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All posts by Jeremy Sharp, PhD

Sleep Solutions for Children with ADHD

Five Sleep Solutions for Children with ADHD

Children with ADHD often struggle with sleep. This is no surprise to the many exhausted parents. You’ve tried everything. You sang songs, read books, and sat outside the bedroom door as your child remained awake for hours. As a last resort, many parents use sleep medications meant for adults on their children. Sadly, those medications can actually disturb a child’s sleep. Instead of struggling to fall asleep at 8 p.m., your kiddo could be wide awake at 3 a.m. Fortunately, the strongest supports to a child’s regular and healthy sleep are pretty straightforward. Here are five sleep solutions for children with ADHD and anxiety disorders:

Commit to a Pattern (No Matter What!)

Children do best when they go to bed at the same time, the say way, every single night. Having leniency on weekends or vacation days, while seeming like a small tweak, just makes the weekdays all the more difficult. So think of what would actually work for your child, and stick to the pattern. The adjustment at the beginning will be a struggle (you will have to fight for it), but the result will be peace in the house and a well rested child.

Dark and Distraction Free Bedrooms

A singular tiny sliver of light coming from the window or the light from a bedside clock can keep your little one up. Anything with a screen or a flashing light (no matter how small it may seem) is just unhelpful for children with ADHD. Consider blackout curtains and facing the bed away from the light of doors. Also, while light can be an issue, so can noise (or the lack of noise). Consider investing in a white noise machine or a small fan to block out all the little distracting noises one can hear at night. We recommend the Marpac Dohm-DS All Natural Sound Machine (affiliate link).

Deep Breathing

Try sitting in bed with your child and show him how to relax simply by breathing. Close your eyes, breathe in deeply for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 5 seconds, and exhale slowly for 6 seconds. This slows the heart rate, focuses your child’s mind on one thing (breathing), and switches his body into sleep mode. Here’s a simple image to remember: “Smell the rose, now blow out the candle.”

Tangible Items and Rewards

Take a clock and color in the hours that your child needs to stay in bed. Any kind of visual clues give instant clarification of your expectations. Also, praise and rewards strengthen the pattern far more effectively than punishment. Make a morning of uninterrupted sleep a celebration. Tell her how proud you are, and ask if she feels so much better.

Take the Pressure Off

Remember, your child is tired, so his coping skills are down. You know how it’s hard for you to sleep when you’re stressed about work? It can be like that for your child every night. But If you take the pressure off of him and off of you, you can alleviate the intensity of bedtime. Try saying, “You don’t have to go to sleep right away, but I’d like you to try being still and closing your eyes.”  Also, it helps if there is a safe outlet for your child to work out his thoughts before bed. Having some one-on-one time before bed can be a great outlet for your child to share the things that cause her anxiety. Share a simple calming phrase your child can repeat when those anxious thoughts pop up. It can be as simple as: “I’m okay, I’m loved, everything will be okay” or it can be a prayer, a mantra, or a quote from her favorite book. Consider giving your child a journal to write in just before bed.

Rest easy, parents – most of the time, sleep difficulties are a developmental phase. It will get better!

Our clinicians specialize in assessment and treatment of ADHD at our offices in Fort Collins. Feel free to give us a call to learn how our services could be helpful or to schedule an appointment. You can reach us at (970) 889-8204 or contact@coloradocac.com.

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Child Psychologist Fort Collins

What Happens to a Child’s Brain Under Stress?

…And How You Can Help Your Child Work Through Anxiety

Every child deals with stress and anxiety. Most stressors are a common part of your child’s development, and most children learn how to do deal with them appropriately over time. But if a child tends to hold onto stress and anxiety, circumstances that keep a child anxious for long periods of time can trigger “…extreme, prolonged activation of the body’s stress response system.” In other words, even after the stressful moment has passed, your child can still feel stuck in fear and anxiety. And when a child stays in that place for too long, it can negatively affect their learning and social development for years to come.

Here’s How It Works:

To get an idea of how your child may feel, it may be helpful to understand what is actually happening in their body. It’s basically when the nervous goes on overdrive unnecessarily.

When a child experiences stress, the hypothalamus (above the brainstem) releases a hormone that rushes to the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland then mobilizes the production of a second hormone that swims via the bloodstream to adrenal glands. The adrenal glands activate adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline accelerates the child’s heart rate and elevates the blood pressure. Cortisol pumps up the blood sugar level, elevating the child’s muscle and memory power and boosting the pain threshold.

Even though you may think having a sudden increase in muscle and memory power would be helpful for your child, this response is only needed for life-threatening emergencies that only last about 30 seconds. Constant stress and anxiety can do real damage to a child’s brain. Stress chemicals reroute or disconnect helpful brain pathways and can leave children depressed, anxious, fearful, overly reactive, and unable to learn new behaviors.

Imagine if you are in a deep state of anxiety, and someone asks you do to a simple task like cleaning your room or going to school for a week of standardized testing? No matter how simple it may seem, when a child is in the midst of anxiety, everything can become overwhelming.

