Strategies to Help Your ADHD Child Succeed at School

k-12

This article offers a brief overview of various strategies that can help your child with ADHD overcome his or her condition and succeed in the classroom. No one approach is sufficient; rather, a blend of techniques is generally most effective.

For a child with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), school can be an overwhelming place filled with distractions that limit him or her from reaching their full potential. Luckily, parents can do quite a bit to help their child with ADHD succeed in school. A combination of approaches, including medication, behavioral strategies, and counseling, is most effective in treating ADHD.

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Medication

When you think about treating ADHD, your mind might first turn to medication. You might be surprised to find that parents should usually focus on behavioral strategies first, rather than medication. For children above the age of six, there is generally no harm in trying medications. There are many medications that are effective when prescribed by a qualified health provider. However, not every child responds to medicine in the same way. It may take a few different tries to discover the regimen that works best. Your child should have regular checkups by a health provider following their case.

A wide range of drugs is used to treat ADHD. Generally, these can be divided into:

  • Amphetamine stimulants, like Adderall and Ritalin
  • Non-stimulants, like Straterra

As with any drug, there are potential side affects. The FDA has warned of the dangers of drug abuse regarding stimulants. Stimulants and non-stimulants both may cause dry mouth, racing thoughts, dizziness, changes in blood pressure, and so on.

It is very important to only take these medications under the supervision of a certified health provider. Some of the types of people who regularly prescribe medications for the treatment of ADHD include pediatricians, psychiatrists, and psychiatric nurse practitioners.

It is possible that your child's ADHD diagnosis is not the only psychiatric problem they experience. For example, bi-polar disorder, while less common, is often misdiagnosed as ADHD. The medications used to treat ADHD can actually cause full-blown mania. For this reason and others, it is wise to have a specialist take a look at your child and consider his or her overall health.

Talk to Teachers

Teachers should know about your ADHD child's condition. Teachers are often eager for information that can help them with their jobs, and because children with ADHD can inhibit a class from learning, helping children with ADHD to succeed can be a win-win for everyone involved. Some ideas that teachers can implement to support children with ADHD include:

  • Sitting a child towards the front of the class. A seat away from distractions can benefit him or her.
  • Giving children less homework. Teachers can give partial credit for partial homework completed.
  • Evaluating the child to determine whether he or she child needs to be enrolled in special education classes. These classes can greatly benefit your child because they are specifically designed for the individual taking them.
  • Keep an eye out for bullying behavior. You might be surprised to find out that many children with ADHD are the subject of teasing and bullying. Bullying is not ok and can harm your child's confidence and self-image. There is a risk that children who are bullied may turn into bullies themselves. It is very important that children have role models who show a positive example of social interaction. In this regard, teachers are very important.

Talk to your child's teacher about more things that can be done to make learning easier and more fun.

In the unlikely event that your child's school or teacher is not receptive to your requests for support, consider the possibility of moving your child. Although it may seem difficult, moving your child to a supportive environment can be beneficial. This does not mean you need to begin homeschooling your child, but simply that the environment surrounding your child should be more accommodating to his or her diagnosis. This may be as simple as beginning the day with a homeroom teacher who reports back to you how your child is socializing. Any extra information you can get or share with supportive educators should be taken advantage of to the benefit of your child.

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Create Structure

There are many behavioral strategies that can help your child with ADHD to be more successful in school. One of the most important of these is to create structure. Managing time is one of the most difficult things for children with ADHD to do, because they simply lack the ability to determine how much time they need to complete tasks.

  • Structure helps children organize their time.
  • Structure helps your child create goals that are easier to achieve. When your child achieves goals, it helps them gain confidence to believe that they can achieve more in the future.
  • Structure means that your child's time follows a predictable schedule throughout the day. The child's schedule is easy for him or her to anticipate.
  • Structure includes regular breaks. These allow him or her to stretch their mind. Breaks should not include distracting activities, such as video games.
  • Structure for each day's schedule begins the night before.
    • Perhaps an hour before bedtime, run through the checklist for the next day with your child. Having the schedule simmer in your child's mind overnight creates a bridge between the night and the following morning.
    • In the morning, the review the schedule again. Mornings can be chaotic for children with ADHD, so it's very important that an order to the day be established as soon as possible.
  • Structure should be kept in a highly-visible place, like on the fridge.

Once your child arrives at school, the day will take on a distinct order. Talk to your child's teachers about the daily schedule and discuss it with your child at home. This will further reinforce the idea that order is important.

Of course, there are times when you will not be able to keep the schedule. Life has its curve balls. The schedule is not meant to be an ironclad approach to the day but should serve as a guide that allows for flexibility when necessary. For example, if your child gets sick and needs to come home from school, it should be understood that they will need to rest in bed and have time for quiet activities instead of filling their day with screen time or running outside.

Inspire Confidence

It is difficult enough for a child to deal with the symptoms of ADHD, but knowing that he or she has an ADHD diagnosis can also hurt your child's confidence. It's important to keep your child's fears in check as much as possible.

  • Practice positive reinforcement by praising your child publicly. Do not go overboard, but remember that recognizing your child's goodness is important to your child's self image.
  • When necessary, aim to scold your child in private.
  • Keep track of the homework your child has completed, and award accordingly. You might try creating a chart and awarding stars for good behavior. Put the chart in a place where the whole family can see it. As your child progresses through the school year, remind them of times when they thought that they couldn't succeed in school but were able to overcome their fears and condition.

It's very important to remember that discipline and punishment are not the same thing. Punishment is a type of discipline, but it's not often the best kind. Instead, reinforce positive behavior in your child. When he or she sits still for 30 minutes and completes part of their homework, do you focus on the five minutes that they fidgeted and talked about their friends' gadgets, or do you praise them for the time they were focused and let them know that you were proud of them? You might add that gadgets are fine, but what impresses you more is when your child listens to directions and shows interest in life beyond gadgets. Offer some sort of reward when your child succeeds. The reward doesn't even need to be something tangible. Just make sure that, at the very least, your child knows that you were proud of them and that doing the right thing was appreciated.

kids with smartphones

Exercise

As is the case with a number of psychological disorders, exercise can be effective in helping to control ADHD symptoms, while extended screen time can exacerbate distracted behavior. Unlike medication, exercise doesn't come with negative side effects. This is not to say that exercise can replace medication, but it can be a very effective complementary treatment.

Any sport or exercise that gets the heart rate up is positive. Exercise helps the brain release different chemicals, such as dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin. These help us feel more focused and positive.

  • Team sports like soccer and basketball teach cooperation.
  • Martial arts impart self-defense techniques, which can help especially if your child is getting bullied.
  • Solitary sports like gymnastics and running teach self-reliance.
  • Sports help to extend your child's concentration and build trust in their coaches. Coaches can be valuable mentors for student athletes who are interested in sports but not so interested in academics. Make sure to talk to your son or daughter's coaches about what they can do to help control ADHD behavior like blurting out or getting distracted.

Many approaches

Remember, a combination of approaches, including medication, behavioral strategies, and counseling, is the most effective in treating ADHD. While you may be tempted to try all of these techniques simultaneously, don't beat yourself up if you feel that your child needs a little time to get used to the various strategies. Keep working to make improvements, and take whatever steps you can to improve your family's life. It's important that your child knows things can and will get better and that you are both partners in the journey.

By Aatif Bokhari
November 2016
k-12 adhd & school

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