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Exercise and Your Child

Remembering back to one hot spring day years ago, as siblings often do, my first and third son were just at each other; screaming, yelling, possibly trying to pull the other one’s hair out. And I had had enough. The lawn was a mess. It was a beautiful day. I screamed for everyone to go outside and start pulling up every weed that I could see. And three hours later, we had a beautiful lawn and garden. More importantly, my son’s behavior was impeccable for days. He was polite. He sat when appropriate. He was kind. He got along better with everyone. This lasted for about three days. Then everything went back to normal. Sigh. What is it about sweaty and sustained activities that changes these children? There is a plethora of scholarly articles that talk about how various parts of the brain are “rewired” temporarily through exercise. There are probably even more anecdotal stories you will hear about how this person’s life changed when they began to, say, play soccer. While there’s a lot of neurochemistry involved, here’s a simple analogy to understand how learning works with kids, especially those who have ADHD. Imagine you ride a bicycle through dry dirt which is hard and packed solid.  Regardless of how often you ride the same path, you probably won’t make a significant dent.  Now, try riding the same path after it has rained. The ground is wet and muddy. The more you ride in that same path, the deeper the trench you make with your tires. Even when it dries, that trench will still be there for a bit.  After a while, sure, it dries out and you have to start again. But riding over that same area, again and again, over years, creates a deep groove in the ground, and that’s the path your bicycle will naturally want to follow. This is how children learn. And the more they exercise, the more they are able to pick up on appropriate social cues and provide appropriate responses.  By being rewarded, even by the simple fact of feeling good because they aren’t being yelled at, the more likely they are to do that behavior again. These kids need a little more help to understand how they should behave. Exercise helps them read the social cues being thrown out all around them. The more they exercise, the more they are able to read the social cues. The more they practice that behavior, the more reinforced that behavior is. In the long run, children who regularly exercise will not only develop a love for it, but will have the tools to help them relieve and cope with stress.  Ultimately, it is a wonderful way to help them learn how to be able to learn.

Top Four Tips to Combat Loneliness for Parents of Children with ADHD/ODD

I remember the first time a parent said to me “Your son is too violent. I hope you understand. I don’t want my son to get hurt. I can’t let him play with your son.” I remember being devastated and feeling so alone. If you’ve ever been in a similar situation, I bet you’ve asked yourself questions like, ‘how do you find yourself again? How do you find a group, who loves you and understand you AND your child?’ Here are four tips to help you navigate through this difficult time. 1. Smile. Through the tears, through the feelings of sadness, hurt and anger. Just smile. When you look happy, you are more approachable to other people. And when your child looks back at you and sees you smile, they will be more assured and calmer. 2. Go out. Put yourself out there. No one is going to come to your door and making you leave your bed, house or den. That might mean going to a coffee shop, a painting night, joining a book club or any other fun event. The point is, to get yourself out there and connect with others. 3. Take an exercise class. It’ll have a dual effect of pumping your endorphins and making you feel better and meeting people who are also happy. You will be involved in a group activity that gives you a common goal, and a common topic to talk about and do together. 4. Find your “like”. Join a support group. There are other parents out there who have children similar to yours and they will have a wealth of understanding for you and your child. It’s tough now, it feels unfair, unjustified, not right, but your child will grow up. While you’re on your journey of raising your child, put yourself out there and you will find people who understand that your child’s behavior is not your own, they will see that you’re doing your very best and they will be a blessing to you and your child just like you will be a blessing to them.

How to Choose a Summer Camp for Your Child

In our minds, summer is usually the time to break loose. Our kids get excited about having no more rules, no more books, riding around the neighborhood with their friends. However, let’s take the time to imagine if summer wasn’t that carefree. Our kids know the rules in school, they know where to sit, who to talk to and how to play. Yet, in the summer those rules don’t apply. It’s as though they are thrust into a world they aren’t yet ready for. They have a bundle of energy, they want to play but they don’t know how. For a child encountering these feelings, summer can be really stressful for them. Enter summer camp! It provides a structured environment that is wholly centered on fun. Like school, it clearly defines how to have fun, when to have fun and with whom. The right camp provides a structured, active environment that can help your child blossom and learn to have fun with their friends, whether they have ADHD or not. Now that we’ve established camp can be a lifesaver for you and your child, here are some tips on choosing the right summer camp for your little one(s). 1. Ask. The most important thing you can do is, ask your child. They go to school and try to listen/follow the rules all year long. This is the time to listen and find out what activities they enjoy? Do they want to meet new people or go to camp with familiar faces? If they are involved in the process of choosing a camp, they are more likely to enjoy their summer. Ask their teachers and school staff as well. They know your child and have a different opinion on how they interact with others at school. Remember to keep this information in mind when you are choosing a summer program. 2. Staff. There are a few important things you want to look for in a camp. The smaller the camper the counselor ratio, the more supervision there will be. Imagine everyone is off playing basketball and your child doesn’t want to. A small camper to counselor ratio will allow someone to take a walk with your child, cool them off, and maybe even tutor them on the game while sitting on the sidelines. This approach is wonderful because it doesn’t stress out the rest of the group or embarrass your child. This experience really happened with my son and it was the best solution possible!
You also want to know the age of the counselors and their training. You might choose to pay more for a camp where every counselor is a teacher, as opposed to a teenager but you know they have more patience and training to work with your particular child. You also want to know how many nurses are on staff. This is important if your child is going to be receiving medication. It’s reassuring to know that someone is on staff that can either administer the medicine or keep a trained eye on your child to make sure no adverse reactions occur in the hot sun while they are running around. 3. Activities. In this day and age, many kids want to spend the summer glued to an electronic device. Don’t let them. The more physical activities they are involved in, the better and happier they will be. This is true of all children, but especially those with ADHD. There’s something to be said about being outside, running around in the fresh air. There are tons of studies that say that one of the most effective treatments for ADHD. Outdoor exercise is highly beneficial, so look for a camp that provides outside activities, shade and access to water and hydration. On the flip side, you want to know that if it rains the fun doesn’t stop. A good camp will have an organized rainy day plan. 4. Types of Camp. There are camps that specialize in working with children who have been diagnosed with ADHD, learning disabilities, or Tourette’s Syndrome etc. These may be a great option for you. However, don’t rule out the local programs either. They may be just what your child needs. Remember, each camp is different, and each child is different. It may take some investigating, but there is a program out there to help your child have the best summer of their lives.

