“Kids these days. No discipline. No respect. They can’t sit still or focus on anything. Constantly distracted. They never finish what they started. I don’t get it. How are they going to survive in the real world? It’s a nightmare and I’m exhausted!”
Sound familiar? Yup, and even more so if you work with children and young adults suffering from hyperfocused disorder due to ADHD, ODD (Oppositional Defiance Disorder), autism, or sensory processing overload. Problem is, there doesn’t seem to be one, clear-cut issue and solution:
Some cite the link between our gut, immune system and psychological state of being. They refer to a compromised gut microbiome, exacerbated by over-prescribed antibiotics, hormones in our diary and meat, processed sugar, wheat and other junk food.
Still others trace it back to media: Did you introduce a screen at too young of an age? Well, they might say, you did this to yourself.
Solution: None. Too late. You’re screwed.
Others blame it entirely on present-day social media, platforms in which minute snippets of attention are rewarded with likes and endorphin rushes and hardly anyone ever sticks around for more than 30 seconds.
Solution: Remove or reduce all social media.
Still others, those locked in older-school mentalities of being may simply refuse to acknowledge that there is a problem at hand. They may term these problems as arising from modern, spoiled disobedient kids.
Solution: Return back to shaming and old-time punishments.
Luckily, we now know better than this and we must firmly state that science, psychology and basic humanity do not support shaming or corporal punishments. Corporal punishment produces fear and the illusion of temporary obedience. But in the long run, it generates trauma, anxiety, depression and PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder); it also stifles a kid’s personality, confidence and sense of self.
We can also assure you that kids are not just clever procrastinators. Most of the time, kids attempt the task at hand: they simply lack the skills to complete it, which leads to power challenges and heightened negative emotional states.
The art of completing a task is not dependent on a fixed subset of behavioral modifications: in fact, it’s quite the opposite. The art of completing a task depends on your ability to ride the emotional waves that may come at you.This is drastically different than being on the defense, and constantly fighting the intrinsic emotional state that accompanies your child’s lack of focus.
If we don’t understand how to ride these emotional waves with intelligence and grace, the act of maintaining a young person’s attention can become one of the most draining tasks of your day. Adults who don’t understand the simple tools available to them to shift a young person’s focus usually end up frustrated, lose their temper and come home emotionally depleted.
Why do this to yourself?
There are simple tools you can implement right now to help your situation. First, assess your child’s avoidance strategy. Is it physical? Emotional? Or Both? This article tackles physical strategies. We’ll address emotional strategies in part II.
Questions? Contact us. Our professional team at the OAS Center is here to help you.
Environmental Awareness and the Importance of Physical Activity
Environment is crucial and the first thing you need to ask yourself, is, “How can I make my environment more habitable and comfortable for my child?”
Create a safe space for the child to self-regulate. Some schools of thought term these spaces a Peace Corner or a Calming Corner, a space usually constructed out of pillows or bean bags. It can be very helpful and soothing to provide a womb-like atmosphere in the Peace Corner by enclosing it with “walls” and a “ceiling” to contain the energy: both of which you can create yourself with colorful and soothing fabrics or by purchasing a small indoor teepee, or kids’ play tent easily found for under $40 at Walmart, Target and other online providers.
Provide tactile toys, fidget toys and plush comfort objects in this space. Encourage the child that this space is a safe space to experience “strong feelings.”
By empowering children with a self-regulated “out” from everyday life, you are empowering them to take charge of these feeling and emotions which often predate and accompany a lack of focus. Peace Corner decorating ideas are abundant online.
It’s important to recognize that fidgeting, squirming, getting up and wandering over to do something else – all signs of physical avoidance, are often due to a true inability to sit still.
Most people, kids in particular, don’t get enough physical exercise and activity and every year that becomes worse. The more technology we allow in our lives, the less we move around. Children, in particular, are most susceptible to this lack of movement.
As an adult, we might be able to contain our body’s frustration derived from lack of movement, but as a child or young adult, we may not have the tools to express our needs.
Perhaps more importantly, we may not be given the permission to move and shake-off stress the way in which we were biologically primed to do so.
Kids still have stores of boundless energy and an inherent desire to move and play. Without an outlet and permission to do so, subconsciously, they hold it in until they encounter a stressful situation, and all of the sudden – BOOM! Movement emerges, though usually not in a productive manner.
Physical Movement as a purely biological response.
Excess energy needs an outlet, and not given one, that energy simply builds and builds.
