“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.”
~ Albert Einstein
For some, the symptoms are more subtle — it is the child who sits gazing out the window, her mind far from the classroom where her classmates are hard at work. For others, the symptoms are more blatant — a child who cannot sit still, bouncing up from his chair, calling out in class, poking his neighbor. At home, chores are left undone and often not started, homework is a battle, and the latest videogame is like a black-hole sucking in all of the child’s attention. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder can take different forms and affects all aspects of a child’s life, which can frustrate parents, teachers, and children alike. In her new book, The Conscious Parent’s Guide to ADHD: A Mindful Approach for Helping Your Child Gain Focus and Self-Control, Rebecca Branstetter, PhD, offers advice on parenting children with ADHD, who can sometimes stretch the skills and patience of the most committed parent.
Dr. Branstetter is a psychologist who works both in private practice and as a school psychologist, giving her a wealth of experience that she shares in The Conscious Parent’s Guide to ADHD. The book starts with the basics, offering an overview of ADHD and detailing the different ways children with ADHD may interact with the world. She incorporates basic neuroscience in an understandable way that will resonate with those who share their lives with children who have ADHD. For instance, Branstetter notes that “researchers have found that a sluggish reward circuit in the brains of children with ADHD makes otherwise interesting tasks seem mundane or boring. Children with ADHD need a higher level of reward or interest to sustain attention. Video games and other high-reward and stimulating activities seem to fit the bill.”
Suddenly, that child’s ability to spend hours staring at an interactive screen, but only three minutes on homework seems less a case of poor willpower (or poor parenting) and more the result of biology. However, having a sense that there may be an issue is only the first step. She follows this with a chapter on how to navigate getting a diagnosis, including descriptions of the experts who may or may not be able to offer help.
The next section of the book focuses on how to support a child with ADHD from preschool through the teenage years. Each chapter highlights the challenges children with ADHD may face at different stages of life, but rather than dwell on the negative, Branstetter also highlights these children’s strengths. For example, on the section about attention to detail, she reframes the issue to highlight that, “many children with ADHD also have a holistic thinking style that focuses on the big picture at the expense of details that they find boring or mind-numbing.” Regarding hyperfocus, she points out that many of these children are able to spend hours poring over topics that they find interesting, often to the detriment of their spelling or math homework.
However, “the ability to concentrate intensely can be an asset — especially when a child with ADHD goes to college, where creativity and thinking outside the box are more highly valued.” Each chapter also includes specific ways to help the child succeed at every stage, whether that’s which classroom structures work best or how to facilitate homework completion. In addition, each chapter contains ways to encourage the child to practice mindfulness using age-appropriate methods. For preschoolers, that includes things like engaging their senses and blowing bubbles, while for teens she offers ways to help them find their own mindfulness rituals. The latter half of the book delves further into many of these themes, discussing mindfulness, how to help the child face scholastic and social challenges, and offering guidance on sorting through various treatment options.
Throughout the book, Dr. Branstetter provides a mix of hope and reality, offering practical guidance for what can be a frustrating disorder. Each chapter is thorough without being weighed down with details. This is a worthwhile read for those who love a child with ADHD.
The Conscious Parent’s Guide to ADHD: A Mindful Approach for Helping Your Child Gain Focus and Self-Control
Adams Media, December 2015
Paperback, 240 pages