Kindergarten is a wake-up moment for many kids with ADHD. Suddenly, they run into demands to "sit still and listen." Many encounter rules for the first time. Not only do they need to learn the rules, they also need to make new friends, learn new skills, get along with students from other backgrounds, and work in large groups.
Parents are shocked by that first phone call from school. At home, their child is manageable, but children with ADHD often lag behind their peers by as much as 30 percent in mastering life and social skills. Structure and support will prevent them from stumbling.
Bring out your child's friendship gene.
What Teachers Can Do
REACH OUT TO PARENTS. Send them a letter at the beginning of the year explaining the class routine, homework schedule, and behavioral expectations. Set up a class website or newsletter. Be sure to mention student names and home activities they share to spark conversation.
GIVE GOOD NEWS. If you have a student who demonstrates challenging behaviors, consider setting up a school-to-home note system to let parents know when their child has had a good day. Use e-mail or texts to save time.
GREET EACH STUDENT. This strategy alone has been shown to improve time on task without any other intervention. Students respond when they feel recognized and respected for who they are. Greet each student at the door every day with one of the Four H's: "Hello," "How are you?," high five, or a handshake.
USE PHYSICAL EXERCISE TO BREAK THE ICE. Help children make friends by taking playground breaks from the classroom routine whenever possible. Children relax when they play games that everyone knows -- and they forget their differences. Weakness that may show up in the classroom may disappear on the playground. Choose noncompetitive games, like "Amoeba Tag." In this game, two children are "It." When they tag another, that child joins the "amoeba." The game is over when everyone is "It."
USE COLOR AND SHAPE to mark individual spaces during group time or to line up. Giving each student her own space avoids the tendency of ADDers to communicate physically.
What Parents Can Do
HELP YOUR CHILD DISCOVER HER STRENGTHS AND INTERESTS. Many children don't excel in school, but have what Robert Brooks calls "islands of competence" in music, drama, or sports. Friendships are based on mutual interests. Get your child involved in small groups that share her interests. Avoid being the "stage mother," and let your child have fun.
TEACH YOUR CHILD TO REFRAME NEGATIVE THOUGHTS. When your child cries out, "I can't do this!" teach her to tell herself, "This is hard. I can ask for help."
DESIGN A PERSONAL STORYBOARD, and include your child's interests, artwork, and photos of him when he was young. Share this with the teacher before school starts, early in the year, or at a conference. Seeing your child as a part of the family and community helps to erase the stigma of being "ADHD."
CREATE SPECIAL MOMENTS. Plan 15 minutes of quality time with your child several times each week. Let your child choose what he wants to do with you during this time. Avoid using this as a time to talk about problems, unless your child brings them up. Your relationship with your child is more fundamental to his happiness than school grades are.
PUT HOMEWORK IN PERSPECTIVE. If you don't already have a provision in your child's Individualized Education Program or 504 Plan limiting homework per night, talk with the teacher about doing this. Explain how ADHD affects your child's attention at home. Tell your child, "School and homework are important, but they're not the only parts of your education. Doing tae kwan do, playing with kids in the neighborhood, visiting the elderly lady down the street -- these are important parts of your education, too."
This article appears in the Fall issue of ADDitude.
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