By Nicole Moore, Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist
Semi-fall has arrived in southern Arizona. This is the time of year when the monsoons are winding down, and the scorching hot temperatures persist. While no falling leaves are in sight, there is still a change in the season for families in the desert. As the rush of returning to school settles and new routines begin to take shape, parents find themselves delicately balancing the management of their children’s school and home lives. The start of a new school year often brings a mixture of excitement and challenges, especially for students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
This transition also adds an extra layer of contemplation for families, as the unstructured days of summer are behind them, replaced by scholastic demands. Parents supporting children with ADHD must take into account their child’s distinct experiences to provide customized support spanning academic, cognitive, emotional, social, and familial aspects. This can sometimes result in families feeling overwhelmed by these demands and uncertain about where to initiate their efforts.
Hence, comprehending the situation is pivotal. ADHD is a neurodevelopment disorder characterized by challenges in sustaining attention, controlling impulses, and regulating hyperactivity. These symptoms can significantly impact a student’s ability to concentrate, organize tasks, and manage time effectively. Consequently, academic performance and daily routines may suffer, leading to frustration, family conflicts, and anxiety/depression.
Therefore, preparing your child for success requires careful planning. Incorporating your child’s perspective can bolster their readiness to engage in home-based accommodations that might be different from those of their siblings. This can be an opportunity for collaboration and empathy. Your child’s insights, suggestions, and ideas hold great significance in this process.
They might have previously attempted successful approaches or possess fresh concepts you have not considered. Children are resilient and can evolve into your most steadfast allies in their own support.
So, gather a notepad, create a comfortable space, and put on your thinking caps as you and your child/teen come together to strategize a successful academic year within the home environment.
Together, here are some things to explore:
1. Homework Space:
Take a moment to assess your home surroundings. Identify a spot where you and your child can establish a productive study area. This space should be free from distractions, clutter, and noise, creating an optimal setting for your child’s concentration. Make sure there’s ample lighting, comfortable seating, and suitable tools to address fidgeting when necessary.
It’s important to acknowledge that it’s typical for kids with ADHD to read while standing, fidget their legs under the desk while counting, or require frequent breaks to re-center their focus after extended periods of concentration. Therefore, integrating these elements into the learning environment will contribute to an extra layer of success. Friendly Reminder: Parents are masters of multitasking. It might seem convenient to have the kids work on homework at the kitchen island while preparing dinner. However, this approach is likely to result in distractions, difficulty focusing, frequent need for redirection, and potentially even moments of frustration, yelling, or tears for your child with ADHD. Bear in mind that your child with ADHD has distinct requirements compared to their siblings and may benefit from dedicated, one-on-one attention from parents (without multitasking) during homework sessions. It could be worthwhile for parents to reevaluate their expectations concerning homework space and time management, considering the individual needs of their child.
2. Time Management and Scheduling
Managing time poses challenges for numerous students, particularly those with ADHD. Allocating sufficient time for extracurricular activities, chores, and homework can reduce the need to rush through tasks, ultimately leading to a decrease in behavioral challenges. Visual schedules, reminders, and timers serve to enhance structure after school hours. For older students, digital tools, school planners, and apps can aid in task management. Teaching your child time-blocking techniques can effectively aid in prioritization and time allocation. What is the most age appropriate tool you and your child can use to help increase time management and scheduling? What would need to be done to put this into place?
3. Breaking Down Tasks and Setting Goals
The concept of sending your 7-year-old to clean their room might seem practical, but for a child with ADHD, it could prove to be an overwhelming endeavor. That’s why, after about 10 minutes, you might find them engrossed in playing with magnets instead. The key lies in breaking tasks into manageable portions to foster success.
For instance, instead of a broad directive, you could ask them to pick up and put away all the books in their room onto the bookshelf. Then, move on to the next task, one step at a time, until the entire room is tidied up. Complex assignments can be particularly daunting for students with ADHD. The intensity of focus required for such tasks often triggers a feeling of being overwhelmed, leading to shutdowns, procrastination, or task avoidance.
To address this, encouraging the division of assignments into smaller, attainable segments can make the process more feasible. Establishing both short-term and long-term goals imparts a sense of direction. Guiding your young scholar to break tasks into smaller parts and allocate time for each short-term goal within their schedule will nurture vital task-completion skills.
Don’t forget to acknowledge times of positive task completion. Commemorating even the tiniest accomplishments can heighten motivation.
4. Effective Study Techniques for ADHD Learners
Customizing study techniques to align with the distinctive learning styles of students with ADHD can lead to favorable results. Incorporating active learning strategies, like hands-on activities or discussions, can heighten engagement. Employing multi-sensory methods that encompass visual, auditory, and kinesthetic components can strengthen the learning process. Moreover, integrating self-testing and retrieval practices can enhance information retention. Transforming a regular paper-and-pencil homework task into something more dynamic can significantly contribute to maintaining your child’s engagement. If they are bored, get creative!
