Mental Health

Attention deficit in kids – types, symptoms, causes and support

Written by Aprajita Dixit
Published: September 20, 2022
A Counselling Psychologist, Clinical Psychologist and Psychotherapist who specialises in child's psychology and child's development. Double RCI licensed (MA Clinical Psy & ADCGC(RCI) and MPhil in Clinical Psychology(RCI)) & a gold medal winner with more than 5 years of work experience.

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Childhood is one of the most beautiful stages of life. From birth to becoming a toddler to growing into a little one hopping around with shine and gleam, childhood stages are the most vibrant phase of humankind. And hereby, when development is stuck due to a lack of diligence or an increase in impulsivity – it is a matter of concern. Rather than categorizing children as notorious, indisciplined, or hyperactive due to their impulsivity and inattention; care and fostering a special focus on them becomes the need of the hour.

Attention deficits and hyperactivity concerns in children may develop for a variety of reasons. Brain injury is the most common cause, known as primary attention deficit. It can either be attention deficit concerns or attention deficit and hyperactivity issues. It may be unsettling for a parent to hear the words “brain disorder” but contrary to popular belief, ADD and ADHD are very common and have various proven treatment methods. 

Pre-indication of attention deficit in children may represent itself as the following: 


1. Difficulty in School: The child may experience difficulty in learning and have poor grades, exhibit poor behaviour, and has difficulty finishing work in the allotted time.

2. Difficulty in the Family: The child could possibly show signs of discipline problems.

3. Difficulty in Social Situations: The child may find it challenging to make and maintain friendships, and get uncomfortable in social settings. 

The flag symptoms of attention deficit in children are often noticeable before the age of 6 and are well-defined. Children may have symptoms of either inattentiveness or hyperactivity and impulsiveness, sometimes even both. 

Flag signs of Inattentiveness (difficulty in concentrating and focusing) in Children: 

  • Children have a short attention span and are distracted easily
  • They make careless mistakes
  • They are often forgetful and lose their belongings 
  • They are unable to focus on tasks that are tedious and require a higher attention span
  • They do not listen to or carry out instructions
  • They have difficulty organising tasks

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Flag signs of hyperactivity and impulsiveness in children:

  • Children find it difficult to sit still, especially in a calm and quiet setting
  • They constantly fidget 
  • They cannot concentrate on tasks 
  • They exhibit excessive physical movement and excessive talking
  • They are impatient and do not wait for their turn
  • They are impulsive and do not think before they act
  • They have very little or no sense of danger

As signs of attention difficulties are seen early in childhood, they may cause significant obstacles in a child’s life. They underachieve at school, have poor social interactions, and have disciplinary problems. 

Even though not all children who have trouble paying attention have ADD/ADHD, there are numerous underlying concerns because of which children display ADD/ADHD symptoms. A brain disorder called primary attention deficit (ADD/ ADHD) exists. It may be genetic and runs in families. 

If and when a child is diagnosed with attention deficit, a common problem noticed in such children is defiant and aggressive behaviour. They refuse to follow directions and may have emotional outbursts when they find a task challenging or if things do not go their way. Children seek attention from adults, especially their parents. However, growing up, they fear losing their attention and start throwing tantrums as a way to keep that focus. This is excessively seen in children with ADD/ADHD. They become defiant in simple, everyday situations like homework, sitting down for dinner, stop playing a game, etc. This is a direct effect of the deficits they have due to ADD/ADHD. 

These attention deficit symptoms are easily managed and can be treated using various methods. 

1. BEHAVIOURAL MANAGEMENT 

These deficits are easily managed and can be treated using various behavioural treatments given to help the child learn to cope with her/his deficits. 

a) The coin game 
The coin game is one of the best ways to improve memory, concentration and attention in children. In order to play this game, you will require a small pile of assorted coins, a cardboard sheet to cover them, and a stopwatch. Choose 5 coins and put them in a sequence, following which you will ask your child to remember the sequence. Once they have familiarised themselves with the coin, cover the coins with the cardboard, and ask them to set 5 other coins in the same pattern, while timing them.

You can always increase the difficulty level as you move forward with the game, however, do not increase it until your child gets it completely right. 

b) Relaxation and positive imagery 
Relaxation techniques combined with positive imagery can work wonders for your child! Deep breathing and positive visual imagery through guidance help your child’s cognitive development.

c) Mind-Body integration 
This technique focuses on improving the concentration levels of your child. Have your child sit in a chair without creating unnecessary movement. Whether it be while eating food, or doing activities. Time them during this, and gradually, with time their levels of neural connections between the mind and body are improved, leading to better self-control of your child.

d) Crossword puzzles/Picture puzzles
Puzzles are a great tool for children with ADHD as they help improve attention span for words as well as sequence ability. Using picture puzzles to identify the ‘wrong’ placements helps improve attention and concentration. 

e) Memory and concentration games 
Games such as memory assist the child in making the extra effort of remembering the location of picture squares, visual sequences of auditory and visual stimuli, etc. It motivates them, and as brain circuits are exercised through playing, their connection strengthens, and thus functioning improves. 

f) Dancing sequence games
Dancing sequence games are usually played on video platforms, such as the Xbox, Wii, etc. A dance mat is available along with the system on which the child is supposed to follow the sequence of steps displayed on the screen. This game helps improve the child’s concentration, processing speed, planning, sequencing, and motor agitation. An added advantage of this is aerobic exercise and keeping the child healthy. 

g) Story-based games 
For story-based games, all that is required is a good storybook and a good imagination. Here, the child is given a pop quiz after hearing the story to help improve their memory. Parents/counsellors can also only read a paragraph or two from the original story and guide the child to build her/his own story on the lines of the original content. These exercises will build the child’s memory, concentration, and sometimes even help the development of logic and a sense of humour.  

h) Mazes
Age-appropriate mazes are available online on various sites. The child can be given easy ones in the beginning, and then the intensity is increased slowly. It is important to praise the child as her/his scores improve to keep them motivated and focused. This game helps improve concentration, planning, sequencing, processing speed, and visual-motor integration.