Here are Two Free Ways to Help Your Child with Anxiety

  1. Don’t Be Anxious Yourself

One of the best things you can do to help your child work through stress and anxiety is for you to work through your own stress and anxiety. Stress is contagious, so taking the time to “de-stress” and have a peaceful home can do wonders. John Medina, author of Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School, says this: “If you want your kid to get into Harvard, go home and love your spouse.”

  1. Exercise

If there was ever a “cure” to stress and anxiety it would be exercise. It’s one of the best things kids can do to combat stress, especially if the exercise is with a group. Start by walking the neighborhood with your child, inviting them to talk through anxieties. Try a weekly karate class or dance class, jump rope, swimming, hiking, or basketball. Whatever makes them sweat and breath hard will help strengthen your child’s ability to handle stress.  

Final Thoughts

Your Child Is Strong and Will Likely Be Just Fine

Our kids are incredible and resilient and they have parents who love them. Every parent does what they can to protect their child from unnecessary stress and anxiety, but there will always be circumstances that make stress unavoidable. If you think you or your child could use some tools in working through stress, it may be helpful to schedule an appointment with a mental health professional. We offer both comprehensive assessment and counseling for children and their parents.

When your child has the right tools and a safe space to navigate stress and anxiety, they can overcome these concerns and learn more about themselves along the way!

Dr. Jeremy Sharp is a licensed psychologist practicing in Fort Collins, Colorado. He specializes in psychological & neuropsychological assessment with children and adolescents.

Resources:

National Scientific Council on the Developing Child (2010). Persistent Fear and Anxiety Can Affect Young Children’s Learning and Development: Working Paper No. 9. Retrieved from www.developingchild.harvard.edu.

John Medina: Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School: http://www.brainrules.net/about-brain-rules

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Lake

I Want to Be Just Like You

My son first said these words over two years ago, when he was two and a half. I was visiting my parents in South Carolina during the summer, shooting basketball with my dad on a humid southern evening. My dad and I had our shirts off. My son came running out, looked at us, and immediately took his shirt off as he yelled, “I want to be just like you, dad!” He was so, so happy to be one of the guys. I’m smiling now just thinking about it.

At the time, I appreciated the moment and laughed, gave him a hug and high five, and then helped him “shoot” the basketball for a while. I didn’t realize how much my world shifted that evening.

I mean, talk about pressure.

When he was still a toddler, I could laugh and mostly write if off…but it turns out that toddlers grow into real, actual people with a personality. And as he develops in so many amazing ways, it is obvious that he is paying a LOT of attention to what I do. Some days I love it and embrace it. Many days it feels really heavy.

I figure that today alone, I consciously or unconsciously communicated to him…

  • How to greet someone you love first thing in the morning
  • What is acceptable to eat for breakfast
  • What is okay to wear in public/to school
  • How to make requests from others
  • How to interact with acquaintances and strangers
  • How to handle anger
  • How to apologize when you’re wrong
  • How to show joy and have fun
  • How to treat someone when they make a mistake
  • What to value – rules or flexibility
  • How a father shows love and affection to a son
  • How a father treats a daughter
  • How a man interacts with his wife or partner

Yes, these examples are just from one day, though many of these situations happen every day to some degree. Some of this stuff is trivial (I think?), but there are some big ones in there too. As he gets older, I grow more aware of shaping my son and tend to be harder on myself for losing it or messing up.

Luckily he’s an honest kid – I don’t have to guess how things affect him. He told me before bed last night that I yelled too much and should be nicer. He also told me earlier in the evening that I was the best dad ever. Those are the moments I hold on to. When he stops telling me how he feels, that’s when I’ll get worried.

Research tells us there’s such a thing as a “good enough” parent. I’m going to hang on to that and just try to be thankful for this little mirror in my life who forces me to think every day about the man I am.

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Work Life Balance

This Is All About Me

Okay, I lied. It’s about my family too. I’ve missed them because I’ve been working too much for a long time. I am very fortunate…what started as just me seeing a few clients a week has grown into a clinic with five clinicians and administrative support. There are many positive things about the growth – that’s undeniable. And, as a lot of small business owners know, there are some downsides. For a long time, I did EVERYTHING – website, marketing, accounting, answering the phone, scheduling, insurance billing…all on top of the full time clinical work each week. It got to be too much. I was thinking about work ALL THE TIME because I had too much of it. When I was hanging with my kids and wife, I was completely distracted, constantly making to-do lists in my mind for work tasks. I knew it wasn’t the way I wanted to live but felt helpless to change it, which is dumb because flexibility and control over scheduling were big reasons I got into private practice in the first place.

