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30 Ways to Prevent ADHD

How to keep children safe from the ADHD epidemic.

1. Start your child’s day with a protein-rich breakfast (protein-rich foods include peanut butter, yogurt, milk, cheese, and eggs). Having a healthy breakfast yourself every morning provides a good role model for your child. Don't allow your child to eat sugary breakfast cereals before school. Sugar (and for some children the gluten in cereals) makes kids "jumpy" and interferes with their ability to learn.

2. Have your child walk to school if possible. (Research shows that even 20 minutes of walking to school can help a child stay calm and focused in the classroom).

3. Give your child a quiet place to do his homework (without electronic media distractions).

4. Give your child a 30-minute break after school to unwind and play before starting homework.

5. Take walks, hikes, or bike rides with your child. A Bay area cycling company now advocates bicycling as an effective substitute for Ritalin after the founder's son was diagnosed with ADHD. Their foundation has programs in 100 schools. Kids who bike are focusing better at school without ADHD medication.

6. Listen to your child with mindfulness. Turn off your cell phone, television, and other electronic distractions and be present to your child. Give her a safe place to say anything that's on her mind.

7. Children have a lot of natural energy. Enroll your child (especially boys) in an active sport like soccer, softball, track, boxing, tennis, or swimming. This Washington Post article argues that kids can't sit still in school because they are just being kids.

8. Give your child outlets for creativity such as music, theater, dance, gymnastics, or art.

9. Have age-appropriate rules and consequences that your child understands clearly. For example, bedtime is at 8:30, though he may read in bed until 9:00. When your child breaks a rule, calmly invoke a consequence without yelling.

11. Keep a positive attitude at home. Keep marital quarrels and disagreements away from your child’s little ears. Children tend to magnify their parents' problems in their minds. Worrying about parental arguments can cause a child to feel anxious and distracted.

12. Keep your marriage healthy with date nights or weekend getaways. A happy marriage means happy children.

13. Don’t rush your child into kindergarten right after his fifth birthday. Research shows that kids who are among the oldest in their classroom fare better academically and socially than kids who are among the youngest.

14. Read food labels carefully. Some children become hyper after eating certain preservatives and artificial food colorings. (Update: According to The Wall Street Journal, Feb. 17, 2015, Nestlé recently decided to remove food colorings such as Red 40 and Yellow 5 from its chocolate products in response to consumer demand for healthier ingredients.)

15. Don’t allow your child to drink "energy drinks." A new study by the Yale School of Public Health has found a possible link between energy drinks and ADHD in middle school children.

16. Sometimes fathers know best. An Australian study found that fathers were more likely to view their son’s misbehavior with an attitude of “boys will be boys," remembering their own boyhoods, while mothers were concerned that their sons had a medical condition.

17. Be sensitive to your child’s school situation. Is your child under too much pressure at school? Is he getting the support he needs?

17. Understand that children go through developmental phases that they eventually grow out of.

18. If your child is acting out, look for possible stressors in his life: being bullied, problems with friends, worry about a parent's illness or loss of a job, or a personality clash with a teacher.

19. Limit electronic screen time. Electronic video games, laptops, cell phones, and tablets can be overstimulating to a child’s nervous system. Have firm rules about how much electronic screen time your child is allowed. Counterbalance screen time with an equal amount of time playing outdoors. A leading child psychiatrist argues that smartphones are making children mentally ill.

20. Understand your child’s unique personality traits. Some kids are more active and impulsive by nature. Remember that not every personality quirk is a sign of a medical problem.

21. Give your child plenty of choices within the rules of the house. For example, she is not allowed to snack on "junk food" but if she is hungry between meals, she can have a healthy snack of apple slices, yogurt, etc.

22. Give your child plenty of opportunities to be outside in nature. Nature has a calming effect on children as well as on adults. John Sampson argues in his new book, How to Raise a Wild Child, that children benefit in all kinds of ways from spending time in nature.

23. Understand that family transitions like illness or a death in the family can affect a child’s moods, behavior, and ability to focus. If your child suddenly develops moodiness or anxiety, give her a safe space to talk about what's on her mind and listen to her carefully.

24. Make sure your child gets Omega oils, also called "essential fatty acids," in her diet. These oils, found in foods like salmon, flaxseeds, and walnuts, are essential for healthy brain function and nerve development. Fish oil or flaxseed oil supplements are available in capsule form.

25. Make sure your child gets enough sleep at night (9-10 hours). Sleep deprivation leads to inattentiveness, impulsiveness, and irritability. A new study found that when kids got a good night's sleep, their attention and focus at school improve.

26. Encourage your child to read. Reading has a calming influence, especially before bed. Research has shown that light from electronic screens before bedtime can disrupt sleep.

27. Limit sugary foods. Although little research has been done on the effect of sugar on children's mood, many parents notice that kids become overactive after eating sugary foods.

28. Have family dinners. Children feel safe and secure when their day has a predictable structure. At the dinner table, encourage everyone in the family to say at least one positive thing about their day.

29. Make sure your child has plenty of opportunities for non-goal directed creative play.

30. Tell your child you love her every day. Children need to feel they are loved for themselves and not only for their achievements. Of course, telling a child “good job” once in a while is fine.

Copyright © Marilyn Wedge, Ph.D.

Read more about protecting children from ADHD in my new book, A Disease Called Childhood: Why ADHD Became an American Epidemic.