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“Are there any ways you know of that I can help my child focus naturally?”
This came up in conversations with parents all the time when I was a teacher. Sometimes, it was the first question after a diagnosis of ADHD from parents hoping to avoid a medical treatment route. Other parents had tried some kind of stimulant regimen and watched their child struggle with better focus. Others had awful side effects (or the medicine just didn’t work at all).
If you find yourself in one of these positions (or some third middle ground), know that you do have options. Because your child is a whole person, some of the most effective natural techniques to help your child focus naturally are found in treating their whole person- body, mind, and spirit.
Helping my child to focus naturally with supplements
Before we get into that though, a note about supplements. The FDA doesn’t regulate dietary supplements, herbs, and botanical products, since they’re definitionally not supposed to “treat, diagnose, cure, or alleviate the effects of diseases.” However, I know of plenty websites out there that claim their supplement is a 100% safe, effective treatment option. Those that don’t go so far at least claim that when combined with medication and complementary therapy, their supplement reduces ADHD’s effects.
I’m not a physician, and I don’t feel comfortable talking about the benefits of ginkgo vs St. John’s Wort vs Omega 3 vs magnesium, (etc, etc). However, I know people who’ve seen value from supplements, and there is research out there to back some alternatives up. I encourage you to reach out to a naturopathic doctor if you’re interested in adding supplements to your child’s treatment plan. They’ll know what evidence-based options you actually have and won’t push snake oil on you.
With that note out of the way, let’s talk about how you actually can answer that pesky question. “How do I help my child focus naturally”
Eat protein-rich foods (especially for breakfast)
Whatever you put into your body is what your body has available to perform its necessary functions. For a child with ADHD, their brains require a lot of top-performing neurotransmitters like dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. Your child needs to eat lots of proteins to make up all those neurotransmitters! In some cases, human bodies are incapable of producing certain amino acids for neurotransmitters and rely on diet for 100% of them. Protein has also been shown to help increase alertness, meaning morning is prime protein time.
Instead of sugary carbs like Fruit Loops – which can actually make kids more drowsy – feed them meats, eggs, dairy, nuts (including nut butters) and beans.
Exercise can help my child focus naturally
Aside from playing a huge part in social development, positive body image, and developing healthy life-long habits, regular exercise can help moderate ADHD symptoms.
Exercise increases those same neurotransmitters we build by eating proteins, and the same neurotransmitters affected by prescribed ADHD medication.
In addition, getting regular exercise can help your child with much more than simple focusing abilities. Depending on the types of games or activities they’re involved in, they can also be building their planning, problem solving, impulse control, and working memory muscles, all of which are areas that ADHD kids tend to struggle with. Exercises that include regular mindfulness or character-building elements like traditional martial arts are especially good at this.
Sleep can help your child focus
This one shouldn’t be a surprise to you. After all, a good, healthy amount of nightly sleep is important for every human. However, children with ADHD are hard-wired to seek sensory experiences and often rely on endorphins to focus so sleep can be hard to come by. On a positive note, the rewards of good sleep are also more pronounced for kids with ADHD. One study showed that for some kids, treating sleep problems might be enough to completely eliminate symptoms of ADHD altogether!
The first step to helping your child is becoming a stickler for good sleep hygiene. First and foremost, for the love of all you hold dear, start restricting screens at least one hour before bed. Older children can charge phones, laptops, and tablets somewhere other than right next to their bed, and everyone can remove TVs from bedrooms to help with this temptation.
Good Sleep Hygiene
Other important sleep hygiene habits include encouraging your kids to only use their beds for sleeping, not long periods of reading or playing. This will help train (or re-train) their brain to see a bed as only a place of rest. You also can look at whether they need a snack before bed, should reduce caffeine in the afternoon/evening, and/or need to add a white noise machine, blackout curtains, or make other environmental changes. Be sure you have a regular bedtime and wake up time and stick with them every day- even on weekends! It will help train your child’s body so much faster to get into a rhythm.
Lastly, a big problem for school-aged kids with ADHD is cramming for tests and doing homework late at night. Like I said earlier, for an ADHD brain, endorphins sometimes seem like the only way to motivate themselves to start projects. What’s a better endorphin boost than waiting until the last minute? Help them avoid this sleep-busting problem by tackling tardy work habits as a separate problem. And you can see all my tips and tricks for that in my Executive Functioning Skill Builder Masterlist post.
Behavioral therapy ALSO helps my child focus naturally
After medication, behavioral therapy is one of the most-frequently recommended treatments for ADHD. There is a TON of research out there on its effectiveness. CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) is often suggested for children over 6; its goal is to help children learn skills, habits, and coping strategies. Behavioral therapy is even more useful if a child is also struggling with anxiety, depression, or another emotional disorder.
Your child’s doctor might also suggest that you attend some behavioral therapy sessions as a parent to learn how to best help your child focus naturally. This suggestion is not a reflection on your fitness as a parent! I’m a firm believer that since every single parent will “screw up” at some point on the parenting journey, therapy can be good for all of us. If you want the tools you don’t feel you currently have to best help your child, don’t be afraid to learn them in parental therapy!
If you decide behavioral therapy is a good route for your child, you’ll probably change a few things at home. Behavior incentives, rewards, and reminder and routine charts might start popping up on various walls or on the fridge door.
Get them outside
Finally, there’s some solid research published by the American Journal of Public Health that getting outside regularly can help. Results found that “green outdoor activities reduced symptoms significantly more than did activities conducted in other settings, even when activities were matched across settings.”
What does this mean for your child? Well, a lot of walks might be in your future! For maximum benefit, try combining physical activities with the outdoors- either organized sports or simply running around like a maniac. Alternatively, you could try working your child’s “attention” muscles and have them hang outdoors with a notebook and sketch, write about, or take leaf rubbings of their surroundings.
If you’re a parent of a child with ADHD, remember that you’re not alone!
For further reading on this topic:
- 15 Sensory Toys for ADHD
- Stress-free Morning Routines for Kids with ADHD
- Homeschooling & ADHD: Set Yourself Up for Success
- 25+ Learning Accommodations for ADHD
Hillary is a former teacher who went rogue and became a freelance writer. When not offering support and advice to homeschooling families, she tends to her own garden, family, and cat. You can connect with her on her website, homegrownhillary.com.