ADHD, emotional dysregulation

Transitioning children with ADHD back to school

FOUR TIPS on Getting ADHD Done Differently in school transitions!

My children are incredibly excited to be heading back to school next week for a whole new school year. My son is commencing high school, my daughter is heading into year three, and my youngest daughter will be in year two.

All three of my children can’t wait. They have had their school bags packed, lunch boxes and drink bottles lined up on the bench and school uniforms laid out for over a week. My children are blessed to go to a great school who are flexible with their accommodations and modifications. They have incredible teachers and a fantastic group of friends.

I know we are in the minority with this ‘return to school excitement’. Being excited to return to school is not usually the case for children with ADHD. ADHD is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder that significantly impacts children and adolescents in the classroom and playground settings. The symptoms of ADHD make it extremely challenging to engage in learning and maintaining peer relationships. And of course, children with ADHD are more likely to have a co-occurring learning disorder, which often brings about a significantly negative association with attending school.

As a Mum to children with ADHD and associated conditions, I also start to become nervous at this time of the year with the first day less than a week away. Why? Because I am thinking about all the planning, organising and running around. Most parents will know what I mean. From packing lunch boxes, having clean uniforms, remembering library days, getting children to do homework, to all the other extracurricular activities that go along with a new school term. As well as fitting paid work and housework in around it all!

Having children with ADHD adds a further layer of complexity when we think about returning to school for parents. Children with ADHD often attend therapy appointment, extracurricular activities, and struggle significantly to engage in homework tasks. They will usually have emotional dysregulation challenges that other children of their age do not have. Then, there are the additional day-to-day challenges of getting ready in the mornings (read our blog “School Mornings” for more info to help with this.) And let’s not forget remembering to take medications and household responsibilities. I could go on and on… and on.

But before you go and break out into a cold sweat, keep reading!

Here are FOUR tips on getting ADHD Done Differently in the transition to school period – AND a couple of resources to help you do it too!

  1. Take care of yourself first

Your self-care comes first. Self-care is any activity we deliberately practice to maintain and enhance our health and wellbeing. I believed for so long that my self-care had to go after everything else. This led to me never prioritising self-care and never doing anything for myself.

But here is the truth. You can not be the best possible parent without prioritising your own self-care. When you fly, the flight attendant will tell you to “Put on your own oxygen mask first, before helping others.” This is the absolute truth when it comes to parenting, as well. If you don’t look after yourself first, you won’t be able to help others.

Research tells us that self-care helps prevent and reduce anxiety and stress symptoms and increases your energy, productivity, and resilience.

What can you do today to prioritise your self-care?

Go for a walk alone, with your family or friends. Maybe it is eating healthy meals, doing yoga, having a dance party, reading, going to the gym or calling a friend. It can even be taking a pause in your day. Please read our blog about pausing to help you prioritise your self-care … and schedule it in!

It can even be as simple as positive self-talk. It is amazing how changing your thoughts can make such a difference in your ability to cope.

So instead of saying “I have too much to do, I can’t do this.” Try “I am feeling overwhelmed, but I can do one thing at a time!” or “I can’t parent this child!” to “I might be finding parenting hard right now, but I will never give up!”

Speak them out loud. You have got this!

2. Be Proactive with routines and SHOW them

I lived years on the back foot, reacting to everything as it came along our path. It was exhausting, and I felt as though I was drowning. I was never ready for anything!

As parents, we know our kids the best. We know, mostly, what they love, what they hate, their triggers for a meltdown and what they will struggle with when transitioning back to school.

So why wait for it all to happen? Jump ahead and proactively prepare! I am also a big believer that children should be involved in the planning and preparation for school going back as well.

What could this look like?

  • Have a weekly Sunday afternoon planning family meeting.

We do this most weeks to prepare for the week ahead. In our meeting, we usually:  

  • Go over the schedule for the week – particularly changes to the regular routines.
    • Celebrate ‘wins’ together – such as school awards or maintaining family values
    • Raise and collaboratively problem solve any family issues we are having
    • Play a game or fun activity together
  • Set, maintain, and allow your child to visualise a routine

Children with ADHD thrive on a predictable routine. People with ADHD are also often referred to as ‘time blind’, making it even more essential to teach routines for them to flourish. Children with ADHD see in the NOW or NOT now. It is hard often for them to see the big picture of their day. As parents, we can teach our children these skills to show them how to take control of their own routines when they are tweens, teenagers and adults.

