hours.)
  • Limiting or Manipulating Sensory Input: Loud noises, audio/visual over-stimulation, rough textures, strong flavors… I could write pages and pages.  The short answer is to pay close attention and observe your child carefully.
Sight: My son still seeks out quiet/dark/closed in places such as cardboard boxes, closets etc. where the environment is less stimulating. Both of my kids are calmer and more focused in less-cluttered, well-organized surroundings.
Sound: [easyazon-link asin=”B0011WFOIO” locale=”us”]Ear plugs[/easyazon-link] or other hearing protection devices, such as the ones used for target shooting, can help block general “noise” and have a calming effect.
Weight: A [easyazon-link asin=”B001TZEGE6″ locale=”us”]weighted vest[/easyazon-link] can feel like a “hug” to some kids and can help calm them. They’re available online, are relatively inexpensive and some are even designed to look more like regular clothing.
Vibration: As parents of infants who fall asleep during car rides have discovered, vibration is soothing to some children! Sitting with their back against a washing machine or dish washer can have a calming effect. [easyazon-link asin=”B00170DB1M” locale=”us”]Vibrating pillows[/easyazon-link] or [easyazon-link asin=”B005GMTGPM” locale=”us”]massage pads[/easyazon-link] can also be used.

Fabrics: My son hates the seams in his socks, tags, anything even mildly irritating, and quite frankly, so do I. Life is too short to wear itchy, scratchy clothing.

When To Get Help?
Does your son’s defiance or  impulsivity put him at risk for physical injury? Does your daughter’s constant physical activity or frequent tantrums put stress on you or the rest of the family? Don’t ignore your instincts! If your child’s “difficult” behaviors seem more pronounced than other kids their age, find a medical professional willing to listen and offer other interventions or medication options. Lastly, keep an open mind. It may not make sense to you that your child wants to sleep inside a cardboard box or that they find loud toilets scary, but trust me – they have their reasons!


Deans, M.D., Emily. “ADHD, Food Additives, and Histamine.” Evolutionary Psychiatry. 23 September 2010. <>.