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A Beginner’s Guide to Coping With Childhood ADHD

Written by Nicole Frank

When I hear the letters ADHD, a part of me becomes very uncomfortable. Uh oh, what now? Run in the opposite direction? Ignore? Scream? Shout? Cry?

Why? Because, often ADHD is associated negatively with children who are naughty and who constantly misbehave. Their behavior suddenly becomes who they are, with a NICE BIG label.

“Don’t worry about that child, she has ADHD!”

Labels are the worst form of punishment, because the child goes through life either believing that he or she is incapable of change or they use it as a crutch. In most schools, there is a prevalence of between 3 – 7% of children who suffer from ADHD. The statistics are similar across all cultures and schools.

“Where?” You might ask. Where does this WORD come from? Well, it is genetic. Most cases are inherited from parents or due to complications during pregnancy or birth (If the child was premature, for example). This does not mean that all premature children will be diagnosed with ADHD, but it is something to be aware of. The consumption of alcohol or drugs during pregnancy also contributes to the diagnosis of ADHD in a child.

Father hugging mothers pregnant belly

What is it?

The thing about ADHD that causes such frustration is that it becomes explicitly a “behavioral problem”, where people find it ok to label and regard these kids as problematic and ill-disciplined. That is the wrong approach. No one is ever punished for having the flu or being diagnosed with autism, are they? No, because that would be ridiculous.

So why punish children with ADHD, because of their symptoms?

ADHD is a mental disorder of the neurodevelopmental type, which means that it cannot be helped! Can you hear me screaming?

In the brain, chemicals called neurotransmitters do not work the same in children with ADHD. There are also indicators that there is a difference in nerve pathways between a child with ADHD and a child without ADHD. Some parts of the brain may also be less active or reduced in children with ADHD.

How do you know?

Eek! You will know … 

Most children don’t like sitting still, however a child with ADHD CANNOT sit still. He/she is incapable of concentrating for longer than a certain amount of time. He/she will fidget all the time using their hands or feet. Their restlessness becomes a distraction to other children, especially at school.They can be destructive and can get frustrated when they are unable to complete tasks.They lack impulse control, so the likelihood of them getting into fights or arguments is high. They are attracted to danger and tend to be unpredictable. The talking never ends, and they are extremely impatient They want what they want NOW. They do not like to complete tasks or find it difficult to concentrate long enough to complete it, and they forget things quite easily.

We wrote a separate blog post on learning barriers. How to identify them and what you need to know. You might want to give it a read as well. You can check it out here.

CAPS Revision South Africa“Let’s go!”

As a parent or a teacher, you can probably recognize these symptoms and possibly realize that whatever label you had given or decided to give this child, whose conditions are out of her or his control, was a bit premature. Shouting or screaming at him/her will not help, and could possibly make things worse. Think about it, you wouldn’t shout at your child for having depression, would you?

Generally speaking, the symptoms of ADHD might overlap with certain events that happen in a child’s life. So be careful not to assume your child has ADHD without speaking to him or her first Maybe they are going through a phase or have suffered a loss. Traumatic events can cause a change in behavior in children, for example, if a parent passes on or even a pet. For a time, the child could display disruptive and restless behavior. This is why ADHD must be diagnosed, and not assumed.


No one, not even a teacher, can diagnose a child with ADHD if they are not a qualified clinical professional. Diagnosis is clinical and based on a detailed history taken from parents, teachers and direct observations of the child. The behavior should be extreme and must have appeared before the age of 12, and have been present for longer than 6 months. The child’s behavior should be consistent in a variety of settings, for example at school and at home.

Young boy reading a book

How to cope?

Well, you don’t. Just kidding.

Firstly, this is out of your child’s control, and, secondly, definitely out of your control, so do not try and control the condition. You can, however, manage it:

