FAMILY- Slow down: Therapist advises hugs before drugs


There's no doubt that boisterous, inattentive, hyperactive children can be frustrating and disruptive both in the classroom and at home. But long before parents consider medication, they need to make sure the home environment is conducive to an attentive, content child, says Pamela Sorensen, a child psychotherapist. While Sorensen acknowledges there are children who require medication for attention issues, she offers the following simple tips as the first steps a parent should take when concerned about a child's behavior.

Assist with transitions: "Transitions are very important to children, and they have a much bigger impact on a small child than on an adult," says Sorensen. "Parents need to think in detail about the transitions their children face each day." Discussing things such as who's going to take a child to school and who will pick up is important, she says. So are little details like what he or she will have for lunch or snack.

"To the child, these are not trivial things," says Sorensen. "These are like little anchors." 

Face time: "This is not the same as screentime," says Sorensen, who says many working parents arrive home with their children and never take a breath before launching into more chores.

"Mom thinks she has to get dinner on the table immediately, things are hairy and wild, the kids are driving her crazy," she says. "She's standing at refrigerator or stove. From the child's point of view, he's seeing mother's back. The child wants the mother's face." 

Sorensen's advice: slow down. "Dinner will be 20 minutes late, who cares?" she says. "Sit down. Don't turn on the television. Sit down and be still. You'll be surprised. You don't need to ask, 'What did you do today?' You don't need to question the child. This is the reunion that even the older child needs. He needs to reconnect with a mother who's not in a hurry." 

Give control: "Most of the time a child doesn't have any control over anything. He gets up when you say, gets the bus when the schedule says, goes to school. There's so much that's not within his control," says Sorensen, who suggests parents give even their very young children control over small manageable things. 

"Let him pick his own clothes," she says. "And do you really care whether he has Cheerios or toast? Let him decide." Allowing a child to make those choices, says Sorensen, "helps a child feel he is making a contribution to how things work and that he can do it effectively."

Routine and rhythm. "Every family's routine and rhythm are different," says Sorensen. "Some families have bath in the evening, some in the morning. What matters is that it happens in the context of a familiar rhythmic routine to family life." 

Sorensen says this predictability relaxes children, and she adds, "If it's possible for the bedtime routine to be unhurried and to include reading, this is also very helpful. There's something about winding down to the sound of mother or father's voice that's extremely reassuring. This needs to be a time of intimate connection, without the television."