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  • Writer's pictureCheryl Gigler

Back to School

The end of summer is a time of transition, especially for families of children with ADHD. Following the long days of less routine and structure, school can be a rude awakening. Changes affect parents too, especially if a parent has ADHD also. This includes such things as: waking up earlier, developing a morning routine, getting clothes and school supplies ready, driving children to school and picking them, up, and of course the homework that inevitably follows!

​In Rick Green's excellent film, Simple Parenting Strategies, Elaine Klaus states that there seems to be two categories of parents: the parent who is overwhelmed and who has ADHD, and the parent who tends toward a type A personality, and is "in control." Both parents and young people need support as they launch into the new school year!

What Helps?

1. Map out a Plan: I am a firm believer in mind-mapping. For example, let's think about school readiness as the central topic. You can brainstorm all of the related areas of getting back to school, such as clothes shopping, supply shopping, haircuts, food shopping for lunches, etc. Next, look at the spokes of your wheel and decide how long each area will take. After that, you can number the various areas to prioritize your tasks. Lastly, allot a time for the task in your planner. Mind mapping is an excellent way to break down projects with many steps as well as long term projects. A plan makes all the difference in the world when you or your child is experiencing "overwhelm."

2. Create Routines: Estimating time is an executive skill that many people with ADHD struggle with. Most of us are surprised by how long tasks actually take, especially at times when we have low energy, such as the morning time. The beauty of a routine, whether it be in the morning, after school, or at bedtime, is that you don't have to overthink. You move through the routine on "automatic pilot". Once a routine is set, it makes it easier to transition and move from one task to another. Look at the tasks that need to be accomplished each morning. Write down everything you do and approximately how long it takes to do it. You don't have to write what you do in any particular order unless your brain works that way. After you list tasks with time estimates, number each task in the order you will do it. From here you can make a list of what you will do from the time you wake up, until the time that you walk out the door. Add your time estimates to see exactly how much time you will need. Then add on an extra ten minutes in order to have a margin. And parents, don't forget to allow for driving time in your plan. Once you have a routine, you can post it in order to see it, or you might prefer to write it on a mirror with a gel pen. Some people even time tasks to specific songs. When the song is over it is a cue to move to the next task.

3. Get to Bed Earlier and Restart Medication: Support the summer to fall transition, by slowly pulling back bedtime, starting three to four weeks before the start of school. If you are a family that has taken a vacation from medication over the summer, you may want to gradually start taking medication a few weeks before school begins in order to make this part of your morning routine.

4. Create a Comfortable Zone for your child to do homework in. Take into account your child's primary learning style and sensory issues.. Observe when your child is working effectively and take note of the conditions of the space they are working in. When a child is in their comfort zone they can more easily focus. Many children with ADHD prefer working at a table verses a desk, because they can spread out all of their materials and actually see what they have. Some benefit from sitting on an exercise ball , by using a moving chair, or by standing. Does your child work best in silence, or with music or background noise of some kind? Do they prefer bright or dim lighting? Do they like to chew gum or suck on a hard candy, such as a lemon drop? Are they more alert with the scent of peppermint, such as in an oil or in a candle? Do they work more effectively while wearing a compression shirt or after exercising? Be a detective and notice what works best for your child. Once you know what works it is reproducible, and therefore empowering!

5. Academic Support:

  • Get an official diagnosis for your child if you haven't already.

  • Consider setting school accommodations in place for your child, such as a 504 plan, which serves to level the playing field, allowing your child to be successful.

  • Communicate with teachers and school staff about what works best for your child. If you are unsure about this, consider hiring an ADHD Coach

  • Ask your child's teacher or teachers if they will provide you with weekly homework assignments to help pace your child. Many young people struggle to write down homework assignments, especially once they start changing classes for the first time.

  • All assignments should be listed in a daily plan with an allotted time slot. It is important to list the due dates of long term assignments, such as projects and papers on a monthly calendar. Once the steps are broken down, they too can be written down in a weekly plan.

  • Have your child check their grades routinely, especially in middle school and high school.

  • Don't hesitate to ask for help. Discuss with your child how to realize that they are in trouble, for example, if you get a grade that is a C or less, it means that it is time to go to the teacher for extra help.

  • Consider hiring a tutor. Tutors can help your child stay on track and enhance study skills. Many people with ADHD benefit from working collaboratively with another person. Let your child interview a tutor to be sure that there is a good connection. We know that positive emotion supports executive skills.

  • Request a study hall as part of your child's schedule. Many young people will get more done in school if they realize that it means less time on homework, after school. An added bonus in working at school is that there are teachers or peers to help if you are having trouble, or don't understand something.

6. Take an after school break: Most kids need a break after the school day, which at times can be very intense and draining. The trick is to take a short break , no more than 30 minutes. This gives the student a chance to change clothes, eat a snack, and to move around some, especially after they have been sitting down in school for most of the day. A little downtime is fine,, but you don't want to take too much time. The danger here is getting involved in an activity that is hard to stop, such as You Tube videos, or video games. I have known teens with inattentive ADHD, who take a nap for several hours, and then have to get going again in order to tackle homework. Talk with your child about sprinting, or working in short spurts, especially for tasks that are taxing. Rewards can play a role here, especially once school work is done. If your child is on medication, you might ask your physician about the possibility of adding an afternoon dose, which can go a long way towards completing homework.

7. Lead with strengths: A knowledge of strengths can support anyone, but is especially important for young people with ADHD. When a diagnosis has the word "deficit" in it's title, we want to be sure we know areas that we are strong in, and to use or practice these strengths on a daily basis. There is a free character strengths assessment for both young people and adults, called the VIA Character Survey.You can discover the strengths of each family member.

​8. Create a Team: We know that treatment for ADHD is multi-modal. It might not be one thing that makes a difference, but the combination of many. A young person may benefit from medication, therapy, an evaluation with a psychologist in the event of learning challenges, working with an ADHD coach, being involved in sports/exercise, nutritional support, natural supplements, using your strengths, becoming educated about ADHD, and finding and being part of an ADHD community.

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