Supporting a hyperactive child

When we are talking about a hyperactive child, it is important to know that it is not only a developmental phase which the child is going to outgrow, it is not caused by poor parenting skills, nor is it a troublesome child. It is a biologically caused disturbance. Children who are restless, have difficulties in concentrating and/or show more impulsive reactions, can have difficulties in their everyday life, in integrating into their peer group and establishing good relationships with adults, as well as in coping in situations where it is necessary to follow rules (kindergarten, school, extra-curricular activities).

It is of utmost importance that adults (parents, teachers, coaches) who are in contact with the child who suffers from these disorders, cooperate and understand the child, provide help and support in order to facilitate his/her functioning. Such a child needs routine, structure and predictability.

When addressing a hyperactive child, it is important that while giving instructions or formulating requirements, one establishes an eye contact to help focus his/her attention and give simple, brief and understandable instructions, so the child can understand what is expected from him/her. It is important to set rules of behaviour and make a clear agreement about rewards and sanctions. Consequences of his/her behaviour must be predictable, consistent and clear. Feedback, especially the positive one (praise), must be frequent. If the child does not receive positive attention, s/he will try to attract negative attention with his/her behaviour. This is why it is important to ignore a negative behaviour whenever possible if it does not endanger the child. If the child does not receive attention for his/her negative behaviour, the chances are that it will not occur again.

Impulsivity and hyperactivity can push other children and adults away so the child may feel isolated, ignored and different, which may affect his/her self-confidence. Since a hyperactive child often doubts his/her competences, it is adults’ task to be positive, to observe and reward appropriate behaviour and adjust their expectations to child’s competences, avoiding criticism and praising his/her personality, achievements and behaviour, emphasising strengths and abilities. All this strengthens child’s self-confidence.

If the hyperactive child has difficulties in peer relationships, s/he needs additional adults’ help. This help includes social skills practice, giving clear instructions how to approach a peer and giving a model of appropriate behaviour, involving the child in extra-curricular activities according to his/her interests and choice in order to expand his/her social network, teaching non-violent conflict solving and when s/he makes social mistakes with peers, helping him/her to identify what can be done better next time in order to facilitate better integration into his/her peer group.

The hyperactive child can have difficulties in paying attention in the class and in acquiring the teaching material. S/he needs learning in the environment which supports individual differences with a flexible, structured approach – e.g. the child should not be put under time pressure, testing time should be adjusted to his/her abilities, exams should more frequently be oral, preferably in the morning or at the beginning of the class and the child should be given small tasks which enable movement, like fetching the chalk or washing the sponge, teaching material should be divided into smaller units, adults should show understanding for his/her difficulties which may cause that the child will sometimes function better and sometimes worse, have ‘bad’ and ‘good’ days.

Educating adults, both parents and professionals dealing with hyperactive children about their difficulties, aiming at a more successful induction into hyperactivity and understanding of their characteristics as well as applying the adequate approach, will enable their healthy development, success and happy childhood. It is also important to sensitise them to the fact that hyperactive children’s behaviour is not a reflection of their disobedience, but of their inability to pay attention, to control reactions and behave calmly, as well as to sit quietly or stand in place.