School & Learning

“I’ve Been Homeschooling My ADHD Brood for Years. Here’s What I Want You to Know.”

Rule One: Your child cannot learn if they are not feeling safe. No matter what the teacher or curriculum says, this is a pre-requisite. No schooling can begin until everyone is breathing normally again, which means normal routine, normal consequences, and as much time outside as possible.

You’ve never homeschooled. Suddenly, you’re a homeschooling parent. You’ve never taught a child with ADHD. Suddenly, you’re master or mistress of an IEP. You can barely get your child to focus on regular homework for an hour, and suddenly you’re a one-on-one teacher’s aide all day.

This is your world during the pandemic lockdown.

You’re stressing about everything: the news, working from home, staying healthy, finding toilet paper, buying meat, keeping everyone from going crazy, social distancing, and you’re now the sole educational director for a child with ADHD. Or, if you’re me, you’re the sole educational director for three children with ADHD. But I’ve been homeschooling my kids for years now, so I’ve learned a thing or two and I’m here to tell you:

  1. You see that big red button that says “Don’t Panic?” Slam it hard.
  2. You can do this, friend.
  3. It won’t be as bad as you think.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Let’s jump back to Psych 101 really quick. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs says certain basic needs must be met before a person can accomplish certain goals. For example, your kid needs food before they can feel safe. And your kid needs to feel safe before they can learn. Period, full stop, end of the road.

If your kid is overcome with anxiety about getting sick — throwing off major signals (my youngest suddenly refuses to leave the house and play in the yard for fear of “bees”) or fretting because you’re freaking out — they won’t learn. They’ll melt down instead.

[Think Your Child Might Have ADHD? Take This Test To Find Out.]

You’re social distancing, and possibly under a lockdown, stay-at-home order. You absolutely cannot afford meltdowns. That means that, first of all, your main goal is to keep your child feeling safe. Here are some ways to do that:

  1. Practice self-care: Find alone time for yourself. That may mean you flip on Disney Plus for an hour while you sit alone in the back bedroom and binge Tiger King. Can you say #NoShame?
  2. Avoid the news. I know I can’t handle numbers, faces, or stories, so I don’t engage with them at all. I control my own kingdom of social distancing, which means keeping people as happy as I can and doing my part to stay home. I went out once, and my adherence to sterilizing my credit card through the drive-thru pharmacy had me freaking out. I let my husband go out now. That is how I am a helper. My meltdowns over news reports? They would not help anyone.
  3. Get outside as much as possible: Did you know sporting goods stores are considered essential and will not close? Get balls, get bats, get whatever. If you’re lucky enough to have a backyard, let your kids dig holes and fill them with water. Do whatever you can to get them out of the house. Take walks. Find empty parks that aren’t closed. Drive the highways with the windows down for a change of scenery.
  4. Ritual, ritual, ritual: Routine is essential to children, especially those with ADHD. They need to know what’s going to happen next. Wake up, get dressed, brush teeth, eat breakfast, and take a walk around the neighborhood every single day. Make sure they can count on some kind of routine. No running around in PJs, going shirtless, watching TV all day, etc.
  5. Continue to enforce consequences, not punishments: If that, than this. “If you hit your brother, then you will have to make amends by…” Don’t relax discipline just because it’s a hard time. Kids need to know that even know this is a trying time, the rules still apply.

[Click to Read: Are You Crisis Schooling? Daily Schedule Advice for ADHD Families]

Once They Feel Safe, You Can Deal with School & Learning.

Notice how I didn’t mention school above? That’s intentional. Your kids can’t learn if they don’t feel safe. Once they feel safe, you can gently begin introducing their schoolwork. Start slowly. Only give them what they can handle. This is not worth a meltdown. This is not worth your sanity.

What lessons do you want your kids to learn from this? My husband and I decided we wanted our children to learn resilience, strength, and the ability to pull through a tough situation — not long division. So set your priorities.

Realize that many teachers (like my husband) had two or three days to prep for distance learning. They’re at sea. They aren’t as strict as they may seem. If your kid needs more time, more help, more rest to acclimate, then ask for it.

When my kids start to cry, the work goes away. Period. Some people might say I’m setting them up to learn to cry to get out of work. But you’re their parent, and you can tell the difference between crying for show and crying for real.

Here are some other very basic tips about teaching a child with ADHD in your home. They may sound simple — but they work.

  1. Take lots of movement breaks. Don’t expect to plow through more than 1-2 subjects at once. Ten-minute breaks are key.
  2. Do one-on-one work. Lots of it.
  3. Don’t sit them at a table. Let them sprawl. Tables may feel confining. A chance to lay on their belly and kick their legs may ruin their handwriting, but pick your freaking battles.
  4. Be open to learning from podcasts, from tablets, from video games, etc. My oldest often gets his social studies from podcasts, and my youngest gets his science from video games.
  5. Make sure they are fed and watered and have had enough sleep. Any of the above will derail them completely.
  6. If they can’t work for some reason, don’t force it. If the tears start, don’t force it. Your child needs connection during this scary time more than they need academics.
  7. Don’t confine learning to worksheets. Kids with ADHD tend to get very bored with them very quickly.

Do your best to get through those district packets. But if you can’t do it, you can’t do it. Better that your kid come out with a bad grade than mental wreckage. Keep their best interests at heart. Keep in contact with their teachers, the same as you would in a brick-and-mortar school.

Most importantly, hold your children close. They need it — and so do you, friend.

[Read This Next: How to Cement Your Child’s New Home Learning Routines]


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Updated on August 10, 2020

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