If you’ve been around this blog for any length of time, you have likely read my transparent stories about parenting and homeschooling my son with ADHD. One of the things we have discussed is our choice to use medication for ADHD. What you probably don’t know is that a few months ago, Ben (with our approval) decided to discontinue the use of ADHD medicine. As he is maturing, we were already seeing improvements in his symptoms, so the timing seemed good to go ahead and move toward this next step.
Medications certainly have their place in treating teens with ADHD but they’re not for everyone and they don’t have to be long-term even if you do use them. Many children take ADHD medications when they’re young and wean off of them as they reach their teen years. If you have a teen who doesn’t take medication or who seems ready to manage ADHD without medication, there are ways to do so that you and your teen can explore.
How to Help Your Teen Manage ADHD without Medication:
Behavioral therapy – This type of therapy uses praise and a reward system to help encourage good behavior. To implement this type of therapy, set specific goals for your teen, reward him for good behavior and make him aware of the consequences if he disobeys. Be consistent with both rewards and implementing consequences. Be sure to exercise patience and set reasonable goals for your teen. Your goals may need to be different than the goals you’ve set for other teens you have parented. Flexibility and realistic expectations are key here.
Encourage physical activity – Physical activity naturally increases the serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine levels in the brain. As a result, it helps your teen to stay focused and concentrate better. Look for activities your teen enjoys to help keep him interested, or just have your teen begin his day with a simple physical activity (a 15-minute run, jumping on a trampoline, calisthenics such as push-ups and sit-ups) when possible, and use activity as a way to re-focus during the day when needed. This has been huge for Ben.
Help him learn good social skills – Social settings can be very upsetting for teens with ADHD. He may feel insecure and uncertain of how to act in these situations. In addition to talking to your child and explaining appropriate behavior in social settings, consider taking him to a therapist trained in this area. He may also benefit from taking part in a social skills group. Here he can gain hands-on experience interacting with others in a social setting. When things don’t go well for your teen with ADHD, discuss what happened and coach him in how he could have handled the situation differently, if appropriate. Role-playing can also work well for these teens.
Make sure your child gets enough sleep – Sleep can be a problem for teens with ADHD. It may be difficult for him to relax and calm his thoughts long enough to fall asleep. However, lack of sleep can make symptoms much worse. Take steps to help your teen get the sleep he needs by limiting lights and noises that can interfere with sleep. Turn off electronics an hour before bedtime, have a set time to go to bed and have him avoid caffeinated beverages at night. Don’t be concerned when your teen with ADHD needs to sleep in. If sleeping in does not interfere with his activities for the day, it’s a good way to ensure he gets the proper amount of sleep.
Provide nutritious meals – Just like getting enough sleep can help, eating nutritious meals can also improve ADHD symptoms. Try to eat around the same time every day, have him snack on healthy foods in-between meals, and limit junk foods and sugar-laden drinks.
Create a daily routine and be consistent with it – Routine is vital to a teen with ADHD. Having a consistent routine will help him stay on track because he knows what to expect and what he is supposed to do at any given time. Keep his schedule as simple as possible for the best results.
Use alarms and timers – Posting a written routine can be very helpful, as can electronic calendars and smartphone timers and reminders. Alarms, timers, and reminders will help your teen remember what he is supposed to be doing at any given time. Since it’s difficult for teens with ADHD to keep up with time and how long they spend doing a specific task, timers can help him stay on track. If you homeschool your teen, check out the Pomodoro Technique.
Give your ADHD teen a place to regroup – Teens with ADHD need a quiet, private place to go when they feel overwhelmed. It will give him a chance to regroup and get control of his emotions so he can calmly discuss the problem at hand. Many kids will have their own bedroom but if your teen shares a room with a sibling make sure he has somewhere else private to go when he needs to be alone.
How to Discontinue ADHD Meds Safely
If you have a teen who has been on medication for any length of time and he wishes to learn to manage ADHD without medication, there are a few things you’ll need to know and understand. The first thing you’ll want to identify is why your teen desires to stop the medication. Valid reasons might include:
- Your teen may have achieved a level of maturity that makes him better able to manage ADHD without medication
- Your teen’s symptoms may have improved in recent months or years, and are no longer severe enough to warrant medication
Whatever your reasons for discontinuing ADHD medications, please don’t just abruptly stop the medication without preparing your family ahead of time. Here are the steps you’ll want to consider first:
Work with your teen’s doctor to create a plan for lowering the dosage gradually to avoid withdrawal symptoms. His health care provider can also evaluate his current condition and help you determine if now is the right time to stop taking medication.
Set a trial period. Discuss with your teen ahead of time the use of a “trial period.” If either of you realize that you’ve made a mistake discontinuing medication, there is no shame in restarting them. Set some goals for behavior that are measurable so you’ll know whether or not your teen is having success managing his ADHD symptoms without medication.
Be aware of the side effects associated with weaning off the medicine and know what symptoms should raise concern and constitutes a visit to the doctor. You’ll need to keep a close eye on your child during this transition period.
If he is taking more than one type of medication for his ADHD, eliminate them one at a time. It will help you identify withdrawal symptoms and pinpoint exactly which meds are causing them. If you stop all of the meds at once, you won’t know which one is to blame if symptoms do occur.
Timing is important. If there are major things going on in your teen’s life, it is not a good time to stop taking ADHD meds. For example, starting a new school year or a part-time job, during a stressful life event, or even during the holidays may not good times because of increased stress. Have him wait until things calm down a little. Summer break is typically a good time.
Talk to your child daily and ask him how he feels. Look for changes in his behavior and emotional state that may be due to discontinuing his meds. Encourage him to discuss any problems or concerns with you so you can help him. Don’t hesitate to discuss the issues with his doctor if needed. During the transition period or when your child has successfully stopped his medication, you can begin the alternative treatments discussed above to help your teen deal with and control his ADHD symptoms naturally.
In addition to the techniques above, always praise your child for his accomplishments and for his efforts. He won’t always be able to control his emotions or behavior and that’s to be expected. However, pointing out his achievements instead of what he’s doing wrong will help encourage him to keep working towards his goal to manage ADHD without medication one step at a time.
Check out some of our favorite tools for success below.