In just a few weeks, school will be starting for most students. For many, the start of a new year can bring a mix of excitement and stress. If your child has ADHD, the transition might be a bit more difficult especially if last year was challenging. Fortunately, there are effective ways to ease the transition and get the school year started off right. Many parents struggle with the balance of how best to help your child. While we want to support our children as best we can, we also want to make sure we allow them to gain independence and learn from mistakes. The challenge is in finding the right strategy for you and your child.
Before the school year starts, it is helpful to sit down with your child and develop a plan together. Without judgment, discuss what did and did not work last year. Talk about strategies that were helpful and obstacles that were difficult to overcome. Involving your child will allow them to have control over the plan which will ensure greater compliance. Some areas to plan for are sleep, homework and organization.
This is a great time to discuss sleep issues like bedtime compliance or difficulty getting up. A young child will of course need a different strategy than a teenager. A young child can offer suggestions about how they like to be woken up and what they want to do before going to bed to help them fall asleep while the parent will decide on appropriate bedtime. A teen might be given more freedom in this decision with the understanding that the parent will not serve as an alarm clock. Planning for obstacles ahead of time will help with arguments later. For example, your teen sleeps through their alarm 3 days in a row. Your pre-agreed plan for obstacles was that an earlier bedtime will be enforced for a week so that an adequate amount of sleep is restored (not as a punishment). After a week, try the original plan again. The critical factor is to handle these conversations in a non-judgmental way and to not shame or blame for past behavior.
Just the thought of homework and the challenges it causes in your house may cause you to break into a cold sweat. Planning ahead can help. Many children with ADHD need time to decompress after school but find it hard to settle back down to do homework. In addition, medications taken in the morning might wear off as the day goes on. It can be helpful to discuss these factors with your child and plan for when, where and how homework will happen. Is this the year that you as a parent do not need to sit over your child or do they still need help? Do they need to sit in a common area or is a quiet room better? The start of the school year is a great time to try out new strategies and see what works best. Have ample supplies at home to complete assignments. Now is a great time to stock up on poster boards, markers and glue sticks!
Desks, lockers and backpacks are all places that can be trouble for an ADHD student. Many struggle with keeping these areas neat and organized. Some might be able to function despite the clutter but for most this disorganization causes lost books and assignments, trouble handing in completed assignments and loss of time when searching for what they need. The key to developing strategies to deal with disorganization is to involve your child in the planning. There are ample products on the market to help students get organized. The trick is to find one that works for your child. Work with your child to find a place for everything – clothing, backpacks, books and papers. Color coded folders with one side for homework to do and the other side for completed assignments is one idea. Each night or once a week go through the system with your child. Generally setting up a system is not as much of a challenge as staying on top of it. Offer age appropriate small rewards for staying with the system. Determine what obstacles are getting in the way if the system does not work and brainstorm ways to make changes.