Back to school can be a stressful time for any parent, but if you have a child with ADHD, the stress can reach a totally different level. Continue reading for some great tips on easing your ADHD child into a new school year.
That Time Again
With summertime coming to a close, it's time to start thinking about getting kids ready to go back to school. While this can be a daunting task for any parent, parents of kids with ADHD have their own set of special concerns and considerations to tackle. From teachers to medications to homework, there are several things that must be taken care of--both before school starts and after.
Let's look at some helpful tips for making the transition into a new school year easier for you and your ADHD student.
Get into the Routine
As the parent of a child with ADHD, you may already know the importance of a daily routine. While this rings true throughout everyday life, it is super important when a new school year is quickly approaching.
Perhaps the most important factor in a routine is sleep since it affects everything from focus and learning to behavior and mood. One study discussed on ADDitude showed that ADHD kids are three times more likely to have difficulty falling or staying asleep. Also, kids with ADHD often exhibit worsened symptoms when they are sleep deprived. For these reasons, you must make it a point to establish a solid routine. A couple weeks before school starts, gradually begin implementing a bedtime that will be used throughout the school year, and try to stick to it as much as possible. Encourage your child to relax and unwind an hour or so prior to the bedtime, and provide a snack if needed. Electronics should be off-limits during this time since they often make it harder for kids' brains to calm down.
According to an article published on WebMD, child psychologist Betsy Corrin of Packard Children's Hospital and the Stanford University School of Medicine states that one of the hardest areas for ADHD kids is the school morning routine since it contains many steps and not much time.
Whether it's by you or an alarm, make sure your child starts getting up in the morning closer and closer to the time he will be during the school year. Then, help him or her get their morning routine down pat (to the minute if possible); showering or bathing, teeth brushing, getting dressed and eating breakfast are all things to consider. If you get your ADHD child in the swing of things before school begins, it will be much easier for him to function on that often overwhelming first day.
Some parents allow their ADHD children to take a break from their medications over the summer. However, according to psychologist Thomas E. Brown, this may not be the best idea for all kids with ADHD. For those who need their medication simply to help them focus in school, a break may be a good idea. For others with more severe ADHD who need their medication to follow directions and get along with others, a break would probably not be recommended.
If you choose to give your child a break, it's a good idea to make an appointment with your child's doctor a month or so before school starts to discuss the current state of things and the upcoming school year. This includes assessing your child's functioning and any other issues that may have developed or disappeared over the summer.
If the medication he was taking during the prior school year worked well, it should be reintroduced and adjusted as needed to be sure the dose is at the appropriate level once school begins. If the prior drug wasn't the best fit, a new drug should be introduced, and your child should be monitored closely by both you and your child's doctor. Additionally, taking care of this before school starts will hopefully allow any side effects to subside before the first day.
Another way to help prepare your ADHD child for the upcoming school year is to sit down and create a few goals for the year. These goals can give your child something to work for and a great sense of fulfillment if reached. According to ADHD & You, goals for ADHD kids should follow the SMART approach, which means they are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely.
For example, maybe your child would like to get a better grade in math this year. By setting this goal early on, he will go to math class with it in mind. You should also inform your child's teacher of the goal so they can play an active role as well. If problems develop, positive reinforcement, as well as interventions and tutoring, may get your child back on the right track and closer to achieving his or her goal. This goal is specific, it can be measured (grades), it is attainable if worked for, it is realistic and not completely far-fetched, and it can be reached in a fairly short, foreseeable amount of time.
Your ADHD child may also be more likely to work hard towards a goal if there is a reward up for grabs. Offer small rewards, such as a family game night or going to a movie, to make their goals even more exciting and rewarding.
Information from Psych Central indicates that ADHD kids often struggle with organization skills due to executive functioning issues in the brain. Executive functioning refers to the time it takes to complete a task and the level of detail to which it was completed.
To help with organization, purchase an easy-to-use planner, calendar or color-coded folders (or all three!) that will make it easy for your child to organize and keep track of all of their assignments and homework for each class. At home, it can be super helpful to create a homework schedule each week so your child can check off each assignment when it is completed. To make this work, you may have to contact your child's teacher(s) ahead of time so you always have an up-to-date list of homework assignments. Physically checking off a list can be rewarding and beneficial for ADHD students since it gives them visible results.
There are also several apps that can help with organization, and depending on the policies of your child's school, these apps can be very helpful--especially when kids are prone to struggling with organizational skills.
Communication is Key
Parents of ADHD kids must understand that communication is very important when it comes to their child's success in school. This not only means communication with your child, but with school staff as well. This allows parents and staff to be on the same page about expectations and potential issues.
Before school begins, arrange a meeting with your child's teacher as well as the principal and perhaps the school counselor. Let them know where your child's strengths and weaknesses lie and where potential issues may arise. Depending on your child's specific needs, this may also be the time for developing an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or 504 Plan to your child meet their educational goals. These plans outline your child's personal goals, strategies for how these goals will be achieved, and accommodations that must be met to help your child succeed.
You should also have a conversation with your child to discuss their ADHD and how it can affect them in school. This can often be difficult since kids with ADHD aren't always the easiest people to communicate with. Licensed mental health counselor Kara Tamanini writes on Psych Central that these discussions should be approached in a manner that is both reassuring and constructive.
It's important to assure your child that they are not alone in their diagnosis and that other students suffer from ADHD as well. Let your child know that even though ADHD makes things more challenging at times, there are also many positive aspects of the disorder, such as increased creativity and energy. If your child gets the mindset that ADHD is not necessarily a bad thing, he or she will be more enthusiastic and positive when school begins.
Above All, Be Positive
While all of the tips in this post can be super helpful for easing into a new school year, the fact of the matter is that having a child with ADHD is not always going to be a walk in the park. Your child will have wonderful days at school, and will also have some terrible days. Your child is human and so are you. The best thing to do, although difficult at times, is to try and remain level-headed and positive at all times. You are your child's biggest role model, and if they see you in a bad mood, chances are their mood will suffer also.
Information on ADDitude shows that accentuating the positive and looking at negative characteristics of ADHD in a different, more positive way can both be beneficial. If your child has a bad day, reassure him or her that the day is over and that not all days will be bad. Accentuate and remind your child of positive things that happened on better days, such as getting their homework done on time or making it across all of the monkey bars without falling at recess.
If your child has a spectacular day at school and comes home in a great mood, try your best to keep that mood going throughout the night. Let them go outside and play with friends after homework is done, or take them to get their favorite dessert after dinner. If your child sees that good days at school turn into great nights at home, he or she may be more excited to repeat the process the next day.
Take Time to Enjoy Non-School Activities
Since school tends to up the stress level in any home, be sure to take time to enjoy non-school activities once the school year begins. This will remind your ADHD child that, although school is a very large part of his life, there are also many other activities that take place outside of school walls.
If your child enjoys going to the zoo, plan a special weekend trip there a month or so after school begins. This will give your child time to adjust to the new school year and also give him or her something to look forward to.
WebMD reports that sports can be another excellent way for kids with ADHD to blow off some steam and enjoy themselves. However, not every sport will be a good fit for your child. For example, if they have a hard time paying attention for long periods of time, a sport like baseball or softball may not be the best choice. In this situation, a sport like soccer, where kids are constantly moving, may be a better option. Other kids with ADHD may be better suited for individual sports, such as karate, gymnastics, running, and swimming. Be sure to talk to your child about their interests and evaluate their personal strengths and weaknesses before they begin any sport. Also, talking with coaches and instructors ahead of time allows everyone to stay on the same page.
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