Overactive Kids

Parents can often feel overwhelmed by overenergetic kids. Most of the questions I receive can be categorized in three ways: kids and ADHD, kids and anger management, and kids and screen time.

Kids and ADHD

There seems to be a big trend here in the US of medicating our children so they can “control” their behavior in school. I am absolutely not in favor of this practice.

Why is there such an epidemic of ADHD diagnoses in our children? I don’t want to oversimplify, but I believe one of the reasons is that our children don’t have the opportunities they had in previous generations to run away and expend their energy. Often combined with a sugar-filled diet, it’s no wonder children can’t sit still!

Kids used to play in the parks, in the streets, and in their own yards. But today, not only are parents much more afraid of letting their kids out of their sight, but there’s also the allure of screens. Even if your children would rather play outside, chances are their friends are playing with electronics at home. Playing video games, watching television, talking on their cell phones, and using the computer or iPad provide zero opportunity to release energy. Then we send them to school and expect them to sit down and be quiet!

However, many schools are adding to the problem. Lessening time for physical education is becoming a trend, and with schools fearing lawsuits, some forbid running at recess or using certain playground equipment. Is it any wonder our children are having difficulty?

I know there are parents and teachers out there with stories of children who have been helped immensely by Ritalin, Adderall, Concerta, or Dexedrine. If you know a child who is being helped by his or her medication, I’m not saying to stop it. But for every child who is being helped, there are at least three others who are still exhibiting all the ADHD behavior the medication was designed to reduce, not to mention the deleterious effects of daily doses of amphetamines on developing brains. Psychiatrist Peter Breggin and others warn of these effects and the condition of drug withdrawal, which often exacerbates the behavior children were medicated for. This, in turn, results in the false assumption that children need the meds to control their impulses, when in fact, the medication created a dependence so that discontinuing its use mimics hyperactivity when it is actually withdrawal.

In certain double-blind studies, where neither the patient nor the doctor knew if the patient was getting the actual drug or a placebo, the patients who received the placebo did better than those who took the medication. Is it possible there is a placebo effect with some children?

I have two boys who could both have been diagnosed with ADHD as children. Luckily, I lived in the country during a time when parents sent their kids out the door to play. I also spent a lot of my spare time running them around to different athletic events—YMCA soccer, wrestling, flag football, T-ball, and basketball—depending on the season. If your child displays what you or the teachers believe is an excessive amount of energy, do your best to create situations where that child can expend energy.

Also consider the concept of neurodiversity and ADHD as discussed in this video. Neurodiversity suggests that ADHD was naturally selected as something the human race needs. It comes with strengths, not just detriments. The idea is not to change the child to meet the needs of the environment instead but rather to change the environment to meet the needs of the child.

Kids and Anger Management

I spoke with a woman over the weekend who has a ten-year-old son with anger management issues. We didn’t get into his specific behaviors, but it caused me to reflect on some inherent differences between males and females. From very early on, boys and girls deal with their anger differently. Generally, girls need to talk about it to feel better, while boys need to work it out physically.

It’s important to teach our children the necessary verbal skills that will allow them to work out their frustrations. But with boys, it’s likely you’ll need to provide opportunities for them to work out their anger physically—maybe with a punching bag, racquetball, running, or martial arts. The list of possibilities is endless, but don’t expect your boys to naturally “talk about it,” at least not until they’ve had the opportunity to release the anger in a safe physical manner.

Kids and Screen Time 

A client of mine used to have great difficulty getting her daughter to adhere to time limits on the home computer. As a mother, she needed to protect and nurture her child, and she was scared about the possibility of her daughter interacting with predators online. She also wanted to support her child’s need for physical activity, so she restricted her computer usage and encouraged her to play outside instead. Was this mother wrong? Absolutely not.

Her daughter, on the other hand, had a desire to be on the computer. She was the only one of her friends who had time limits. This girl was quite accomplished on the computer, learning how to code, build websites, and play with photoshop. With her high need for freedom, she hated being restricted. The computer was plain fun to her. She met her connection, significance, freedom, and fun needs with the computer. Was she wrong? Absolutely not.

The resolution for this issue is communication and negotiation. The mother and daughter needed to sit down and talk about each other’s wants, needs, and fears. If the child can convince her mother that she has the skills and knowledge necessary to protect herself from predators, and she agrees to engage in other healthy activities each day, then her mother could relax her restriction on the amount of time she has on the computer.

In this case, and many others like it, the daughter is unable to meet her freedom need with the computer if there isn’t a rule to break. Sometimes we create the very behavior we are trying to prevent with the rules we make. When a person has a high need for freedom, they will inevitably break the rules, particularly the ones they don’t like or don’t make sense.

Parenting is one of the hardest jobs you’ll ever do, and the stakes are incredibly high. We all do the best we can and hope for good results. If you interested in learning more about parenting through negotiation, then look at my eBook, Empowerment Parenting.

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