2. COUNSELLING 

Through a range of interventions, professional counsellors in community and educational settings can assist children with ADHD and their families learn how to cope with social and educational impairments that come along with ADHD, in an attempt to treat the full spectrum of symptoms (Herr, 2009; McConaughy, Volpe, Antshel, Gordon, & Eiraldi, 2011). Play therapy may be helpful when helping young children manage their ADHD symptoms, according to research on counselling children with ADHD, which also points to the importance of action-oriented strategies (Portrie-Bethke, Hill, & Bethke, 2009; Schottelkorb & Ray, 2009). Along with adopting a systemic intervention strategy that regularly incorporates parent and teacher consultations (Shillingford, Lambie, & Walter, 2007), group counselling for kids with ADHD has also been recommended (Webb & Myrick, 2003).

Along with counselling, sometimes, medicines can be prescribed in case the diagnosis is of primary attention deficit. They can be stimulants or non-stimulants, depending on the case. 

Three areas of focus are crucial when counselling children with ADHD, regardless of the environment or counselling method used. Conflict resolution, motivation and self-efficacy, and self-esteem are three areas that counsellors may find useful in organising and structuring their interventions.

a) Conflict Resolution
Children with ADHD often have trouble sticking to a task and find it difficult to control their impulses, which can lead to rejection and interpersonal conflicts at home, in school, and in any other social circle (Deater-Deckard, 2001). Therefore, assisting kids with ADHD in learning conflict resolution techniques and skills may help lessen the interpersonal difficulties they frequently encounter. In school, conflict resolution programmes are effective in assisting kids in putting an end to disputes with peers, teachers, and parents. Without this training, elementary and secondary school students frequently struggle to resolve interpersonal conflicts, which strains their social relationships even more. However, after receiving this training, kids are better able to use their negotiating and mediation skills, leading to more fruitful interactions with others (Johnson & Johnson, 1996).

b) Motivation and Self-Efficacy 
Children with ADHD experience motivational problems in a variety of settings. In an educational setting, children with ADHD frequently submit messy, incomplete, or unfinished assignments at school, which adults might mistakenly attribute to a lack of motivation. Additionally, homework or other tasks that call for sustained mental focus and attention are frequently difficult for children with ADHD to complete, and they may even be avoided altogether (APA, 2013). Children with ADHD experience motivational difficulties at home, such as difficulty finishing games or other activities and a propensity for misplacing things (NIMH, 2012). 

Self-efficacy is considered a central component of successful living and is closely related to motivation. According to Bandura (1977), children are less likely to exert the effort necessary to successfully engage in an activity if they do not expect to succeed at it. Children with ADHD frequently struggle with self-efficacy issues, which may be brought on by recurrent failure and rejection in both school and the home. Although motivation is part of the initial energy put into an activity, the amount of energy a child will continue to put into the activity depends on how confident they feel about their ability to succeed (i.e., self-efficacy) (i.e., motivation.). 

c) Self-Esteem
Children with ADHD may experience significant self-esteem issues due to their frequent experiences of rejection. It is important for kids and teenagers with ADHD to build up their self-esteem by learning to focus on their own personal strengths and realising they don’t have to base it on their weaknesses. Also, child-initiated play therapy is a successful counselling strategy for boosting young children’s self-esteem (Schottelkorb & Ray, 2009). Lastly, giving children with ADHD the chance to take on leadership responsibilities during therapeutic group activities can help them gain more self-assurance and self-esteem (Portrie-Bethke et al., 2009).

To conclude, children might not always be able to convey their needs, especially when troubled with ADD or ADHD. Empathizing, warming them up with enough love, care and motivation so that they rise up on their own and discover the will to progress from within themselves. Circumstances may not always be in favour, these children might fall, get hurt in life, and yet stand up to take up the challenges if motivation and reinforcements are positive in nature. The suffering and the tough tides these children face are not visible to outsiders, and therefore is an easy subject of judgemental thoughts. What is not understood, is the way how we hold out our hands to such igniting young minds for them to sore better!

References:

ADHD | Behavior Problems in Children | Learning Issues | Child Anxiety. (n.d.). Child Mind Institute. https://www.understood.org/en/articles/does-adhd-raise-risk-mental-health-issues
Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in Children. (n.d.). Johns Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/adhdadd
Hamilton, N. J., & Astramovich, R. L. (2014). Counseling Children with ADHD: Three Focus Areas for Professional Counselors. ACA Knowledge Center. https://www.counseling.org/docs/default-source/vistas/article_71.pdf?sfvrsn=9
Mellor, D. N. (2008). ADHD OR ATTENTION SEEKING? WAYS OF DISTINGUISHING TWO COMMON CHILDHOOD PROBLEMS. BPS/ DECP Annual Conference. http://www.nmellor.com/articles/ADHDorAttentionSeeking-WaysOfDistinguishingTwoCommonChildhoodProblems.pdf
NHS website. (2022, January 12). Symptoms. Nhs.Uk. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-adhd/symptoms/
What is ADHD? (2021, January 26). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/facts.html

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