If your child has been diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), it may be disrupting his or her performance in school, sports, and extracurriculars, and causing problems in your family life. And you have probably become interested in learning about scientifically supported natural ways to manage ADHD in children.
Generally speaking, it’s best to avoid medication whenever possible because of the potential for side effects; this is especially true in kids. There’s always a risk-benefit analysis involved, and sometimes pharmaceuticals are necessary for safety or quality of life. But many times, a condition like ADHD (or the related attention-deficit disorder, ADD) can be successfully managed by avoiding triggers and with natural remedies. Except in notably severe cases, it’s worth trying this course of treatment before turning to prescriptions.
If you suspect your child may have ADHD, consult a trained mental health professional for a reliable diagnosis. Normal childhood behaviors can look just like symptoms of this condition (e.g., difficulty concentrating or sitting still, forgetfulness, frequent interrupting), which is why there are certain official diagnostic criteria laid out that a professional will look for.
Should your child be diagnosed, your mental health professional will advise you on the recommended course for managing the condition. Expect some trial and error before finding the most effective approaches. Just for informational purposes, though, here’s a look at some natural ways to manage ADHD in children that are supported by evidence.
Managing a Child’s ADHD Naturally
- Avoid foods made with artificial food coloring and preservatives, some of which have been found to be significant triggers; in particular, steer clear of foods containing sodium benzoate, FD&C Yellow No. 6 (sunset yellow), D&C Yellow No. 10 (quinoline yellow), FD&C Yellow No. 5 (tartrazine), and FD&C Red No. 40 (allura red)
- Limit foods with added sugar as much as possible
- Favor whole grain products over those made with refined grains; in general, favor whole foods over processed foods
- Make sure your kid spends at least 20 to 30 minutes outside most days—preferably in a natural setting
- Ensure that your daughter or son gets physical activity every day (this can be easily combined with spending times outdoors)
- Have your child participate in a team sport, which has physical and mental benefits for naturally managing ADHD
- Consider activities that involve close focus on body movements, such as martial arts, dance, gymnastics, or competitive cheer
- Enroll your son or daughter in a children’s yoga class
- Help your child get enough sleep by establishing a regular sleep schedule and a bedtime routine that involves calming activities, avoiding sugar and caffeine in the evening, keeping him or her off electronic devices for at least two hours before bed, and creating a comfortable bedroom environment
- Provide behavioral therapy for your child from a trained mental health professional; also, get advice from the professional about the most constructive ways to parent a child with ADHD
- Keep your home organized and free of clutter; encourage your child to keep his or her bedroom organized and tidy too
- Talk to your pediatrician about using supplements that may help reduce the symptoms of ADHD, like zinc, magnesium, l-carnitine, vitamin B6, fish oil, ginkgo, or ginseng; please note that even though these are natural, supplements can pose dangers—especially in children—so do not give your child supplements without your doctor’s approval and ongoing supervision
- Ask your mental health professional about electroencephalographic (EEG) biofeedback, which often involves playing a simple, specially designed video game that helps kids learn to maintain their focus better