How to use your New Year’s Resolutions to assist your ADHD-diagnosed child

How to use your New Year’s Resolutions to assist your ADHD-diagnosed child 

There’s something inherently, blissfully, hopeful about making New Year’s resolutions – the confidence that, this year, we’re going to be our better selves. Exercising regularly, eating healthy and cultivating healthy habits like giving up smoking are amongst the most common resolutions that we make. These lifestyle factors1 affect not only our physical health, but our mental health as well. Likewise, they play a role in managing the symptoms of ADHD, so your New Year’s resolutions could be exactly the lifestyle changes that your family needs! 

Here are some starting points to build these lifestyle changes into a routine:
Exercise 

As a treatment strategy for ADHD, exercise is promoted more than diet, as some people have seen significant improvement with exercise. Exercise increases the neurotransmitters, dopamine and norepinephrine, which helps regulate the attention system, and so tempers ADHD symptoms. 

1. Exercise together, as a family. It’s always more fun to have a partner, and it will keep you motivated to continue. 

2. Try to get one hour of exercise in per day, even if it’s broken up in 15-minute segments. 

3. Aim for moderate to vigorous exercise that gets the heart rate up. 

4. Encourage lots of outdoor play. 

5. When deciding on a sport for your ADHD-diagnosed child or an activity to do together, consider an activity that incorporates technical movement, balance, timing, sequencing, error correction and fine motor adjustments. Examples of this would be any martial arts, ballet, dance, gymnastics, mountain biking or skateboarding. These require evaluating consequences, control, inhibition and lots of focus and concentration! 

Sleep

For adults and children alike, restorative sleep is very important for the body and brain: it maintains focus and mood, and consolidates and processes information learnt during the day. 

1. Have a bedtime routine that makes them (and you) wind down 30 – 60 minutes before sleeping. The success of it, lies in the repetition of activities before bed. 

2. Put away screens at least an hour before bedtime. 

3. Expose yourself and your child to morning sunlight. This helps “reset” the body’s circadian clock, and for your ADHD-diagnosed child, it shifts their sleep toward an earlier circadian timing, improving symptoms. 

Diet

While many of us want to lose weight and be more energetic this year by eating healthier, for your ADHD-diagnosed child, proper nutrition could help control the symptoms. Again, people respond differently to diet: some see significant benefits, while for others, the differences are negligible. Through consistency and observation, you’ll be able to notice how food affects your child. 

1. Eat a balanced diet. [Click here for a practical guide to our Plate Model.] 

2. Ensure that your child is getting enough protein. The body uses protein-rich foods to make neurotransmitters, the chemicals released by brain cells to communicate with each other. It also prevents blood sugar spikes, which can affect hyperactivity. 

3. For cognitive function and mood, the following vitamins and minerals have been recommended for ADHD symptoms: omega 3, magnesium, zinc, iron, vitamin D, and vitamin B. You can get these from food, or consider supplementation. [Please note that this should be used alongside treatment prescribed by your child’s doctor.] 

4. Foods to avoid: caffeine, high-sugar food and snacks, artificial colourants and preservatives. 

Tobacco smoking

Trying to quit smoking is challenging for most – and likely more so for people who deal with a lot of stressful situations. If you are struggling to kick the habit, don’t beat yourself up; stay positive and wield your knowledge of the significant relationship between ADHD and smoking as motivation to quit: 

• People living with ADHD smoke at a disproportionately higher rate than the general population, making ADHD a risk factor for smoking. 

• They start smoking at an earlier age, and are more likely to become regular smokers. 

• They smoke more and have higher levels of nicotine dependence. 

• They have greater craving and withdrawal symptoms when they want to quit smoking. And when they do quit, they are more likely to relapse. 

Perhaps a first step toward quitting could be not to light up in front of your ADHD-diagnosed child. 

Exercise, sleep and diet forms part of a complementary treatment approach for ADHD. Making lifestyle changes require behavioural changes, and changing habits and routines are undoubtedly hard. So start by making small changes that are easy to maintain, and which will work best for you and your family. Then choose the tiniest action that you can do to work towards your goal (that you cannot fail at) and continue with small steps. Once you’ve made progress, reward yourself immediately! Research has shown that immediate rewards are a stronger predictor of sticking to your goals – and that includes your New Year Resolutions! 

* Lifestyle factors is a term used to refer to health behaviours such as physical exercise, diet, tobacco smoking and sleep.  

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