  • Medication. Once your child is clinically diagnosed, you can let them take medication that curbs the symptoms, somewhat.
  • Food! Symptoms can be managed if a good diet is maintained. They also need to drink plenty of water each day.
  • Children have to get enough sleep, so curb the late night TV. Tough love!
  • All children need to exercise; however, it is extremely helpful for a child with ADHD.
  • They need social support, by avoiding negativity. They already have a problem and it can be escalated if it is not accepted or tolerated. Children with ADHD are the ones who talk constantly in class, those who get up to mischief at home and do not follow instructions. Punishing them might worsen the symptoms. It is therefore vital to choose an appropriate manner to discipline. 
  • Clear instructions have to be given. Use shorter sentences or divide the instructions into smaller steps to make the directive easier. Using long sentences could confuse the child and when they don’t know what to do, chances are they will find something destructive to do.
  • Routine is essential. Developing a routine helps the child compartmentalize and prepare for what is to come. Being comfortable is very important to them. Repeat often, if necessary. This applies to homework, supper time and bedtimes.
  • We designed WorksheetCloud to be an interesting and exciting way to prepare for exams and tests. Why not give it a go? I’m sure that your child will find it a lot more interesting and easier to focus on than reading from a book. You can sign up here.
  • Lastly, parents have to MODEL the appropriate behavior. Do not take it for granted that your child knows how to behave. You need to show them.

Children are waiting for approval most of the time. Shouting at a child for symptoms out of his or her control is not going to improve the situation. This does not mean that you allow him or her to get away with anything. Discipline has to be maintained, but find a way of doing it that does not make your child feel dejected and despondent. Remember, this condition is tough on all parties, including your child. Explain to him or her why their behavior is wrong and try to use positive reinforcement. Praise him or her when they do what you ask. This will likely motivate them to continue doing the right thing.

If this is too much information and you don’t know how to cope, just dream! Yes, you heard me… DREAM!

D – Follow a strict and healthy DIET.
RROUTINE is essential.
E – Children need to EXERCISE often, to burn excess energy.
AACCEPT that it is not their fault, and accept them as they are.
MMODEL the appropriate behavior, so that they can learn from you.

Before you start pulling out your hair and biting your nails, remember that ADHD is extremely common. It is tough to deal with, but it’s not the end of the world. Management is key. Tolerance is vital! Routine is essential! 


Remember to motivate them and encourage them to do the right thing or act in an appropriate manner by using positive reinforcement. Steer away from NEGATIVITY and focus on what they are doing right. (I’m not saying ignore the bad, but try not to ONLY focus on that). Do not allow ADHD to become a crutch or an excuse for bad behavior. In this article, I mentioned many ways to cope with it, so that it can be improved. Accept that it’s not their fault, but do not accept the behavior.

Oh and another thing. Once ADHD is well managed, it should not stop your child from being capable of anything! One of the most intelligent people in the world had ADHD.

Albert Einstein Grafitti
“Yes it’s me! Albert Einstein!”

So if you think your child could have ADHD or a teacher suspects that your child could have ADHD, have him/her diagnosed as soon as possible so that they can have a better and healthier life, and then, so can you…

I’m very interested to hear how you manage your child’s ADHD. Post your comments, suggestions and questions below. I personally read and answer every comment.

The Author - Nicole Frank

Nicole is one of our epic curriculum authors and is a fantastic primary school teacher! She is a loving mother, is always smiling and absolutely kills it at karaoke evenings.

WorksheetCloud is the most exciting way to study for exams and tests!

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    Our Son was diagnosed 6 years back in gr1, he is highly intelligent and his Psychologist said that is the only reason he still performed in school, as his level of concentration was very bad , he never new he had ADHD until last year as his older cousin was diagnosed with OCD and then I explained to him why he has to drink meds everyday as well. When he started using meds I explained he has a very intelligent brain and we need to give it all we can to keep working at it’s very best level. I had to set an alarm for 15minute intervals from when I wake him up until I drop him off at school, he understood what every alarm meant and we use them today still, otherwise it only causes unnecessary strain as according to him he still has lots of time to play and do other things…same goes for from 3’clock until bed time… I still make the mistake of rattling of a list of things he has to remember from his bedroom to the kitchen and then gets upset when he forgets half of it but I’m learning…he does very well in school but we had to make some changes and he is not treated as if he has an illness, cut off or rather switching off at night is still a problem as Concerta has a long working period … so we try the reading etc. way of going

    • Ross Frank

      Hi Erica! Thank you for your continued efforts with ADHD. It is a problem that does not only affect the child, but also the parent, teacher etc. I commend you, for the patience that you have regarding your child’s diagnosis. I believe that sitting with him and explaining things in shorter instructions will definitely help him. The alarms are such a great idea, he can associate an instruction with an alarm. Please keep up all the great strategies you are using, and feel free to share them here. Keep in mind that it will take time to get it right.

