Supporting children and pre-teens with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
Children and pre-teens with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) might need support to learn, manage their emotions and behaviour, develop friendships, and do everyday tasks.
Support works best when it makes the most of children’s existing skills and ways of doing things.
Support plans for children and pre-teens with ADHD
If your child is diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), their paediatrician, psychologist or occupational therapist or another health professional will develop a support plan for them.
The support plan should consider all aspects of your child’s life, including your child’s strengths, needs and responsibilities at home, at school and in other social settings.
Your child’s support plan might include:
- strategies for managing energy levels and tiredness
- adjustments at school to support learning
- strategies to help with organisation and everyday tasks
- help to develop friendship skills
- medicines to help improve focus and attention.
If your child is also autistic or has a learning disorder, oppositional defiant disorder or anxiety, strategies to help with these can be included in your child’s support plan too. The plan will be regularly reviewed as your child grows and develops.
The support plan should also consider what works for your family.
It’s a good idea to discuss your child’s support plan with other members of your family and your child’s carers and teachers. This helps people understand your child’s strengths and areas where they might need more support. And if they have to give your child medicine, they’ll know how much to give and when.
Your child’s professionals will help you understand how to support your child and put the strategies in your child’s plan into action. They will also help you learn more about ADHD and neurodiversity.
Managing energy and tiredness in children and pre-teens with ADHD
Everyone finds life easier when they can manage their energy levels and aren’t tired.
Here are ways to help your child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) manage energy levels and maximise focus:
- Build rest breaks into your child’s activities.
- Make time for physical exercise breaks while your child is doing learning tasks like reading or homework.
- Give your child opportunities to let out energy and low-key activities to wind down.
And here are ideas for helping your child avoid overtiredness:
- Help your child get into good sleep routines, like getting to sleep and waking up at about the same time each day.
- Give your child healthy food options for longer-lasting energy and concentration.
- Make sure your child’s screen time is balanced with other activities during the day.
- Make sure all electronic devices are switched off at least an hour before bed.
Adjusting the school environment to support learning for children and pre-teens with ADHD
Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can sometimes find it hard to learn at school. Teachers can make adjustments so your child can learn in ways that work for them.
Here are adjustments you and your child’s teacher could talk about:
- Divide classroom or learning tasks into smaller chunks.
- Give your child one-on-one help when possible.
- Give your child a ‘buddy’ who can help them understand what to do.
- Plan the classroom so your child is seated near the front of the room and away from distractions.
- Make a visual checklist of your child’s tasks or keep a copy of the class timetable where your child can see it.
- Do more difficult learning tasks in the mornings or after breaks.
- Give your child extra time to finish tasks.
Schools can also help by developing an individual learning plan for your child. The school should also work with you to review your child’s learning goals regularly.
You might need to advocate for your child to get the support your child needs. This could involve talking to your child’s classroom teacher, the principal or the additional needs support officer about how they can support your child.
Helping children and pre-teens with ADHD get organised and do everyday tasks
Here are strategies to help your child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) organise themselves and do everyday tasks:
- Give your child short, clear instructions. These could be written or verbal instructions. Or you could show your child what you want them to do.
- Set up predictable daily routines. These can help a lot at busy times of the day, like when your child is getting ready for school.
- Help your child learn how to do everyday tasks in a way that works for them. For example, your child might prefer written instructions or diagrams. Or they might prefer you to show them how to do tasks or guide them as they do tasks.
- Match chores to your child’s strengths. For example, if your child enjoys being active, they might enjoy chores that involve movement, like helping to vacuum the house or mow the lawn, rather than chores like drying the dishes.
Developing friendship skills in children and pre-teens with ADHD
Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) might need extra support with friendship.
Here are ways you can help your child with ADHD develop their friendship skills:
- Help your child learn how to share and take turns – for example, by talking your child through the steps when you’re playing a game together, and saying things like, ‘Now it’s my turn to build the tower, then it’s your turn’.
- Help your child learn what to do if there’s a problem with another child – for example, walking away or talking to a teacher.
- Help your child understand and manage their emotions and recognise other people’s emotions.
- Give your child the chance to practise social skills – for example, by arranging supervised playdates.
Supporting children and pre-teens with ADHD can be a big job, but it's an important one. Looking after yourself helps you do the job well. That’s because looking after yourself physically, mentally and emotionally helps you give your child what they need to grow and thrive.
Your child’s doctor might prescribe medicines to help your child with focus and attention.
Doctors will sometimes prescribe stimulant medicines to help children with attention and self-regulation.
Methylphenidate is the most commonly used medicine of this type. It’s sold under the brand names Ritalin 10, Ritalin LA and Concerta.
Other stimulant medicines are dexamphetamine or lisdexamfetamine. Lisdexamfetamine is sold under the brand name Vyvanse.
Your child’s paediatrician or psychiatrist will be able to work out which drug and dose will be best for your child.
Here are a few questions you might want to ask your doctor:
- How long will each dose last?
- What are the side effects of the medicine?
- How will my child be monitored while they’re taking the medicine?
- How long will my child stay on this medicine?
There are also some non-stimulant medicines for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). These include Strattera (atomoxetine), Catapres (clonidine) and Intuniv (guanfacine). These medicines can help to reduce anxiety too.
Side effects of ADHD medicines
These medicines can cause some side effects – for example, loss of appetite, which can affect your child’s weight gain or growth. Other side effects might include difficulty getting to sleep, tummy upsets or headaches.
Because of these possible side effects, a health professional should closely monitor a child who’s taking medicine for ADHD.
Most side effects are mild and don’t last long. If there are side effects that don’t go away, your health professional might change the dose or timing of the medicine or suggest a different medicine.