It got to be too much. The last year has been a purposeful, gradual shift to do things differently and try to find a little more balance. It’s been super slow, but the changes are finally accelerating over the last couple of months. I’m sharing some of my strategies in hopes that they might work for others and to keep myself accountable to continue them. Some are specific to mental health practices, some are specific to small business owners, and some can apply to anyone. Here we go:

  • I changed my schedule to allow big blocks of open time every other week for getting paperwork and administrative tasks done
  • I consciously stopped using the word “hurry” with my kids about six months ago
  • I stopped scheduling appointments before 9 am so I’m not rushing around and hustling my kids from the moment everyone wakes up (see above item)
  • I give myself at least a half hour at the end of every day to wrap up and prepare for the next day instead of just rushing out with things a mess
  • I don’t work at home unless it’s something I really enjoy like updating the website or researching technology for our practice
  • I’ve delegated nearly all administrative tasks to my – surprise! – administrative team over the last nine months
  • I did some therapy to work on my need to control everything in my world
  • As emails hit the inbox, I’m slowly unsubscribing from nearly all lists/advertisements/etc. that I’ve signed up for over the years (intentionally or not)
  • I spend a little time sitting in the car before heading into the office each morning to get my mind wrapped around the day’s priorities
  • Email does not get looked at for at least fifteen minutes in the morning, which lets me do another quality activity that’s way more valuable to start the day
  • I use the “One Minute Rule” a lot throughout the day: any task that will literally only take one minute to complete, I just do it right then…it’s amazing how many small things I would look at, decide I’d do “later,” and then not get to them for days or weeks (respond to emails, file something, make a phone call, etc.)
  • Pomodoro – or the free web version anyway (tomato-timer.com) – has taken on a major role in my life
  • At the repeated suggestion of my inspiring wife, I’ve finally set aside time for “visioning” of the practice and to do things that I enjoy at work (like writing blog posts again!)

Don’t get me wrong – these things look really neat and practical laid out like this, but it’s been a sloooow process. I have days or weeks when things are still completely overwhelming. But they feel a lot more manageable because I’ve made the choice to have agency in my life where I truly have some control.

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BUNNY GRAHAMS ARE NOT A TREAT

Bunnygrahams.JPG

My three-year-old screamed this phrase at me about fifty times tonight after dinner. On special nights like tonight, after a day of no toileting accidents (another topic entirely!), we sometimes offer him a popsicle as a reward. He LOVES popsicles. One morning not long ago, my  wife and I let him go downstairs to play with toys for thirty minutes before we got out of bed…only to find that he’d managed to eat four popsicles in that time, and all before 6 am.

Unfortunately for everyone, our son managed to misbehave quite a bit before we could give him the popsicle tonight. First he purposefully dumped some juice on the floor, then tackled his sister a few times, then chose to splash water on her and all over the floor despite our requests otherwise. By the time all was said and done, he had lost his popsicle treat and all chances to earn it back.

Eventually, I had to deliver the unfortunate news that there was ZERO chance of getting a popsicle after all. His reaction would make you think it was the first he’d heard of the possibility. I offered Bunny Grahams as a consolation prize instead. Then he let me (and the entire neighborhood) know that Bunny Grahams, in fact, are NOT a treat. Several times in a row. With some thrashing, throwing things, and aggressive behavior toward his sister thrown in for good measure.

I was tempted to cave. Was I doing the right thing? Being too harsh? Should we have offered a popsicle in the first place?

But I was feeling strong tonight. I held firm to the “Bunny Grahams or nothing” decision. After several minutes and some half-hearted swings at my face and chest, he settled down and allowed himself to consider the idea. Eventually I asked if he wanted to get his snack and sit on the couch with me, and he agreed.

While this happy resolution doesn’t happen nearly enough in our house, it was a good reminder of how important it is to set boundaries with kids and stick to them. Myself included, it’s all too easy to threaten without following through. Especially when there’s a huge tantrum. Being in the field and talking with parents at least once a week about parenting strategies for things like ADHD and other behavior disorders, I’m always reminded of the need to “walk the walk.” But it’s hard! Nights like these give me a little hope.

Here’s a link to some good handouts on communication, parenting, and self-esteem in kids.

Hang in there, parents!

 

 

 

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Just Let Go

My little girl, now fifteen months old, is learning how to climb down from different places – the bed, the couch, her chair, etc. She’s mastered the technique of sliding over the edge on her belly, but then things get hung up for a bit as she struggles with whether the floor is actually where she judged it to be before starting her little adventure. This morning it happened again. I was in the kitchen making breakfast when I heard her start to whimper a bit, and when I looked around the corner…sure enough, she was stuck about three inches off the ground, unable to let herself “drop” that last little bit to firm ground. I tried to get a picture, but to her credit she took the leap and got firm footing before I could grab the camera.

It made me think of how many of us can get “stuck” three inches off the ground in so many situations. Times where we feel mostly confident, but there’s just enough doubt to keep us from leaping. Maybe it’s in our relationships, when we want to reach out for our partner but feel vulnerable doing so (like EFT teaches!). Maybe it’s initiating a friendship with someone new or going out with a less-familiar group of people. Maybe it’s something more practical like expanding a business. Whatever the situation, sometimes we need to trust ourselves and our judgment. It might mean “falling” a few inches, but your initial judgment was probably accurate, and you’ll likely land on your feet even if you stumble a bit.

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