A Fresh Start at School for Your ADHD Child

If school was a washout last year, help your ADHD child improve his academic and social lives — beginning now.


Filed Under: Back to School, Talking with Teachers, ADHD Accommodations, 504s, IEPs, School Behavior

Fresh Start, Part 2

Build on the good things

Even if last year seemed a total disaster, it’s important to find something good to remember about it, says Addie Gaines, the principal of a small elementary school near Branson, Missouri. “Try to steer your child’s attitude from ‘Everyone hates me’ and ‘I’m just dumb’ to ‘The science project I did was cool’ and ‘I liked my gym teacher a lot.’ Then build on those positives: ‘Let’s come up with a good idea for a science project for this year.’”

In other words, set goals. Talk to your child about specific plans for the coming year — better grades, more playdates after school — then discuss how to make these things happen. So that your child doesn’t feel she’s being lectured, take extra care to be gentle, and encourage her to participate rather than just take your advice. Ask simple, specific questions like, “What ideas do you have for listening better in class?” “What do you think you can do when you don’t understand a math problem?”

Go, team!

Then take your plans to school. Arrange for an early meeting with your child’s new teacher. Your aim is to create a team relationship among your child, the teacher, and you. [See How to Get the Teacher on Your Side.] Discuss your child’s goals for the year. Talk about what works for your child in terms of motivation, discipline, and structure, and what her interests are. “Together, examine your child’s learning styles and discuss ways that she learns best,” suggests Gaines. Some kids learn best by reading, some by what they hear, and so on. When the teacher knows your child’s strengths, she can teach to them.

Assure your child that everyone is on her side and wants to help her succeed. But make sure she knows she is also to be an active member of the team. “Your child should see school success as her responsibility, with lots of support from caring people,” Gaines adds. “Sometimes well-meaning adults take too much stake in a child’s difficulties, not giving the child the chance to find solutions. The student won’t be proactive if everyone else is doing it for her.” But when encouraged to do things for herself — to take a challenge and work toward a solution — she gains a boost in confidence.

He’s gotta have friends

To kids like Matthew, who have few friends in school, parents can offer essential social support. “Children with poor social skills may do things that annoy other children or drive them away,” says Gaines. “Are there behaviors that your child needs to correct? Help him find ways to change these behaviors into ones that are more positive.”

What could he do differently that would help him get along with other kids? How should he react to what another child says or does? Role-play social situations with your child so he has experience to draw from when he needs to make a choice. This practice will allow your child to react with less impulsivity.

It’s highly beneficial to go into a new school year with established friendships, if possible. Have your child name a couple of schoolmates he relates to, and set up some pre-school playdates with them. For kids with ADHD, limit playdates to two hours and preplan activities (a bike ride, a craft project) to avoid boredom and frustration. Provide a lot of supervision, so the time together can be positive for your child and his friends.

Stay the course

Once school starts, ask your child daily about school and about his friendships. Encourage him to see things from several perspectives when things go wrong, and to problem-solve. For example, if your child unsuccessfully tried to join a basketball game by running onto the court and grabbing the ball, discuss other ways he might enter the game. “You have fewer players than the other team. How about if I join in?”

Celebrate the small successes along the way, and make sure your child knows that his efforts paid off in positive outcomes. “Success breeds success,” says Gaines. “Kids who are successful in school see that it comes from what they do, not just from luck.”

Putting a difficult school year into the past isn’t easy for ADHD kids. But by starting out to set a new attitude, getting professional help, working on goals, and enlisting the new teacher’s support, you can build a strong foundation for a positive year ahead.


This article comes from the August/September 2004 issue of ADDitude.

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