Preschoolers, ADHD, and a Pandemic

Part 1: Use positivity to help you and your child cope.

Posted Dec 16, 2020

 Bermix Studio/Unsplash
Parents are faced with unique issues during the pandemic.
Source: Bermix Studio/Unsplash

This is the first part of a two-part series. 

I had the pleasure of interviewing Esta Rapoport, Ed.D., a specialist in ADHD and social skills. We talked about the unique pressures facing preschoolers and other children with ADHD, particularly during a pandemic. We also talked about strategies parents can use to help children with ADHD, including the use of positivity in parenting.  

Dr. Rapoport is experienced in working with children with ADHD and other similar special needs and their parents. She has a B.A. from NYU, an M.A. from Teachers College, Columbia University, and an Ed.D. from Boston University. She is the author of two books: ADHD and Social Skills: A Step-by-Step Guide for Teachers and Parents and Positive Behavior, Social Skills, and Self-Esteem: A Parent's Guide to Preschool ADHD

What's the definition of a "preschooler," and how prevalent is ADHD in this age range? 

Preschoolers are defined as children 4 and 5 years old, up until their 6th birthday. 

According to the CDC in a study released in September, there are 6.1 million kids with ADHD in the United States, with 388,000 between 2 and 5 years of age, 2.4 million between 6 and 11 years of age, and 3.3 million between 12 and 17 years of age, and twice as many boys as girls. 

What are some of the main issues preschoolers with ADHD are facing during the pandemic compared to preschoolers without ADHD?

In terms of emotional health, they don't have a routine, they are disconnected from friends and family, events are canceled, birthdays are canceled... they're left worried, sad, frustrated... and the symptoms generally worsen due to inconsistencies in their routines. They have difficulties staying focused and have feelings they can't control. Some parents report their kids are worried. 

What would you say to parents that are dealing with parenting during a pandemic?

Parents have a really hard job here. No one is trained to deal with these issues. We have to validate children's experiences, ask open-ended questions, be truthful about the virus, and try to maintain their social network even though they are young. 

The most important thing is to try to maintain a routine. To help adapt to online learning, you have to create a real school-type environment. In the morning, you need to map out the day's schedule. For example, write down specific assignments on sticky notes, and when your child does the task, praise them and remove the post-it. 

If they're distracted, you need to shorten the amount of work. They're young kids. The amount of work they do is not going to determine if they go to college or what college they go to.  

There is tremendous pressure on kids. Your goal here is to have a happy child. That is it. And in order to facilitate that, if you see they are distracted, shorten the work. I would also do some sort of exercise in the middle of the work. For example, take them for a walk. Exercise has a great impact on reducing the severity of ADHD symptoms.  

It's important to debrief the kids. Ask them what they thought was productive. Get them on board with you. Be positive, positive, positive. What was productive? What do they think? And have a lot of compassion.

In the parent training that I do, the positive element of it is the most important thing. These kids have been told all their little lives, "No, don't do that," or "Stop that." You have to be positive. Standard strategies don't work for kids with ADHD. 

It's essential to eliminate critical, harsh parenting and negativity—it increases socially inappropriate behavior. If you increase positivity, you will see a huge impact on self-esteem. First, they'll feel better about themselves, and second, they'll be able to accomplish whatever you're asking them to accomplish. 

Listen to an audio version of the interview here: 

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