How Exercise Effects on ADHD, Anxiety and Depression  6/30/17

Exercise is a great way to create positive changes in the ADHD brain. It improves attention, mood and can be fun for kids and adults.

Important brain chemicals are released in the brain when we exercise. Endorphins are released when we engage in any physical activity such as running, swimming or even walking. Endorphins regulate mood and we need mood regulation in our ADHD bodies! When we are physically active, we can increase focus and attention because exercise raises the brain’s level of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin levels. Ratey, author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain says, “On a practical level, it causes kids to be less impulsive, which makes them more primed to learn”.

How do we make exercise fun for adults and kids, especially in the hot summer? Find a sport or an exercise that you and your child enjoy, so you are more likely to continue with it. Swimming is an amazing gross motor sport. Either join a team or swim for fun.  Many of us have swimming pools or access to a local city pool. City pools, YMCA pools, or gym pools also have a social component too. Kids love swimming with other kids and that social interaction is always beneficial! Martial arts is also great for kids with ADHD. There are many local studios and you can find inexpensive options at your local YMCA or with your City Parks and Recreation. Encourage your child to have a say in the exercise and activity that you choose and stay with it. Kids learn the growth mindset by trying new things, practicing new skills and sticking with the activity. It is okay not to be perfect or master the skill right away.

With the 4th of July just around the corner and summer vacations looming, plan family outings together. Go on early morning hikes, late evening bike rides or plan a family camping trip. Outdoor time in nature is very therapeutic for adults and kids. We don’t get enough of it so a weekend family trip can bring joy and togetherness. Family time is wonderful for a child’s development physically and mentally.

Enjoy each other and get your bodies moving.  Happy 4th of July!

 Good Healthy Food is Brain Medicine  6/20/17

The right food can strengthen focus, increase energy (the right kind) and calm emotions. Most children, adolescents and young adults who struggle developmentally, academically and personally share one or more of the following eating behaviors: diets high in simple carbohydrates, nutritionally deficient food choices and side effects from food additives. So, what steps can we take towards making healthy changes in nutrition?

  1.  Drink lots of water! A good rule is to try to drink half your weight in ounces every day. A dehydrated brain is one that doesn’t function well so keep the water coming!

  2.  Protein helps balance blood sugar and focus. Fish, turkey, lean meat, eggs and beans are all good sources of protein. Try to start the day with protein.

  3.  Fruit is a great snack, especially fruit high in fiber like apples and blueberries. Summer fruits like peaches, plums, strawberries and melons are accepted even with the pickiest of palates.

  4.  Good fats are essential to healthy brains especially those with omega three fatty acids like salmon, walnuts, dark leafy greens and chia seeds. Consider making some fruit shakes with spinach and chia seeds blended in.

  5.  Antioxidants help keep your brain young so eat multicolored veggies and fruits such as bell peppers, carrots, tomatoes, squash and tomatoes. Pinterest is full of fun kid-friendly recipes for the pickiest eater. Consider having your child cruise through the Pinterest recipes with you. Remember, having their investment in the food choice will go a long way…

Nutrition changes aren’t always easy to make so pick one that you will choose to tackle this week. Make it fun and involve your kids. Help them understand why good nutrition is important and how it directly relates to their body, brain and ADHD. Knowledge is power!

Don't let ADHD Prevent a Great Summer, 6/14/17

Summer is finally here and with it comes visions of fun filled days, no school and a slower pace.  As a parent of three ADHD kids, I know some visions can also be less than ideal. The reason is there isn’t a summer break from ADHD, right? That means the same needs that exist during school still apply during break such as daily structure, good nutrition and a good sleep schedule.  So how do all of us parents pull this off?

First let me say that I am grateful to have a break from rushed school mornings with lunches to pack and missing assignments to find.  I can also relish in the hiatus from daily homework power struggles.  As a good parent, I want summers with my kids to be fun and be an opportunity to recharge so they’re ready for the next school year.  Again, I have to be mindful that ADHD doesn’t take a break so what do I need to do to help our summer be positive?

The lack of structure is exactly where those of us with ADHD can start experiencing difficulty. Structure is really important and beneficial to managing our ADHD traits. So where should we begin to take a hard look at the structure of our summer days? Sleep, nutrition, exercise, and daily routines are a great a great place to start.