My top 3 resources if you have kids with ADD/ADHD

Having kids is tough. Having a child with ADHD can be especially challenging, but it doesn’t need to be. As parents we need to remember that we are not alone. There are lots of resources in our own communities to help us. We teach our kids that there’s nothing wrong with asking for help when you need it; well it’s time to take our own advice and take advantage of the resources available. 1. Find a local mental health professional. Preferably someone who works with kids if you can find it, but if not, that ok too. Keep in mind; if you are ok, your kids are ok. They look to you to gauge their moods; to see if a situation is worthy of stress. Speaking to a professional and learning how to cope with your stress shows your kids how to handle their stress. If that person happens to specialize in working with children who have ADHD, that’s even better. 2. Community Centers can be a family friendly resource. Parenting groups, swim classes, babysitting, Mommy/Daddy and me programs etc. These classes are often available at a community center or place of worship within the community. There are therapists or counselors available in these centers who can help you and your child unwind and have a good time together. You’ll meet parents who are going through the same thing you are, who understand who your child is and where you are coming from. Chances are, the two of you are like-minded, because you are both there! It’s nice to enter a room and know that you are not alone. 3. Find a Park or an outdoor space and go. Running around and playing are wonderful places for you and your child to meet other people. Not to mention the exercise will help your child eat, sleep, and socialize better. Most of the parks are free of charge or a nominal fee, so you don’t have to worry about spending tons of money. Parks are places of beauty and nature that allow you and your child to literally run around and practice all the skills you work on at home and in therapy, so go out and enjoy! Different communities may have more specific resources. Utilize them and remember that you are not alone.

TS, OCD and Exercise

Packer-Hopke, L. and Motta, R. A Preliminary Investigation of the Effects of Aerobic Exercise on Childhood Tourette’s Syndrome and OCD, the Behavior Therapist, October 2014 Tourette’s Syndrome (TS) is typically diagnosed in childhood. Motor and vocal tics are the hallmark of TS, but there is often the comorbidity of OCD and ADHD. Studies have shown that 12 weeks of moderately intense exercise three to four times a week can reduce OCD symptoms drastically (as measured by a well-known Obsessive Compulsive Scale—the Y-BOCS).
That being said, what about those children who have both OCD and TS? OCD is an anxiety disorder, and tics can be exacerbated by anxiety. Aerobic activity decreases anxiety and OCD symptoms. Packer-Hopke and Motta looked to see what effect aerobic activity had on tics and OCD symptoms in children who suffer from TS, OCD, and Anxiety. They found that kids who were engaged in six weeks of moderately intense exercise twice a week had a significant reduction in symptoms of both the TS and OCD, and a moderate to large reduction in symptoms of anxiety.
It’s hard to live with TS, let alone its “friends and neighbors “OCD, ADHD, and Anxiety. Wouldn’t it be nice to let these kids, “just be kids”, and in the process help them reduce their symptoms? This isn’t the full answer, but it’s certainly a start.

Exercises of ADHD, OCD, and Tourette's

In my last post, I spoke about the link between lowering ADHD and OCD symptoms, as well as Tics, by increasing exercise. In their article, Packer-Hopke and Motta (2014) had children exercise for twenty minutes for six weeks, and saw a drastic reduction in their symptoms. When I talk to parents, they say, “Oh, my daughter plays soccer” or “He’s on a local baseball team”. These are great activities: kids get to interact with their peers in a structured and active way. But for the purposes of reducing their symptoms, I suggest something a little more active. In the article, children were asked to do a workout video, such as Tae Bo or Kickboxing. These videos combine an intensive cardio workout with fun for longer periods of time. Look for a video that appeals to your child, and that you would want to join in. Kids will be more likely to work out if you are doing it to!
Running is great exercise as well. Not the all-out sprints we used to do for the 200-yard dash, but steady, paced running. Think 1 mile. But start with something easy. There are many ‘couch to 5k’ programs out there that start out walking for 90 seconds and running for 30 seconds. They help you slowly build up your tolerance for running. And nowadays there are tons of fun family runs and 5K’s that you and your child can do together. Running/jogging can be done at any pace, anywhere. All you need is sneakers and sweatpants. I like music in my ears and watching the changing scenery. But a treadmill in front of the television will work just as well. Depending on your child’s tolerance for video games, Just Dance is a great alternative to running around outside. Fun dance songs with easy to follow choreography makes moving fun! The moves are as easy or as hard as you want them to be, and you don’t even realize you are exercising! You and your child will dance and laugh the entire time. The great thing about this is, the more you do it, the better you get. Exercising, especially with your child, is a great way to reduce symptoms of ADHD, OCD, and Tourette’s. It’ll also have the added bonus of helping build a stronger bond and fond memories between you. As with everything, talk to your doctors to make sure these activities are safe and appropriate for your child. If not, don’t despair!!! Call your local psychologist to get more information.
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