Leading psychiatrist shares advice
“Lockdown” is a difficult period for everybody and can be especially challenging for children with ADHD, autism or those who struggle with their executive function. Restricting movement and freedom can have huge implications not only for the child, but the rest of the family too.
There is fear and uncertainty as our routines have been changed (or completely gone out the window!) which can be very disconcerting for routine-bound children. Some children with ADHD may find the novelty of the situation intriguing and some may welcome the closure of school as an escape from having a really hard time in the classroom. However, this may be very challenging for energetic children who cannot go outside at their leisure and participate in activities, have playdates or see friends. As children with ADHD and autism often have difficulties controlling strong impulses and frustrations, a lot of understanding will be required from parents.
Dr Dimitrios Paschos Consultant Psychiatrist at Re:Cognition Health shares his top tips to help parents navigate this time:
Routines: Keep school-like routines in place as much as possible to help avoid confrontation and to optimise your child’s mood for learning. Structure is really important for children and breaks should be incorporated into the schedule, as much as possible. The routine should be diverse including chores, reading, school work, breaks and relaxation activities such as screen time or TV. Plan for the plans to change and also be prepared to let your child enjoy more screen time than usually permitted. Having the timetable accessible, such as on a white board or a big piece of paper in clear view is a great idea to keep everyone on track. Sleep is really important and can influence behaviour and mood so try to avoid consistent late nights.
Learning space: Create a dedicated space for schoolwork, somewhere with the least possible distractions. Children’s bedrooms are rarely a good place to study, their desks are usually cluttered, it requires effort every time to study or work as there are so many distractions.
Medication: If your child is taking ADHD medication, it’s important to discuss the requirements with your child’s doctor to determine if they need to continue taking their medication on weekdays or pause until school resumes.
Exercise – take advantage of the daily exercise rule and ensure your child takes this time to exercise outside. The Spring weather is being relatively kind to us at the moment with some sunshine and the benefits of Vitamin D, so encourage a run or walk (keeping social distancing). Many studies have shown consistent benefits of spending time exercising outside; even a 20minute walk in the afternoon was found to be enough to help relaxation, improve mood and sleep.
Vitamin D is absorbed by the body when exposed to sunlight and plays a crucial role in maintaining the health of our bodies, supporting the immune system, brain function and the nervous system. There are also ongoing studies on the role that vitamin D plays in mental health.
If there is still energy to burn after your daily exercise, log onto the computer for a free online workout from the comfort of your living room!
Build in exercise challenges such as how many burpees or sit ups can you do in a minute, and try to improve on this each day.
Set an alarm for every hour where you stop what you’re doing and do a quick burst of exercise e.g. a repetition of high knees, star jumps and squat for 2 minutes. This can be fun for everyone and a great way to improve cardio fitness for all.
Take up a new hobby:
Now is the perfect opportunity to take up a new hobby, learn a new skill and further education such as baking (making pizza dough with your store cupboard staples) or gardening – plant seeds and watch them grow on the windowsill.
Avoid watching the news: The news is very negative at the moment and can have a huge impact on children, who can become very sensitive and anxious, particularly when living in lockdown.
Try to stay calm in this difficult time, it will eventually pass!
Points make prizes: Involve your child in home chores, but with short bursts of activity e.g. 15 mins to tidy away toys or collect clothes and put into the laundry basket. Turn the task into a contest and reward good consistent efforts with tangible incentives such as extra screen time or favourite treat.
Incorporate new activities into the schedule:
There are countless free ideas and resources online on how to entertain children indoors ranging from educational activities, apps and fun games. It’s also an opportunity for you to introduce classic board games such as Monopoly or Scrabble. If you see signs of boredom mounting, simply move on to the next activity (but without moaning as this may aggravate)
Communication: Give grandparents an unexpected Skype or FaceTime call. Emotions maybe running high on both sides given the isolation and fears, but it is better to see each other and talk.
Keep positive your optimistic and positive attitude will be reassuring for your child and don’t forget the power of praise.
Be kind to yourself
It can be very difficult to parent throughout this time, especially if you are continuing to work from home, but this time will pass so try to enjoy the time.
One of the most common regrets in life is ‘not having spent enough time with my children when they were growing up’. Perhaps this challenging period will allow you to have the quality and bonding time with your child that you will cherish. Who knows, you may discover you want to do more of it, even when life is back to business as usual!
Online consultations are now available from our experts at Re:Cognition Health to ensure continuity of care for existing patients and to offer assessments and advice for new patients. More information is available at https://recognitionhealth.com/videoconsultations/