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.

ADHD School: Getting a Fresh Start at School ADDitude Magazine

To steer your child in a positive direction, put a moratorium on being upset about last year.

Nancy Mades, fourth-grade teacher

I’m scared,” says Linda Barrows of Belfast, New York, describing her feelings about her son’s starting school this year. “Matthew had a terrible time in third grade last year.”

The unhappy child spent the year grounded in the schoolroom — no recess, no parties, and no field trips, because he constantly owed back work. “He was in tutoring an hour and a half, three days a week, and was still behind,” she adds.

Ultimately Barrows forced her school system to test her son, who has attention deficit disorder (ADD ADHD), for learning disabilities. Even so, she laments, “I get to start all over again with a child who is convinced he is retarded and lazy, and that it’s all his fault he has such a hard time learning.”

To add to his academic misfortunes, Matthew spent third grade in social isolation. Always the last one to be picked for teams and the first to be targeted for teasing, he’d go off by himself or gravitate toward another left — out child.

The question on Barrows’s mind, and on the minds of other parents whose kids are in the same boat as Matthew, is: How do I help my child get over a bad school year and start school this year with a positive attitude?

A new point of view

Children often take emotional cues from their parents. Right off the bat, you can help get your child off on the right foot, well before school starts, by conveying the message, “Great! A new year, a new chance” (rather than, “Oh, no. School is starting again”), says Barbara Muller-Ackerman, a guidance counselor at the James Caldwell Elementary School in Springfield, New Jersey.

You may be angry about your child’s bad experience — and rightly so — but your child may interpret this as anger at him for his poor performance, says Blanche Treloar, a retired teacher from Hanover, New Jersey, who now directs a tutoring service. It’s critical, then, to avoid the blame game (was it really the teacher’s fault?) or stewing in resentful feelings. “Parents need to stay focused on their goal, which is getting the best possible learning experience for their child,” adds Treloar.

To steer your child toward a fresh beginning, put a moratorium on being upset — this is a new hour or a new day or a new school year. “I’m big on ‘statutes of limitation,’” says Muller-Ackerman. “A child may have had a bad year, but there’s a time to signal that the bad year has ended and a new one is here. Beginning the school year this way focuses on what is possible — not on what didn’t work.” Sometimes it helps to ring out the old year and ring in the new with an event, such as a celebratory dinner or a pre-back-to-school movie and pizza outing.

Review, rethink, and resolve

Still, to move ahead, it’s important to assess what made the past school year so difficult, then find strategies to turn these problems around. To find out what the biggest challenges were, pick a time to talk to your child when you’re doing a relaxed activity together, such as baking or shooting hoops. Once things feel comfortable, gently say, “I’d like to figure out what made school hard for you last year, so we can do things to make it better this year. Was it math, or not having enough time to complete work in the classroom, or not enough help from your teacher?” If you can identify your child’s trouble spots, you can begin to find solutions for the coming year.

Consider, for example, hiring a tutor to focus on difficult subjects, even before school starts. There’s nothing better than one-on-one coaching for a child who’s struggling academically. Tutoring can help her review and catch up, so the new school year will be less daunting.

Sometimes it’s difficult for a child to open up to her parents. If this is the case, the child might benefit by working with a professional counselor or therapist, says Treloar. A skilled therapist offers a child a safe, objective environment in which to talk about her feelings and work on strategies for navigating tricky school scenarios.

“At the end of first grade, my daughter’s three best friends all moved away,” says Brenda Turner of Los Angeles. “She was heartbroken about going back to school without them, and when she entered second grade, she cried every morning for months. My husband and I tried, but couldn’t seem to help her. So we got a referral to a child psychologist, who helped her develop age-appropriate strategies (such as thinking of something that made her really happy when she felt sad) to feel better.”

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

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

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