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Back to School Tips for your child with ADD

5 Back To School Tips for Your ADD or ADHD Child

by Dr. Robert Myers, Child Psychologist

The start of a new school year will be here before we know it—and for some ADD/ADHD kids and their parents, this time is often associated with added anxiety and stress. For children and teens with ADD or ADHD, summer can be a much–needed and most–appreciated break, with many taking a “drug holiday” from their medications and enjoying the freedom from school schedules and homework.

Related: How to teach your ADD/ADHD child concentration techniques that work.

Goals are great, but motivation for achieving goals is enhanced by the anticipation of rewards.

For many parents of kids with learning or behavioral disabilities, the start of the school year can feel like an unwelcome rerun of the same old scenes, just like in the movie Ground Hog Day, where Bill Murray’s character repeats the same day over and over again. And I know how you feel—I’m the father of a son with ADHD and I’ve worked with kids who have been diagnosed with ADD/ADHD for decades. I’m here to tell you that school doesn’t have to be an exhausting re–tread of last year—rather, think of it as a chance to start off on the right foot with your child so he can have a more positive, productive year.

Here are some tips that can make things seem a lot easier and smoother for parents and kids.

  1. Set up a few goals and rewards for the year before school starts.

Setting some reasonable goals for the school year sets the tone and gives clear expectations that can lead to a successful academic year. Goals could revolve around completing assignments and turning them in, getting ready for school on time, good reports on behavior at school, and getting to bed on time. Each family will have their own views on what is important; I suggest you meet as a family to work these out. I think it works well when all children in the family have their own unique list of goals. You might also have a goal related to all of the children being able to get along without fighting.

Here’s an idea I want you to take away from this exercise: Goals are great, but motivation for achieving goals is enhanced by the anticipation of rewards. People enter athletic contests for fun and personal achievement, but winning a medal is an additional motivator for many. Look at how members of a championship professional team cherish those championship rings or gold medals.


Related: AD/HD child not responding to consequences?

Remember that rewards can come in all forms. Staying up late on the weekend could be a reward for going to bed on time. Extra time for media use (video game, iPod, computer, TV, etc) could be a reward for getting homework done well and on time. Whichever child is ready for school first could earn “shot gun” in the car on the way to school if you’re driving. Find out what your child feels would motivate him, and be creative.

The above are short–term rewards. Think about a special outing or some other reward for a good report card each quarter. (Start with average marks. If that is reached, look for slight improvement from one marking period to the next). The key is making sure the goal is reasonable and obtainable.

In addition to rewards, provide praise and encouragement. Teach your child how to feel good about achievement on his or her own. When success is not achieved, be their coach and teach or re–teach strategies and behaviors that can increase the likelihood of success. It’s been shown in studies that ADD and ADHD kids respond much better to positive reinforcement than to criticism, so try to play to their strengths and catch them being good and remark on it whenever possible.

  1. Agree on a morning routine and afternoon routine before school starts.

Getting the day off to a good start can set the tone for the day for the whole family. At a family meeting, discuss when everyone needs to be out the door. List all the things that need to take place to make this happen, then figure out how much time each task will take. From there, determine a schedule and what time each person needs to get out of bed. Once you have a plan, give it a dry run to see if it is workable. You could use a stopwatch to see if the goal can be met. Make any necessary adjustments and then post the schedule so everyone can see it. Consider a once–a–week family activity to celebrate if you are successful for a week. (If you are successful for a few weeks, you could space out the celebrations to once a month.)

Other things to consider might include selecting clothes for the next day before going to bed, making sure everything is in each kid’s backpack and putting the backpacks right by the door.

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