Q. My husband and I have two boys (3 and 6), and both their teachers tell me they can’t sit still. The younger one won’t stay on the rug during story time. His older brother is often in trouble for not staying in his seat. I know the teachers are frustrated, and I feel frustrated too. Could one or both of my boys have ADHD? What can I do to help?

A. Your 3-year-old might be too young for testing. (The American Academy of Pediatrics says kids as young as 4 can be diagnosed.) If seen by a professional, it’s possible one or both of your boys could receive a diagnosis of ADD (without hyperactivity) or ADHD (with hyperactivity). CHADD, the national resource on ADHD, says the percentage of children receiving a diagnosis of ADHD has steadily increased in the last few years. And the diagnosis of ADHD is twice as common in boys than girls.

Are some of these kids being misdiagnosed? It’s possible. Children need a significant amount of outdoor play in order to sit still and focus on learning. Today, children are asked to sit for long hours. Many schools are cutting recess and/or PE time to make room for required curriculum. (I have to give schools credit: some of them are starting to recognize the importance of preserving recess and PE time.) Compounding this, kids aren’t going outside to play when they get home from school. Interestingly, exercise stimulates production of the same brain chemicals found in medication used to treat ADD.

That said, how can you help your boys? Get them outside as soon as they come home from school. Homework can take place after outdoor exercise. Let them run around or ride bikes. Play “Mother, May I?” using crab walks, spinning around and other commands to increase vestibular inputs. Time them while they run, swim or jump rope. Encourage them to meet or beat their personal best times. Join them in dancing and “shaking the booty.” As they grow, get them involved in track, soccer, competitive swimming or other organized sports.

Beyond exercise, you can help your children focus and concentrate. Here are a few tips especially for kids who have ADD or ADHD:

  1. Break big tasks into smaller ones.
  2. Work on one task at a time.
  3. Set aside dedicated homework time and space.
  4. Build in planned, very short breaks. Simply standing up, putting their hands in the air and turning around will pump oxygen to the brain. Then they can get back to work.
  5. Keep a calm home environment. This is extremely important. Limit any media distractions.
  6. Some parents work on getting kids to slowly increase the amount of time they can sit still. They offer small rewards for meeting goals, as kids build the “muscle” of sitting still.

In addition, I suggest being very positive with your children and focusing 100 percent on each one for some part of each day. This models the ability to focus and concentrate. You might see if your sons’ schools might have resources that can help you.

And if one or both of your sons does receive a diagnosis of ADD or ADHD, stay positive. These kids have great strengths. Read What I Would Never Trade Away at ADDitudemag.com. Thanks for sharing this question. I believe many of our readers can identify with your concerns.

Dr. Betty Richardson, PhD, RNC, LPC, LMFT, is an Austin-based psychotherapist.

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