Not being able to fix your child’s ADHD doesn’t make you a bad parent

I think this is why it bothers me so much when I hear people harp on parents of children with ADHD (or any neurological disorder for that matter) about not using a particular method that’s sure to “cure” a child of his disorder. And there are lots of promised “cures” out there. Here are just a few of them:

The Feingold Diet

Diet – In the 1960’s, Dr. Feingold began to tout the idea that many behavioral problems in people with ADHD can be linked to food sensitivities. The “Feingold Diet” eliminates artificial food coloring, artificial flavoring, Aspartame, and artificial preservatives BHA, BHT, TBHQ.

The results have been mixed. ADDitude Magazine, one of the biggest parental authorities on ADHD, says in its article, “Is the Feingold Diet an ADHD Cure?” that while some people have proven to be sensitive to certain food additives, such as red dye, there hasn’t been enough conclusive evidence to pronounce this as a surefire way to fix the disorder.

WebMD’s article, “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Alternative Treatments” says,

With elimination diets for ADHD, parents try eliminating certain foods from their child’s diet if they believe these foods affect the child’s behavior negatively. However, some experts theorize that behavioral changes can be noted in children following an elimination diet simply because of the way parents interact with the child while on the special diet.

I have met children with ADHD who are sensitive to certain foods, and eliminating these foods from their diets help a great deal. These foods aren’t always the Feingold foods, however. Often, they’re individual to the child. In general, however, eliminating these foods doesn’t “fix” the entire disorder. It’s just one step toward making it more manageable.

Essential Oils

The idea behind using essential oils to treat ADHD is explained by adlMD.com. According to the company, essential oils are used to stimulate the “parts of the body that are not functioning properly, restoring the body to its natural state.” It goes on to say that some particular chemicals present in essential oils might react with the nervous or muscular system to “encourage healing.”

Brain Balance Achievement Centers article, “Essential Oils for ADHD,” says that there are some essential oils that have shown some success in aromatherapy by helping calm children with ADHD, such as Ylang ylang, Vetiver, Frankincense, and Patchouli. (I’ve also read that simpler oils such as citrus, lavender, and mint can help with anxiety relief.)

Natural Interactions

The organization does encourage caution, however, when using any essential oils, particularly because there hasn’t been much research done on them, they aren’t regulated by the FDA, and they can cause skin irritations sometimes. Finally, Brain Balance says, “If used carefully you may very well find that essential oils enhance focus in children with ADHD and attention issues. Essential oils are not a cure, but it seems they can be used to calm your child and may help to improve concentration.”

I personally believe more research needs to be done on the use of essential oils.

I personally know multiple teachers who use essential oils in their classrooms. They’ve reported the scents can help calm their children, and I believe them. I have some essential oils in my own home, and I can definitely attest to the fact that certain scents help me manage my anxiety. As far as a complete “cure” goes, however, I’m not sold.

I know a teacher who had a student with severe ADHD last year. This student disrupted the class daily, and was constantly in trouble for doing unkind things to his peers. At the beginning of the year, this teacher was promised by the parent that the child would be put in in sports soon, and that he was going to be starting medication. When the child’s behavior got worse, however, the teacher called the child’s mother to ask if something had been changed.

Apparently, the mother had decided not to change anything in the child’s life. There were no sports, no medication, and no system of organization for the home. Instead, the mother had simply purchased a set of essential oils and given to her son with the instructions to sniff them whenever he felt like he might need to focus. Needless to say, the essential oils alone didn’t fix the struggles his ADHD was causing for him and the people around him.

Herbal Remedies

Just as with essential oils, many parents who use herbal remedies to treat their children dislike the side effects that can occur with prescription medicines. They’re understandably concerned about their children being reliant on medicine, and want something more natural to help balance their children’s worlds.

Healthline’s article, “Herbal Remedies for ADHD,” says that natural remedies for ADHD have been sought out by parents as a way to avoid many of these side effects. Some of the treatments listed are:

  • Herbal Tea
  • Biloba
  • Water Hyssop (Brahmi)
  • B vitamins (Gotu Kola)
  • Green Oats (Avena sativa)
  • Ginseng
  • Pine Bark (Pycnogenol)
  • Combinations of the different natural treatments

I think the biggest thing to stress here is that even if treatments are natural, the fact that they show differences in a child’s behavior means they’re acting on the neurochemical level…which means they have the potential for overdose and medication interaction just like any other medicine. The New York Times article, “Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder: Other Treatments,” cautions this:

Generally, manufacturers of herbal remedies and dietary supplements do not need FDA approval to sell their products. Just like a drug, herbs and supplements can affect the body’s chemistry, and therefore have the potential to produce side effects that may be harmful. There have been a number of reported cases of serious and even lethal side effects from herbal products. Always check with your doctor before using any herbal remedies or dietary supplements.


Medication is the most popular of ways to treat ADHD. And I can tell you from firsthand experience in the classroom, it can make a huge different in regulating a child’s disorder if used properly. There are two main types of ADHD medication according to KidsHealth.org’s article, “Managing ADHD with Medicine“:

  1. Stimulants – These include Ritalin LA, Concerta, Adderall, Focalin XR, Metadate CD, Vyvanse, and Daytrana. They usually work more quickly than stimulants.
  2. Non-stimulants – These don’t always show improvement as quickly as stimulants, but for some individuals, work better in the long run. They include Intunive, Stattera, Kapvay, and some antidepressants.

There are good and bad consequences of using medication to help manage ADHD. According to Consumer Reports’ article, “The pros and cons of treating ADHD with drugs,” children often start using medications between the ages of 10 and 13. As to the benefits of taking prescription drugs (because technically, herbal remedies are drugs, too), in a survey Consumer Reports conducted, only about 10 percent of children who started amphetamines and methylphenidates reported no change.

The article also stresses that the medications aren’t a complete “fix.” They generally help children, particularly in school and behavior regulation, but taking medication at one point in a child’s life doesn’t mean it will cure him forever. The article suggests other methods of regulation in conjunction with medication, such as behavioral therapy, which can help individuals manage their own behavior more on their own.

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