ScienceDaily reports “In youth with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), the brain matures in a normal pattern but is delayed three years in some regions, on average, compared to youth without the disorder, an imaging study by researchers at the National Institutes of Health's (NIH) National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has revealed.”

As the mom of a very active 10-year-old who was once an overly impulsive, hyperactive, and somewhat inattentive young child, I am nodding my head. Children, given patience, an encouraging environment, understanding adults, and normal neurological wiring, can mature.

Just weeks ago, I spoke with my child’s teacher and asked if he was behaving properly. She assured me that he conducted himself appropriately with one goofy exception. I told her about some of the problems that I experienced when he was younger (e.g., didn’t seem to pay attention by looking directly at adults, jumped around rather than sitting still, seemed oblivious to teacher instructions); she responded simply, “well, he has matured nicely.”

The word “matured” made a deep impression on me. The emphasis on instilling discipline and extracting correct behavior disappeared; the secret, then, is time. Ignoring the public discourse on attention problems, their causes, and proposed treatment was a veteran teacher who understood that fifth graders acted differently than kindergartners. And now scientific proof backs her common-sense beliefs.

Still, there is a period from toddler-hood to the end of elementary school that parents and their children must endure. I’d like to say that I had some great techniques for controlling my child, getting him to sit still at appropriate moments, and encouraging him to give me undivided attention. I don’t.

Nevertheless, from a non-clinical aka mom’s perspective, here are ways of dealing with inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity when waiting for the brain to mature:

  1. Realize that sitting still and being quiet is much more difficult for my child than for others; he can sit still and be quiet but it is not natural and takes significant effort.
  2. Accept that my child may not be the best behaved in many situations.
  3. Accept that because my child is not well behaved, others will assume that I have poor parenting skills.
  4. Take him to the park so he can play outside, make friends, and burn energy.
  5. Avoid situations where he can terrorize innocent adults (that is, don’t take him to nice restaurants or department stores).
  6. Don’t allow my child to take advantage of teen-age babysitters, childcare providers, Sunday school teachers, etc. Ask about his behavior, press for truthful responses, and let him know that poor behavior is not acceptable.
  7. Embrace teachers who appreciate my child and his learning style (e.g., hands-on activities and group work).
  8. Be thankful that many adults accept that younger children just can’t sit still all day.
  9. Advocate for my child when he encounters teachers who consider slight fidgetiness as defiance.
  10. Get him to understand that his behavior and the consequences of misbehavior are his problem, not mine.

#10 is a biggie and I’ll mention it again, this time in bold: his behavior is his problem, not mine. Though he wasn’t given brain wiring that made it easy for him to sit still, he was blessed with creativity and intelligence that allowed him to find strategies for behaving within accepted norms. My son tells me about a technique he uses to contain his energy: pick the right time and just jump around.

My child was not diagnosed with ADHD though he displayed some symptoms associated with this disease; this post is on how to deal with certain behaviors common among young children and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with your physician or mental health provider if you have concerns about your child.