Have a child with ADHD? Here’s how to support your family

Parenting a child with ADHD can be challenging, but there are effective strategies to help build a resilient, positive family dynamic. Here is what you should know.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD as it is commonly known, has attracted plenty of buzz in recent years.

An estimated one in 20 Australian children and adults have it; it’s been a hot topic on social media, and celebrities have talked openly about their experiences with the condition.

So what is ADHD?

A behavioural disorder, ADHD can present as one of three types:

Hyperactive: Characteristics may include fidgeting, distracting other children, being unable to sit still, impulsiveness, always being on the go.

Inattentive: Characteristics may include struggling to focus, appearing to “not try”, difficulty following instructions, appearing not to listen, avoiding tasks that require mental effort.

Combination: Displays both hyperactive and inattentive characteristics.

Paediatrician Dr Sarah Arachchi says diagnosis is typically after the age of six when the characteristics are observed across a range of settings.

“We tend to diagnose with ADHD over the age of six because some behaviours settle or go away with the child’s age,” Dr Arachchi says.

“The behaviours are usually present in the school and at home – not just in one environment – and in a lot of cases, there is a family history of a parent or another sibling having ADHD.”

What to do if you suspect your child may have ADHD

Child psychologist Deirdre Brandner recommends checking in with your child’s educator for feedback on what they’re seeing if you have concerns.

“Ask (if) they feel it’s taking longer for your child to get tasks started and finished,” Deirdre suggests.

“Is their organisation poor? Do they forget things?”

From there, you might raise your issues with your GP, who can provide advice on suitable assessments and refer you to a paediatrician if necessary, Dr Arachchi suggests.

“Getting support from a psychologist can also be really helpful as they can offer strategies that can be instituted at school or at home,” Dr Arachchi says.

“For example, if a child has emotional outbursts, they can (help you) learn some techniques on how to deal with those difficult behaviours.”

Diagnosing ADHD in children is usually through a paediatrician or psychologist, and involves gathering information from a variety of sources who can report on observations of the child’s behaviour, Deirdre explains.

“There are scored assessments that can provide valid data,” Deirdre says.

“The parent will complete one of these, along with a teacher who has seen the child for a period of time, and depending on the age of the child, sometimes there’s a self-report.”

Deirdre says there may also be blood assessments to check iron deficiency or other factors that may explain the child’s lack of concentration, or a psychologist may do an in-classroom assessment.

How is ADHD in children typically managed?

Paediatric nurse and Kids on Track Consultancy founder Ariella Lew says there isn’t a one-size fits all approach to managing ADHD.

“All children are different, and all children’s bodies and brains react differently to different (treatments),” Ariella says.

Generally, treatment options for ADHD in kids may include medication and non-pharmacological strategies such as addressing sleep, diet, physical activity, parent/family training, and cognitive behavioural intervention.


Stimulant medication is considered a standard treatment for children with ADHD; however, different types may be better suited to different children.

Deirdre explains the right medication can give children the opportunity to be on a level playing field.

“They get to engage in learning in the same way everyone else does in that classroom,” she says.

It can also help improve social interaction, Ariella adds.

“If they’re able to focus, they’re able to listen and pay attention to the social cues around them,” Ariella explains.

Counselling or behavioural therapy

Behavioural therapy can be effective in people with ADHD, but again, the type of strategies adopted and how well these are received can be very individual, Dr Arachchi says.

“With behavioural strategies, it depends on the child,” she says.

“Some children might have difficulties with emotional regulation, so the psychologist will focus on getting the child to recognise those behaviours and give them alternative strategies to help them calm down.

“Another possibility is they need help with organisation, so a psychologist may give them strategies to help with planning and executive function.

“For other children, their ADHD can affect their self-esteem, and they may have low mood or anxiety as a result, so giving them support can be quite useful.”


Researchers are beginning to learn a lot more about the gut-brain connection; however, whether it has an influence on conditions such as ADHD is still not clear.

“It’s a very hot topic,” Ariella says.

“In my experience, you’ll find some parents absolutely swear that putting their kids on a gluten-free or sugar-free or whatever diet makes a huge amount of difference to their behaviour.

“And I don’t doubt that is the case for some people, but there’s not concrete evidence to say there’s a diet that will help ADHD behaviour.”

Dr Arachchi recommends eating a balanced diet and having regular mealtimes.

“Try to avoid processed food as much as possible and eat fruit, vegetables, protein and calcium – all those things that are important in general for a healthy lifestyle – and that is for any child, not specifically a child with ADHD.”

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Written by Claire Burke.