5. Incorporating Sensory Strategies & Breaks
Collaboratively, pinpoint some indicators for both you and your child to recognize as signals that it’s time for a break. One method to counteract burnout involves implementing structured breaks. For instance, after every 30 minutes of concentrated work, allow for a 10-minute break. Often, children and teenagers may be uncertain about how to spend these breaks. Here, parents can offer support by introducing sensory reset techniques, like calming activities or gentle movement exercises. Drinking water, doing wall pushes, heading outdoors for a quick run, or even performing push-ups can be beneficial for those seeking sensory input.
Sensory strategies hold a pivotal role in helping students with ADHD maintain engagement and focus. It’s worth noting that, at times, parents might interpret these strategies as play during homework time. However, fidget tools can channel excess energy, ultimately enhancing concentration.
6. Communication and Collaboration
Effective communication among parents, teachers, and students is paramount to your child’s success. Sharing ADHD accommodations and strategies across both home and school environments ensures everyone is aligned and working collaboratively toward a shared objective. Having consistent accommodations in both settings enhances support and coherence.
Empowering students to express their needs and challenges cultivates a sense of empowerment. Many students find it challenging to seek help in the school context due to social embarrassment. However, the ability to advocate for oneself is an invaluable skill. Teaching your child to identify their strengths and areas for improvement empowers them to seek appropriate assistance, fostering a heightened sense of achievement and self-assuredness.
At home, engage in regular check-ins with your child to discuss in-home accommodations. Collaboratively identifying areas for refinement ensures your child receives the most beneficial support and the space to explore and advocate for their needs. It’s important to keep in mind that what proved effective in one school year might necessitate adjustments in the next, reflecting the evolving nature of your child’s needs.
7. Time In
Children and teenagers with ADHD often experience frequent refusals, and it can feel like you’re constantly telling them no. Dedicate a minimum of 15 minutes each day for “time-in” with your child – this is your “YES” time. Say yes to watching them play video games, yes to participating in a board game, and yes to being present as they attempt to learn their new favorite TikTok dance (without making remarks about the tidiness of their room).
Kids with ADHD possess remarkable talents, and when they discover something they love, their hyperfocus – a hallmark of ADHD – propels them to excel. Engaging in your child’s passions offers you the opportunity to view the world through their eyes. This unique time investment fosters connections and enhances relationships.
8. Setbacks and Celebrating Progress
Setbacks are an inherent aspect of every learning journey. One of the toughest aspects of parenting is witnessing your child face difficulties. Nonetheless, affording your child room to stumble, being there to catch them when they falter, and aiding them in their efforts to rise and try again play a pivotal role in their long-term success. Grasping this concept and extending unwavering support to your child during trying moments is crucial.
There might be moments when it appears that setbacks are occurring. However, it could be that your child is not aligning with your expectations. This path might lead to a slippery slope of guilt and shame as a parent/advocate. At times, this could drive you to push your child beyond their capacity, inducing feelings of guilt and shame for not meeting your expectations.
Hence, consider involving a trusted co-parent, friend or therapist to assist in evaluating your expectations. Paradoxically, as you support your child, you may uncover the necessity for additional support for yourself. This process might even unveil an opportunity for the catalyzing change and healing on an intergenerational level. This may be challenging, however, it is a sign of growth.
Similarly, do not overlook the power of celebration! Make sure you are acknowledging and commemorating small triumphs and enhancements, regardless of their magnitude, for this fosters self-esteem and nurtures a resilient attitude. Maybe the celebration focuses on the mere fact that your child is trying. That is huge! How can you celebrate your child in big and small milestones?
Alright, you’ve got your strategies all mapped out and ready to implement! Great job, everyone! Just keep in mind that things won’t magically fall into place and go smoothly right away. These changes will require time and adjustment as you gather data on what works best. Be sure to give yourself some grace as a caring parent who wants the best for your child. With time, these home accommodations you’re putting in place will become second nature, and you’ll start seeing those positive outcomes. Hang in there, because you’re doing an amazing job too!
In conclusion, establishing a supportive home environment for students with ADHD requires a joint endeavor marked by comprehension, patience, and flexibility. By putting into practice the personalized strategies that you and your child devise, parents, students, and educators collectively contribute to a smooth back-to-school transition. Through transparent communication, customized accommodations, and a nurturing atmosphere, students with ADHD can not only excel academically but also cultivate the essential skills for a promising future.
Nicole Moore is a Licensed Marriage and Family therapist based in Tucson, AZ. With a focus on mental health, Nicole brings considerable experience in assisting individuals and families. She has a specialization in working with ADHD, spanning children, teenagers, and adults.
Beyond her professional role, Nicole possesses firsthand understanding as a parent of a child with ADHD. Her perspective aligns with the belief that ADHD, when channeled effectively through positive accommodations, can become a unique strength. Outside of her clinical work, Nicole relishes quality time with her family, outdoor pursuits, and embarking on new adventures.