Beat Overwhelm Back to School: How to Help Your Child with ADHD

As your kids return to school at this stage in the pandemic, you may face some uncertainty about how to make things work. It’s not surprising that last school year's reduced in-person classroom time and online instruction may have you uneasy about providing adequate academic support for your child. 

You're not alone. Although we all recognize there's been progress, most parents are concerned about how to help their children with ADHD and related challenges after last year's roller-coaster of online and in-person instruction.

Schools are now more consistent than ever with online technology such as posting assignments. We all know that can be incredibly helpful for our families living with ADHD.

At the same time, as parents, you face the burdens of fostering consistent habits and routines and encouraging social connection, while at the same time ensuring your child receives the specialized support they need.

Here are five strategies to get results for your child, and to give yourself some peace of mind.    

Utilize Your Child's Accommodations  

The US Department of Education is being clear that despite the challenges during the pandemic that students' rights under The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) to a "free and appropriate education" have not changed. If your child has a Section 504 Plan or Individualized Education Plan (IEP), it should go into effect right away, at the beginning of the school year.
If you are now back to in-person instruction, you may find that accommodations your child received for online instruction are not relevant or workable. 


Quick Tips:

You have a right to request a 504 or IEP meeting with your school. You may want to reach out to your child's advisor or IEP case manager to update what services your child will continue to receive, and how the school will continue to provide services.  

• If your district is continuing to offer both remote and in-person learning, make sure you understand how your child's accommodations will be provided in both settings. 

• You may want to address if your child may benefit from "compensatory services" that your child was not able to receive over the course of the last year and a half.  These services could look like specific instruction in an area of weakness or additional sessions during the school day. 

 • Support such as shorter or fewer assignments, extra time to take a test, being tested on less material, or shorter work periods are some of the accommodations you can implement both at school, and in your home, should instruction go online. Speak with your child's teacher, or if your child is in middle school or older, work with your child to self-advocate to make arrangements. 

Encourage your child to participate in their 504 or IEP meeting, or part of the meeting, by late middle school or high school. 

 • Supplement one-to-one teacher support with reliable, consistent time that you and your child can count on for check-ins or time together on challenge areas

Focus on Interests  

Kids with ADHD are motivated by their interests. If you have a child who struggles with a subject, rather than focusing on that one problem area, which instantly makes the day exhausting for both of you, consider using your child’s interests to incorporate that subject. 


Quick Tips:

• Suppose your child doesn’t like writing but loves to draw stories and act them out. Have your child use his strengths and interests to support his writing. 

• Learning can be blended with board games and card games. Some parents are using Minecraft for math and sciences with its educational modules that kids can play alone or with you. 

• Make learning fun by incorporating the comforts of your home. Alternate sitting at a desk with sitting on a comfortable couch. For written table work, put some life into sitting at the table with M&M math or cozying up to a steaming cup of hot chocolate. Use shaving cream to draw out math facts or have your child sing out spelling words or important facts. 

• Assist your child to add social fun into her day. Especially with the reduction of in-person contact, challenges with executive functioning, and pandemic restrictions, your child may not be organizing social plans. Review what you are comfortable with, such as a family "pod," acceptable activities with other like-minded families and their kids, screentime connection or extra-curricular activities (such as virtual or reduced in-person programming). 

Add Movement 

Movement can help your child with ADHD focus and process information.  


A 2015 study examining how teens with ADHD performed with cognitively demanding tasks when done with movement showed that they focused, attended, and accomplished, and answered challenging questions more accurately.  

Quick Tips:

• Try a standing desk, large stability ball, or bean bag chair to encourage variation in movement.

• To build focus, for fidgety hands, use silly putty, play-doh, or a fidget you can purchase online. For restless feet, try any kind of kickball or a trampoline. It's also Ok to allow your child to spread out on the floor. 

• Encourage breaks. Set a timer for stretching, hydrating, grabbing a snack, and getting some fresh air for both your child and yourself.

Stay Calm and Don't Try to Fix

Your child may feel worried and frustrated about staying safe in school, wearing masks yet again, and continuous pandemic precautions.

Kids (and adults) with ADHD work hard to keep their emotions and energy intact all day, and when they get home, they may need to let it all out. 


Quick Tips:   

Don’t try to fix things. Acknowledge and listen to what you hear your child saying. For example, if you child says, “I hate having to wear a mask in gym. It’s really hot.” You can say, “Gym seems like it is challenging when you have to wear a mask.”   
Let your child let off steam with physical activity or loud or sad music which can help your child work through their feelings (a pair of headphones can be helpful too!). 
Go for a drive or a walk. Your child or teen is more likely to express their inner thoughts when not making eye contact.  
Cue into when your child needs a break. When a meltdown does occur, stay calm, and without criticism or judgment, which can escalate the situation, offer your child to take a break. 

Accept What Is and Model Resilience 

When we want things to be different from what is, that's when we suffer most. You may be frustrated and stressed that your child hasn't had consistent in-person instruction. That's understandable. At the same time, this is the situation right now. When there's resistance to the way things are, we judge the situation as not good enough. 

Accepting what is doesn't mean you give up and surrender. It means that rather than focusing on what’s missing and lacking, which tends to make you feel powerless, you are responding to what your kids need more intentionally. In this way, you are practicing and modeling resilience.  


Quick Tips:   

• When your child is refusing to do his work, or when you think he is making your day difficult, rather than asking, "Why can't he do this," shift to "I wonder what's making this difficult for him." This shifts your perspective to a position of problem-solving.

• Assume best intentions. It's natural to feel frustrated when your child refuses to do what she needs to do. When we feel angry and triggered this can be a sign that we're taking on the responsibility to fix things and make sure the work gets done. Assume your child needs more skills to get his needs met. This will give you more patience to handle what she needs and the perspective to highlight her strengths. 

• Kids are in tune to their parents' energy. Try to remain as positive as you can. Focus on what you can do, rather than what you can’t, and show your kids that you can get through this together. 


While we’re beginning to live with this new normal, to get results for your kids (and yourself too) especially now:

• Utilize Your Child’s Accommodations 

• Focus on Interests

• Add Movement

• Accept What Is and Model Resilience


Experiment with these strategies and let me know how it goes for you!




 PS. Need more assistance supporting yourself and your kids with ADHD and related challenges? 

Contact me for an ADHD Strategy Assessment and we can talk about some solutions you can put into place now!


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