Add on a psychological layer of stress – a task that’s perceived as dreadful, scary or uninteresting, and the body responds to a simple task as a perceived threat. Adrenaline increases, our focus narrows and we enter a state of fight or flight. Back in primal days, this served us well: there were true threats to our lives, such as a tiger, lying in wait. Today, most of us don’t need to physically run for our lives. But our bodies don’t necessarily distinguish between a real-life threat and a psychological one.
A test that needs to be studied for may still cause the body stress, and one of the most primal ways to shake off the threat of stress is by involuntary shaking. This reaction is termed Therapeutic, or Neurogenic Tremors. It helps us shake off stress and trauma and occurs in all mammals.
Most of us in modern society suppress the urge to shake off trauma; the energy simply builds and builds until it can’t be contained anymore. But animals do this all the time. We’ve all witnessed a dog encounter another dog, who behaves aggressively – growling, lunging and territorial. After the initial exchange, what happens? Both dogs shake off the stress, walk away, and are fine. They may even go back to playing with each other.
Avantgarde therapy techniques employ shaking as a method of releasing stress, but we do not recommend these unless under the care of a trained professional. A more manageable approach is to create the possibility for physical activity, which may not only negate the need for the involuntary tremors altogether, but also provide positive stimulation for ADHD kids
Tips and Tricks for physical activity (PA) to help diminish ADHD
The need for PA, or movement is well documented National Institute of Health (NIH). This study, published in the NIH Frontiers of Psychology, states: “Vigorous PA interventions in general address several areas that are problematic for children, adolescents, and adults with ADHD. For instance, short- and long-term interventions for increasing vigorous PA have led to improved mood and improved executive functioning (i.e., neuropsychological functions as for instance inhibition, shifting/task-switching, working memory), especially to improved inhibition performance in children, adolescents, and adults.”
You can create the opportunity for self-regulated movement with simple tools, such as this fidget spinner yoga poster. You may also createpermission for movementprior to, and during the activity with structured movement activities:
- Side body stretches do the body wonders. They not only open up our capacity for increased oxygen intake by stretching the rib cage and allowing for a deeper breath, they physically release energy by opening up the lateral body. Stand comfortably, feet hips distance apart. Lift up one arm, high to the sky and stretch. Ground through the same side of the body by pressing down into your heel and across into the ball arch of the foot. When you can’t stretch vertically anymore, begin to reach your arm up and over like a crescent towards the other side. Take three deep breaths. Switch sides.
- Forward folds with the legs wide apart and knees soft. Stretch your legs wider than your hips. Place your hands to your hips, softly bend your knees and allow your torso to hang. Release your arms and gently sway from side to side, or forward and back.
- Full body standing twist. Stand with your feet wider than hips distance apart, soften your knees and begin to twist from left to right, allowing the entire torso and pelvis to move. Now twist even deeper by allowing your arms to swing from side to side. You may notice your arms swinging and floating way out to the sides of your body. Don’t try and control it. Just let your body and arms swing.
- Want something more vigorous and aerobic? Try jump rope, jumping jacks or planking.
All of these are helpful in not only dispelling pent up energy, but in also creating an increased focus for activities. Another NIH study, titled, “Emerging Support for a Role of Exercise in Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Intervention Planning,” supports the need for any type of physical activity. Physical activities may “vary from very simple repetitive motions (e.g., running, walking) to complex activities that engage cognitive skills (e.g., sports games, obstacle courses, video games). Intensity is typically defined by percentage of an individual’s maximum workload measured by assessments of oxygen uptake or heart rate.”
This study concludes with, “Taken together, this body of evidence suggests that exercise impacts structural brain growth and functional neurocognitive development, which in turn could have lasting effects on the trajectory of ADHD.”
Not up for an in-class or at-home or in-class stretch sesh? Have a student who resists being led into physical activities?
Seamlessly Integrate Physical Activities Into the Task At Hand:
Try integrating movement within the task at hand by using fidget toys and sensory tools.
We love these wiggly bottom cushions, such as this model, aptly titled, “Therapist’s Choice Stability Balance Disc.”. Wiggly bottom cushions provide an opportunity for continuous movement in a controlled setting. And the bonus is that they force the student to use their deep core stabilizing muscles, an added physically therapeutic bonus. This article explores and recommends other types of sensory wiggle seats.
Let us know how you feel about incorporating some of the movement strategies and please check out our follow up article The Art of Focus Part II.