Over the next two weeks, I will address all of these topics, but let’s start with the daily routine. Some parents can over-schedule their kids during the break because they worry about idle minds.  That can lead to a lot of frustration and on the flip side, there is bigger risk to under-scheduling those with ADHD.  Kids tend to thrive and do best on a routine and while it is great to have unstructured fun and breaks, we want to minimize unwanted behavior and chaos and maximize growth opportunities. 

There are simple ways to keep structure during the summer.  Here are six ideas parents can use this summer:

  • Daily routines with regular wake up, eating and bed times. Older kids can keep using their alarm clocks. If your child doesn’t wake up easily, you might think about purchasing the Sonic Boom.
  • Summer Camp can be a highlight of the summer and consider letting your child help pick the camp as long as it works with your schedule and budget. If you want them to do a sports camp and they choose chess, consider that this may be a new growth opportunity for them. Even if your child doesn’t 100% love their choice, stay with it. We learn by experiencing new things and build new brain connections. Overnight Camps can be a great way to build resiliency. Even for the child or teen with anxiety, they can practice their coping skills while in a supportive environment. The YMCA, Boy Scouts, and Girl Scouts are just a few groups that offer amazing summer camps up north, in cooler weather. Your place of worship is sure to offer some great options as well
  • Summer Reading Programs at the local library or summer coursework assigned by the school. Your child might not be thrilled, but these activities keep their brain engaged in learning. If you have a child with dyslexia, consider having them also listen to audio books.
  • Family vacations can be relationship building and a great way for everyone to reconnect. If you have more than one ADHD child, the idea of family vacations may strike fear in your heart…  That being said, a stay-cation might be more manageable or a two-day trip to Flag. Get creative!
  • Volunteering can offer structure, a sense of purpose, and build self-esteem. If you have very young children, seek out places that allow you to come serve as a family. St. Vincent de Paul allows younger children to volunteer with parents. For older kids and teens, public libraries, The Humane Society, and The Valley of the Sun United Way are a few of the organizations that welcome kids 13-18. You can also check out more volunteer opportunities at Hands On Phoenix.

ADHD and Self-Medicating, 3/31/17

The thought of your own child using illicit drugs or alcohol is frightening.  It is hard for many parents to imagine let alone discuss.  That is one of the reasons substance abuse can be a tricky topic.

We know today’s life as a pre-teen or teenager is fast paced and highly competitive.  Often there is pressure to be the best, the brightest and the most athletic.  Pre-teens and teens may turn to marijuana, alcohol or other drugs to self -medicate due to the expectations, stress and pressures they feel.  The latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows nearly a quarter of all 12 to 17 year olds had reported current marijuana usage.  The 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that among high school students, during the past 30 days:

·         33% drank some amount of alcohol
·         18% binge drank
·         8% drove after drinking alcohol
·         20% rode with a driver who had been drinking alcohol

Enter ADHD, Learning Disorders, Anxiety, Depression and other mental health issues. When undiagnosed and/or untreated, these teens are much more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol. Each issue needs its own attention and treatment. Victory in one area does not mean the others will go away.  Keep in mind too that in addition to the immediate concerns of substance abuse, teenage brains are vulnerable to permanent damage from drugs and alcohol because they are still developing.  The area that controls the executive function, including weighing long-term consequences and controlling impulses, is the last to fully mature in the brain.

Forward thinking parents aim to empower themselves with facts and will have those conversations with their children about drugs and alcohol use even if it’s uncomfortable. The best time to start talking about substance abuse is in elementary school.  It’s never too late to start even if you’re not suspicious.  If you feel you can’t connect with your child, seek help. A friend, family member, therapist or coach can assist with getting the conversation started.  You must then stay connected as this is an important ingredient to preventing substance abuse.

Once you have broached the topic, give the message that you are available to talk and listen without judgement. If you discover substance abuse, empathize with your child and gather information about what triggered the use. Don’t blame or assume you understand your child’s perspective.  Seek first to understand, validate and then express your parental concerns. Absolutely state the expectations in your household and set boundaries around health and safety.  Writing them down will be beneficial.

Our role as parents is to provide kids with tools, strategies and support to help them to develop self-regulation, internal control and the motivation to avoid bad decisions such as abusing alcohol and drugs. We will be most effective supporting our children if we avoid judgement and work hard to understand their perspective.  They are more likely to listen if there is no shame, blame or criticism.  Don’t avoid, have the open conversations regularly.

"Happiness is not so much in having as sharing.  We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give."  Norman Macewan

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