4 Things Parents Of Kids With ADHD Should Do During Back-To-School Season

These kids have different needs at the start of school – and all year long.
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The classroom can be a challenging environment for a child with ADHD to navigate, and you’ll likely be anticipating the difficulties your child will face before you send them in for that first day of school.

“Most schools just aren’t developed with the ADHD brain in mind,” Lori Long, a child psychologist with The Childhood Collective, told HuffPost.

Yet with the right support, school can be a positive experience for your child. We asked experts what parents can do to help ensure a smooth transition when their child goes back to school.

Initiate communication with your child’s teacher

Long suggests writing a letter or email to the teacher before school begins. You can introduce your child and talk about their strengths as well as the areas where they struggle.

Share your child’s diagnosis, or where you are in the process of getting a diagnosis for your child. Mention strategies that have – and haven’t – worked in the past.

Leading with your child’s interests and strengths is helpful because it “gives your child’s teacher something to connect with them about and possibly tailor challenging tasks to those interests and strengths,” explained Long.

Tracee Perryman, a social worker and the author of Elevating Futures: A Model for Empowering Black Elementary Student Success, told HuffPost: “It’s important for both the parent and the teacher to see the relationship as a partnership. That means that both the parent and the teacher should respect the knowledge that each brings.”

Share the best way to communicate with you (such as text or email), but understand that the teacher may not be able to respond to you right away each time you reach out with a concern.

The bulk of a teacher’s day is spent working with students, and the time they have available to communicate with parents is limited.

“Teachers are very busy and have a lot on their plate, so be respectful of their time and patient in waiting for responses. We recommend keeping communication positive and trying to collaborate in a respectful way to ensure a good year for your child,” Long said.

Perryman suggests that parents “set up a mutually agreed upon communication schedule, and find out from the teacher up front under which conditions the parent should be contacted and the parent should intervene.”

For example, you might set up a weekly or monthly check in, and clarify that you wish to be contacted if your child is sent out of the room for disciplinary reasons.

If the teacher does something you don’t like, assume that they have your child’s best interests at heart and approach them in a way that isn’t accusatory or antagonistic. When the teacher is the one to contact you, don’t forget to thank them for reaching out, even when the news isn’t positive.

Emphasise the positive with your child

Your child may have struggled at school in the past, but you don’t want them to begin the school year with the assumption that difficulties will arise. Avoid phrases such as, “Don’t do this” and “Remember not to...”

“It is important to lead with the child’s strengths and help the child process through how they can apply those strengths to the new school year,” Perryman said.

Focusing on what your child does well also helps them develop a positive sense of self.

Perryman also recommends that parents “walk children through scenarios that their child might encounter and help them come up with strategies for managing those encounters successfully.”

You might mention what someone else does as a model for certain situations, but be wary of comparing your child to others, as this can harm their self-image, Perryman said.

When talking about your child’s ADHD, be mindful of how you frame it. “We explain that what we call ADHD or Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder is just a word used to describe the way their brain works. It’s not ‘bad’ or ‘wrong,’ but different,” Long said.

Communicate to your child that knowing about their ADHD is helpful. It can explain “why some things come easily for them and why other things may be more challenging,” Long said.

“We find that kids understand it best with concrete examples of how ADHD looks for them. For example, ‘For some kids, like you, focusing on boring or hard tasks is really hard. But you may find it easy to focus on video games or things you love.’”

She continued, “bringing it back to concrete examples that are relatable for them can help them understand their brain.”

Set up routines

Routines are helpful to all children, and particularly those who have ADHD.

“Many kids with ADHD are distracted easily and struggle to sustain attention,” Long said. “We can support our children by having predictable and consistent routines.”

Parents might use a tool like a visual schedule, which shows the child in pictures and/or words the steps they need to take in the order they should do them. For example, a visual schedule for getting ready in the morning might include: get dressed, eat breakfast, brush teeth, put on socks and shoes, grab backpack.

Perryman suggests having kids participate in making these schedules, such as helping decide the order of the steps. When a visual schedule is posted on the wall, a parent can refer to it (“What do you need to do next?”) instead of nagging.

“Establishing routines contributes to fostering self-regulation,” Perryman said. “Routines are the framework that embed clear, specific signals and expectations for behavior at the appropriate times.”

One area in which many children struggle is homework, making it particularly important to set up a routine for completing assignments at home. You will need to do more than establishing a time and place for your child to get their homework done – although that’s an important starting point.

“Observe your child to determine an appropriate time span for focus, then set up the homework schedule based upon the amount of time your child can focus and be productive,” advised Perryman. This might involve the use of timers and movement breaks.

Long suggested “setting up a space that is organised and free from distractions. Try to have all the materials they need in a caddy next to them and turn off the television/limit noises. Many kids find headphones helpful during homework time.”

When your child is struggling with an assignment, “break the tasks into smaller parts or make them less challenging. For instance, only show them one math problem at a time, find a book to read that isn’t as challenging, or have them write one sentence instead of a paragraph,” Long said.

Make sure that your child knows you notice their successes. “Be sure to celebrate and affirm when the child completes homework tasks independently,” Perryman said.

Support executive functioning skills

Many children with ADHD struggle with executive functioning skills, “which include things like self-regulation, time management, organisation, and task initiation,” explained Long.

“Parents should understand that executive function skills don’t always correspond to their child’s age! In fact, children with ADHD are often 30% behind their peers in executive functioning. In other words, a 10-year-old with ADHD may have executive functioning skills closer to a seven-year-old,” she said.

Perryman concurs: “The first strategy I suggest is remembering to meet the child where he or she is, rather than where you want them to be. Again, build upon the strengths the child has and take baby steps if needed.”

Tools like visual schedules, timers and alarm clocks can help your child complete tasks.

When giving instructions, Perryman suggests that you make eye contact to ensure you have your child’s attention, and that you give the instructions one at a time.

“As your child remembers one instruction, or completes that task, celebrate and issue the next instruction/task as a challenge. If your child struggles with the next instruction or task, be sure to express your appreciation for the effort, but also let your child know that it is a goal that you will work together to achieve at a later time,” she said.