Most parents and carers know that ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) is a disorder which almost always comes in a sort of cluster. There are several co-existing conditions which are all part and parcel of the condition which is known as commodities. The estimate of ADHD and anxiety in children is about 25%.
The others range from autism, SPD (sensory processing disorder) to ODD, phobias and even panic disorders. In fact, we are talking about 80% of kids with ADHD who will have to contend with at least one other condition as well. There are difficulties in diagnosis and treatment because the symptoms often overlap. Sometimes anxiety is actually caused by having ADHD- this is known as the secondary type. But in other cases, anxiety has always been present and has always been present. This is known as primary anxiety.
Anxiety symptoms are often internalized so it is difficult to spot them. One of the best ways is to ask the child what is worrying her and then talk about these. Naturally, if your pediatrician is involved, he or she will want to know too. Apart from the usual ADHD and anxiety treatment which might include some medication and/or behavioral therapy, there are lots of things that you, the parent, can help with. Here are some ideas to start with.
How Can You Help?
1. If the possibility of an anxiety disorder concerns you, be sure to discuss any fears or worries she has and listen carefully to her response. She may be having focus problems in class, or she may be having issues with peer rejection. All these can snowball which lead to lack of motivation, frustration, and even more anxiety! Report her comments to her pediatrician and/or psychologist, when you go for ADHD and anxiety treatment the next time.
2. When talking, try to understand what is going on and be aware that banal comments like not worrying too much about it, may not be helpful at all. Talk about what happens when anxiety strikes. Teach the child to recognize this emotion and talk about how you deal with it. Try to work out together the pattern as to when and why these things happen, looking out for the triggers. Role-playing can be quite fun and it is a great way of bonding. These are some of the things that a behavioral therapist will tell you, so you are preparing the ground here and also you can save some money if you start seeing results and the child is less anxious.
3. Another fun way is to ask the child to assess the worry on a ten point scale. Help the child to read about characters in stories who were worried and anxious but managed to solve the problem. Tell them to imagine writing their worst fears on a whiteboard and then rubbing it off. It is gone. Or they can imagine burying them in the snow or sand, whichever season is appropriate.
4. The child may be suffering from social anxiety and dread going to certain school events, birthday parties and so on. Tell the child that they can have an escape plan (or Plan B) so that there is always a possibility of leaving early if they are unhappy.
5. As regards school, keep the teachers in the loop. Talk to the teacher about the problems your child is having. Ask them what they have noticed. How does she think ADHD is contributing and what about special arrangements? Is there any way she can change the routine/seating/homework?
6. Talk about relaxation techniques. Show how deep breathing really helps. Practice together. Talk about ways of reducing anxiety by talking to a pet or hugging them.
7. Reassurance. Stress the fact that life is more than getting good grades or being good at sports. The child will be judged much more on her social ability and being a caring, balanced and responsible adult.
5 Focus Exercises for ADHD Kids
8. Lots of routines will be a great help. The reassurance that the routine and structure are nearly always the same can help anxious children. They feel more in control. Springing surprises on them and sudden changes in a routine can be upsetting. Any changes need to be announced well in advance.
9. Kids with ADHD need lots of practice with social skills. They can be problems with lack of impulse control and also interrupting and being less aware of turn taking. Lots of roleplay games are great here. But you have to do them often.
10. Help your child make choices. Anxious kids feel more in control when they know how to make choices. Don’t we all! Help them to choose clothes for school the night before and limit the choices. The same goes for what to eat and drink and what games to play.
11. Make sure that s/he is getting plenty of exercises. These are great for relaxation and getting a good night’s sleep afterward. Exercise is great for physical health but studies also show that it actually improves academic performance.
12. Keep an eye on what your child is watching on TV. Too many scary images and a constant obsession with fear may make a child more anxious. This exposure and that of social media can be reduced. The journalist Lenore Skenazy (World’s Worst Mom) has pointed out that the daily diet of news, weather, and missing children (from 30 years ago) is contributing to our fear-ridden society.
Summing It All Up
Finally, provide an anxiety-free home by removing stressors which are likely to increase anxiety. That includes arguments, fights, heated discussions, ranting and family stress in general. These should all be kept to a minimum. A calm and structured environment is essential for dealing with ADHD and anxiety. Also, make sure that things like getting enough sleep and a healthy diet are always followed.