What is normal behavior? When do you know that your child needs help?

Sometimes it can feel like someone is trying to fit your child into a box without working to understand what they need or want.

Let’s take concerns about ADHD as an example. For many parents and teachers, it is hard to find the line between normal childhood energy and hyperactivity, and between normal distraction and attention deficit disorder. This is because many of the behaviors that are a normal part of childhood growth and development are included in the diagnostic criteria for ADHD. For some children problems like hyperactivity or difficulty completing a task are truly a marker of an imbalanced nervous system, but in many situations, those same behaviors are expressions of a child’s need to find orientation and connection with the world. Being able to calm and focus your concentration is a skill that needs to be learned–we are not born with it automatically. And it is important to try to determine why a child shows a particular behavior, and find ways to help the child to bring it into better balance. A vital part of working with children is to say: “how can we help the child do this better, and give them the skills so that they focus their attention from the inside, out?” not just prescribe medication to suppress behaviors, from the outside, in.

ADHD has become a prevalent diagnosis (recent studies estimate 11% of children nationwide, or about one in nine children) which either means that there are many more children affected, or that it is being applied to a broad range of behaviors. It covers a broad range of disruptive or concerning behaviors, including: fidgety movement, trouble completing tasks, interrupting in class, rough play. But it misses the question of “why is the child doing this?” Is it because everything is so interesting that they can’t help flitting from object to object? Is the child dreamy and inattentive, too caught up in his or her own thought process? Is the child agitated, and constantly seeking (or perhaps avoiding) contact with other children. When we work together to try to find the root of the problem many more therapeutic options become available. The more specific our understanding of the roots of ADHD-type behavior, the better we can offer effective, individualized therapy. We routinely incorporate behavioral approaches, exercises and experiences for strengthening and training the nervous system, and anthroposophic medicines (herbal and homeopathic) as part of our treatment plan.

A few quick guidelines:

  • Building healthy sleep habits improves daytime function. A child who is too tired will not be fully able to participate in classroom activities. We always look at the quality and rhythm of sleep.
  • Nutrition: improving eating habits, with good fats and protein in the morning helps keep an even blood sugar. Working to build good rhythms around nutrition helps, because if my body doesn’t feel good because I am hungry or hypoglycemic then I can’t pay good attention to you. Highly processed foods and carbohydrate-rich foods can worsen behavioral problems.
  • Media (TV, movies, almost anything that has a screen) works to make us pay attention, but simultaneously limits our participation. Media revs us up, and works to keep us in that stimulated state. It does not teach us how to engage with the world in full way, and many children are over-stimulated and have not had the opportunity to really learn to self-regulate their activity. Thoughtful exploration of the kinds and amount of media exposure is an integral part of our approach to working with ADHD.
  • Our therapies for ADHD are based on building a view of the whole child. It is an approach that has been successfully used world-wide, and proven in research studies–“Children with ADHD symptoms receiving anthroposophic treatment had long-term improvement of symptoms and quality of life.”

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