      Ross 🙂

  2. Lizel

    My 8 year old son has Asperger’s as well as ADHD. He was diagnosed when he was 5 years old by an educational phycologist. He is the light of our lives, but sometimes dealing with all his quirks can by frustrating. We’ve done a lot of research since he was diagnosed, and have managed to do most of the above. He is really intelligent and he is an A+ child at school, but to manage studying is sometimes a challenge. When he is tired or something happened at school that upset him, it is most difficult. He is in a good routine and know exactly what is expected of him. When he is tired and his concentration is bad, we simply make study sessions a bit shorter and chill out time a bit longer (a bit of extra reward for working with us). He also responds well to reward charts with some reward for achieving his goal.

    • Ross Frank

      Hi Lizel! Thanks for your comment! This is great to hear. Most of the time children who are diagnosed with ADHD, respond very well to positive reinforcement. They like to be told that they are doing something well and usually they will try to seek that type of approval again. As teachers or parents, maintaining that encouragement can be difficult at times, because life can get quite busy. However, I feel that you are doing an amazing job managing his diagnosis. Keep it up!

      Ross 🙂

    • Sbahle Zulu

      May I ask if the child is diagnosed with ADHD dies that mean they must go to special schools?

      • Ross Frank

        Hi Sbahle! Thanks for your comment! Most children don’t need a specialized school. Many good public and private schools provide academic support and deal effectively with ADHD. Having fewer students in a class generally means a quieter classroom, less distraction, and more individualized attention for each child. I would suggest speaking to the schools counselor or teacher, to better understand how the learning process may accommodate your child’s needs.

        Make an effort to meet the teachers and administrators. Check in frequently to be sure that you are have the same goal. Work together, stay productive, maintain an open dialogue, and use all of the school’s resources to help your child have a positive educational experience. I hope this helps.

        Ross 🙂

  3. Andrew Campouroglou

    Hi Nicole I enjoyed your article and found it interesting. I am at the end on trying to find an answer to my query and I hope you may have some insight for me.
    I am trying to find out if anyone knows a way that we can get my sons medication (Ritalin) on to chronic as it eats through our medical saving account quickly in the year.

    • Ross Frank

      Hi Andrew! Thanks for your comment! We will be sure to pass on your comment to Nicole and let her know what you think of her blog post. If your child was diagnosed with ADHD by a psychologist, you need to keep that report and take it to the local clinic, once they confirm that your son has ADHD, you actually can get it free from the state. If you go the medical aid route, you have to get the doctor to fill out a form to add Ritalin on to the chronic medication and submit it to the medical aid. The problem with Ritalin is that a prescription is only given monthly at times, because it is no longer given for long term. I really hope this helps you.

      Ross 🙂

      • Priscilla

        Ross Frank, thank you for this really useful information! We too are struggling with the Ritalin draining our medical savings, and will definitely look into seeing if our local clinic will be able to supply us with the Ritalin going forward.
        Thank you for your guidance and advice!

        • Ross Frank

          Hi Priscilla! You are welcome! I am so glad that I could help you! Please let us know if there are any other blog topics you would like for us to cover in the future or if you have any questions regarding our content.

          Ross 🙂

  4. Nombulelo

    Hi Nicole
    My son is almost 13years. He was diagnosed with ADHD when he was young and he was prescribes to take Ritalin which I REFUSED as I was not sure about the after effect in the long run. Now he is almost 13 years. What I have noticed and found out that he is dyslexia. He started High school and the teachers are complaining almost everyday. I took him to educational psychologists who also told me what he has found out, He is behind in his grade level work and also ADHD. He prescribes medication which is not Ritalin. I’ve used it from last month which I’ve noticed a huge change. He is more calmer. I need to know about the diet that I can follow for him that will help and which is a no no for him. What can I do to help with his dyslexia?

    Thank you

    • Ross Frank

      Hi Nombulelo! Thanks for sharing! I am glad that the medication is helping, but as you have noticed, management of both these conditions requires more than administering medication. Patience is key. Children need time to adjust to new information, so work closely with his educators to see what they are doing at school and implement it at home. Also, be clear in the instructions you give. Dyslexia is a huge problem, however teachers have to understand the needs of the child, hence why a good relationship with the educator is important. For ADHD – Eat balanced meals. Try to include a mix of vegetables, whole grains, protein, and omega-3 fatty acids in most meals. Schedule regular meal and snack times, as ROUTINE is vital for children with ADHD. Try not to skip meals, as this could lead to blood sugar crashes and excessive junk food consumption. Remember sugar gives excess energy, so try to avoid foods with high sugar. For Dyslexia – Try short reading passages, simple questions at first and then slowly progress with more difficult passages. (WorksheetCloud should be a good tool as it appeals to most of the senses, children love interacting). Hope this helps.

