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Surviving the In-Person Learning Transition: Game Plans and Instant Replays

Play the coach by providing your child with a game plan before they undertake a tough task. At the same time, instant replays grant your child a do-over when mistakes happen and tempers flare.

Transitions, no matter the context, often challenge children with ADHD. Today, as more schools shift back to in-person learning from entirely virtual environments, easing students through this change should be a top priority for parents and educators.

As a therapist helping families with ADHD (and a parent to two daughters with ADHD as well), I’ve found two principles to be incredibly helpful when dealing with transitions and change: the “game plan” and the “instant replay.”

The Game Plan

Imagine a coach delivering a rousing speech meant to fire up and motivate their team before a game. This pre-game speech includes a run-through of the game plan – what the players can expect during the game, how to handle certain plays from the opposing team, and what the expectation is for each player.

Parents, you can play the coach by providing your children with a game plan before they undertake a tough task; often, it’s just what they need to succeed.

Game plans help children with ADHD compensate for deficits with executive functions — the brain’s board of directors carrying out skills to get a job done. In some kids with ADHD, the director in charge of transitioning may be falling asleep on the job. As parents, we can step in as temporary board members for our children by providing them with a game plan. Dr. Ross Green, in his book The Explosive Child, shares a similar philosophy that he calls “Plan B”.

A good game plan for returning to in-person learning simply details what your child should expect, and what they need to do to meet expectations. A conversation on just one aspect of going back to school may look like this:

[Read: How Can I Teach My Child to Smoothly Transition Activities?]

Mom: Sidney, it’s been a while since you’ve had to get up early to get ready to leave home for school. Let’s go over what your morning routine should look like since you’re going back to school in-person in a few days. What time do you think you should set your alarm to go off?

Sidney: 7 am?

Mom: That sounds good. Let’s make a list of all the things you need to do in the morning to be ready before the bus comes. What time does the bus come?

Sidney: 7:40

Mom: Right! So, what needs to be done between the time you wake up and the time the bus comes? (Allow your kids to come up with their own schedule. It will work better than telling them what to do.)

Sidney: I need to get dressed, eat breakfast, and pack my backpack.

Mom: Yes! You’re right. Can you think of anything else?

Sidney: Oh! I need to brush my teeth and comb my hair.

Mom: Right. What about lunch?

Sidney: Oh yeah, I need to pack my lunch. Maybe I should do that the night before?

Mom: I think that’s a great idea. Do you think you can get your whole list done in 40 minutes? I remember you having a hard time waking up last year, so maybe we need to set the alarm for 6:45am to give you a little extra time so you’re not rushing?

Sidney: Yeah, probably.

Mom: Great, let’s go through your routine one more time and then maybe you could write it down if you think that might help you remember.

[Read: The Importance of a Daily Schedule for Kids with ADHD: Sample Routines and More]

That’s a game plan. You’ve helped prepare your child’s brain for this transition by enlisting their help. You’ve asked questions about potential hurdles so that your child can think of solutions. They’ve visualized what needs to happen to make this part of their day go smoothly, and they will be more ready and willing to complete the necessary tasks when the time comes.

If your child gets off task, you simply point it out, and ask what comes next. 
I used the game plan strategy all the time with my daughter when she was younger. We had game plans for getting off the bus and going to basketball practice, bedtime routines, taking a shower, getting chores done, and more.

When she got off task, all I’d have to say was “Sid, what are you supposed to be doing right now?” She’d remember – and I never had to yell or nag at her to get things done.

Another way to bolster your child’s game plan is to involve teachers.

Try getting in touch with your child’s teachers about classroom expectations and routines that you can incorporate into the game plan ahead of time. You can assume your child knows what the expectations are, but they will struggle with HOW to perform to the expectation. Game Plans allow your child to pre-plan and visualize the HOW. Game Plans should include “what if” questions. As parents we can anticipate their hurdles and prepare them with possible solutions.

Instant Replay

Game plans are extremely helpful, but that doesn’t mean that your child will always meet expectations. In fact, as kids are making the tough transition back to school, they will inevitably become frustrated. Distractions, low motivation, boredom, forgetfulness, impulsivity, and more can get in the way. With ADHD, the pause between trigger and reaction is often minuscule, meaning that your child could take their frustration out on you without really meaning to.

Enter the Instant Replay – a chance to extend empathy to the challenges your child is facing, while giving them the opportunity to make a different choice. An instant replay, in a way, grants your child a do-over. It provides them with a pause to rethink what they just said or did.

In my house it sounds like this: “Hey, you want to try that again?” or “How about a do-over on that?” These questions indicate to my daughter that whatever she just said or did isn’t acceptable, but she now has the option to take a different route.

The bottom line? Showing empathy and support toward your child as they transition back to in-person learning will go a long way toward making this change easier on everyone.

In-Person Learning for Students with ADHD: Next Steps

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