My Child Has ADHD. How Can I Keep an Eye on His General Well-Being?

By Dr. Charles Sophy

My child has ADHD. How can I keep an eye on his general well-being?

Dr. Charles Sophy

Medical Director, Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services

I tell parents to use the acronym SWEEP to evaluate the five key areas of their child’s life. SWEEP stands for Sleep, Work, Eating, Emotional Expression and Play.

Finding balance in these five areas can help lead to a healthier lifestyle for your child. Focusing on them can also help you zero in on problems and find ways to resolve them or to make them more manageable.

Here are some questions you can ask to help assess each of these five key areas.

1. Sleep

Take notice of your child’s sleep habits and whether or not he sleeps through the night on a regular basis:

  • Does your child wake up feeling rested?
  • Does he fall asleep in a reasonable amount of time once he goes to bed?
  • Does he sleep soundly?

If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” talk to your child’s doctor. Together you can focus on these issues to find the root cause and take steps to fix them. The same holds true if your child has other sleep irregularities. These can include sleepwalking and hitting or yelling during sleep.

2. Work

Talk with your child’s teachers to find out how he’s performing in school. Here are some questions you might want to ask:

  • What are the specific times and activities that are the most difficult for my child in the classroom?
  • Does my child have friends? Are they the same friends from week to week or does he seem to be moving from groups often?
  • How does my child navigate social interactions in the lunchroom and play yard?
  • When my child does his schoolwork, does he complete each assignment? Is his work accurate and correct?
  • Does my child participate in class by raising his hand and asking questions? If so, do his questions make sense and are they connected to the lessons?

Be on the lookout for friction with teachers or other students. A change in your child’s behavior could be a sign of a problem in another area of his life.

3. Eating

Pay attention to your child’s eating habits. Think about the social aspects of eating too:

  • Is your child able to use mealtime for relaxation and communication?
  • Does your child eat alone at school or with peers?
  • What is your child eating at school? Does he eat healthy food that you or the school have prepared? Or is he eating a lot of snacks from vending machines?
  • Does your child finish his meals? Can he focus during meals?

Eating well will give your child healthy energy and help him avoid jitters or excess energy during the day. If your child isn’t eating much, this could be a sign of depression. It could also be that his ADHD medication needs to be adjusted.

4. Emotional Expression

It’s important for your child to process the events of each day and express how he feels about them. Take some time each day to talk with him about whatever has happened. Ask yourself the following:

  • Does your child share with you what happened at school or after school?
  • Does he communicate how he’s feeling about school and extracurricular activities?
  • Do you encourage your child to express himself emotionally and creatively?

Being able to share his feelings speaks volumes about how your child processes and reacts to experiences. I can’t stress enough how important it is to work on this area of his emotional growth.

5. Play

Playing, and enjoying life, is important for everyone. Remember that kids are kids. Sometimes as parents we forget that the responsibilities we put on our children can weigh heavily on their minds. Consider the following:

  • Does your child play with other children? Does he thrive in social environments?
  • Does he exhibit feelings of worry? If so, is he able to direct that energy to a positive place?
  • Does your child prefer playing outdoors and with others? Or does he seem to be trying to isolate himself?

Look for ways to help your child find pleasure in the day to day. This is particularly important because ADHD can occur with mental health issues such as anxiety or depression.

It’s often difficult to tell whether one issue is causing the other. Is your child distracted because he’s anxious and/or depressed? Or are his struggles with attention making him anxious and/or depressed?

The SWEEP acronym can help you focus your observations. Take notes on what you’re seeing, and discuss your concerns with your child’s doctor. Together you can develop a plan that addresses all of your child’s needs.

About the Author

Portrait of Charles Sophy

Dr. Charles Sophy is a psychiatrist. He is medical director for the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services.

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