      Ross 🙂


    My daugter was diagnosed with ADHD in Grade 2 and my son with ADD in Grade 9. Both of them are on Ritelin now (she is 14 and he is 17) and it made a world of difference. It brought peace to our home.

    My husband could not handle the constant hyper activity, screams, shouts and throwing of stuff that went with it. It initially did much harm to their relationship but they are back on track, I am happy to say!

    Some of our friends also started to avoid inviting us to braais and parties as my daughter was a menace. (She once clobbered another child with a golf club at a braai, whacked another with a ruler and another time got her head stuck in the pool table opening where the balls come out.) Now that she is calmer, we are socially active again.

    My daugter is very intelligent but not being able to concentrate, negatively impacted her school work and with low grades also her self-image. Now she maintains high marks in all her subjects.

    My son, on the other hand, used to fidget a lot when he started school. Trying to do his homework was a nightmare. He averaged mid-50’s during his primary school time but now that he is medicated he can concentrate better and averages mid-60’s (with even 80+ and 90+ for two of his subjects.) When he gets low grades these days it is because of laziness not due to a lack of concentration.

    They are both artistic and my son loves hockey and long boarding (skateboarding) but my daughter hates all forms of sports. She prefers to channel her energy into drawing.

    I was dead set against meds but seeing the positive effect it has on them, I am glad I chose that option.

    • Ross Frank

      Hi Linda! Wow, thank you for your testimony! Sometimes we are very afraid of taking a risk, especially when it comes to our children. I am happy that the medication made such an improvement in their lives and in yours. All children are different and react to medication and situations differently, I’m excited to see the positive effect it had for your children!

      Ross 🙂

  6. Morongwe

    Hi,my son is 15 years and was never diagnosed with ADHD but displays most of the symptoms above. He is disruptive at school. What can I do because the school said if his behaviour does not improve, they will expel him. He is in grade 9 and repeating. Is it too late to diagnose him and put him on treatment? Thanks.

    • Ross Frank

      Hi Morongwe! Thanks so much for your comment! I empathize with your frustration. The symptoms should have been displayed before the age of 12, however I do feel that it could be necessary to have him tested and referred for help. Once he has an assessment, the psychologist will be able to tell you if it is ADHD or something else. I hope this helps.

      Ross 🙂

  7. Teshana

    Hi Thanks for this informative article , my son is 9yrs old , he has lost his dad when he was one year and just in the last two months ,i have noticed behavior changes and even his teacher has been complaining of his behavior in school. He does have and older brother who is 14yrs now . I have not taken him to any doctors as i thought its just a phase , i have however taken away the t.v from them and i have been stricter with him esp and have noticed an improvement . His always been active , learns well but he is very particular about having friends . Should i take him to see a specialist or not. Thank you again

    • Ross Frank

      Hi Teshana! Thanks for your message! I hear your concern! It is a very stressful period, because your child is just coming out of that baby stage and starting to be independent of you. However sometimes, they do take longer than others to mature, but this does not mean that it will not happen. Also, bear in mind that Montessori is a different type of school and I’m not sure which school your niece is in? So try and take all of that into account before making your decision. I suggest you ask her teacher, what she thinks, because most of the time the teacher will be able to tell whether a child is ready or not. Children do go through many stages, especially when they are at school. At times, they would struggle to understand why all the other daddy’s come to the school and why they don’t have one. This struggle often filters into the school and becomes serious behavior problems at times. I do think that a session with a counselor might be helpful or even take two minutes everyday to ask him about what is bothering him and what he is going through. I hope this helps. Please let us know if there are any other blog topics you would like for us to cover in the future or if you have any questions regarding our content.

      Ross 🙂

  8. Zaheera Seedat

    Hi. Thank u for an interesting read. So I have 3 kids all on the spectrum. It’s an interesting tribe to say the least.
    My best move was acceptance and understanding- then communicating to teachers. Many mainstream teachers are empathetic but not trained in special needs. This means guiding them as parent. My 15yo is very different from my 10yo although both are on the spectrum (they have very different diagnoses). This means very unique learning methods. Thanks to Worksheetcloud they are able to go at their own pace. Keep up the great work guys – waiting on reports to give you concrete feedback ❤️


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