Since my children with ADHD are getting older; we use several different schedules to keep us on track.

We keep track of our regular routines with our monthly whiteboard calendar for the overall routine. This is our macro-routine. It is colour coded and easy to read. It gives the big picture of what we will be doing over the month and includes the regular weekly activities out of school (therapy appointments, church activities, sports activities, music lessons and work).

Morning & Afternoon routines with charts/visuals

Daily responsibilities routines with visuals

3.Be proactive with difficult situations and brainstorm solutions – together

My daughter often struggles to get back into the routine of school. She is a home body. So, I know that the first few weeks of school, we have a lot of emotions after the school day. She is often overwhelmed and has massive emotional responses to events that she may, at other times, deal with without batting an eyelid. For example – being told that she can’t have McDonald’s for afternoon tea.

I proactively plan for this by:

  • Making sure I give her a big squeeze, cuddles and kisses before we get into the car, or as soon as she jumps off the bus. This helps a lot to help her regulate her emotions.
  • Letting her come home and play alone in her room before expecting her to do her jobs. She needs this to re-settle and recharge before coming out and joining the family. My other children don’t need this, so it is also important that I work with my other children to make sure we respect her need to do this.
  • Not scheduling many after school appointments or activities in term 1. She has piano on Monday afternoons and drama class on Saturday mornings. She has to come along to my other children’s appointments, but there is little expectation on her to have to do anything at those times.
  • Encourage activity after a day at school. A child with ADHD’s executive function fuel tank is dry by the end of a day at school – even when they are medicated. Exercise is one sure fire way of filling the tank with fuel (and interestingly make it bigger!) So, once she has had some time alone, I encourage her to jump on the trampoline, run around with her dog, play active games with her siblings or go to the pool. If you want to read more about the ADHD fuel tank check out our blog ‘Fill that Fuel Tank.’

Another example of being proactive with difficult situations for me this year is that my son is going into high school. Our school decided several years ago, to stop doing homework in primary school. So, this is the first time that he will need to do homework in many years. I know that it is going to be challenging. My son does not have any learning disorders or issues, but he has significant hyperactivity and inattention that makes sitting doing homework a challenge.

My son and I have discussed this and come up with a plan.

  •  As part of our request for modifications this year at school, we have requested leniency with homework. This will be written into his Individual Education Plan (IEP).

This doesn’t mean that he won’t have any homework. I am a big believer that it is important that he learns to do things he doesn’t always enjoy and learns to study. However, I am also a big believer in supporting and teaching him to support himself in areas of difficulty.  

We have also requested smaller chunks of homework with more frequent check ins with the teachers (e.g., having to hand in parts of assignments for review each week, rather than a whole assignment in 6 weeks), as well as open communication with us as his parents to what is expected and due to increase accountability.

  • We have set up a dedicated homework station that is ADHD friendly – based on his individual areas of struggle. It has:
    • Positive Self-Talk Printables to encourage positive self-talk.
    • Reminders to set timers for regular breaks  
    • A goal setting reminder for each day with a white board maker to tick things off as he goes.
    • A pencil caddy with pens, textas, erasers, sharpeners, and rulers that are where he needs them, so he has to find everything each time it’s homework time.
    • And a wobble stool (We have ordered this online – so finger crossed it comes before school starts)!
Download a copy of the Ready… Set… Start your Timer & today I will achieve printable below.
The other printables are from Big Life Journal.com

We have also put his homework station in a place where there won’t be many distractions from siblings or screens. But in a place where we are able to see what he is doing, so he doesn’t get distracted by fat cat GIFs and forget to do his homework (that’s a story for another time!)

  • Ensure exercise prior to homework. Again, that fuel tank needed for planning, organisation, focussed attention and motivation needs to be refueled prior to doing any form of work after being at school for a whole day. Riding his rip-stick, bouncing on the trampoline, wrestling, or even going to the pool prior to engaging in homework, will significantly aid in his ability to do homework tasks well.

We have promised to do a weekly review of what has worked and what hasn’t worked with a set time each week (usually after our family meeting) to discuss any changes we need to make to his workspace or homework expectations.

4. Plan for fun and connection

The transition back to school for another year can be challenging.

My last tip is this… plan for fun and connection. Take time off from being the “ADHD support” to just be a family, connect and have fun. It doesn’t have to be anything huge either, just something to reset your family and remember that there is so many amazing blessings all around us.

Can you go through McDonald’s drive thru once a week and get everyone a 60c soft serve? Can you stop at 7/11 and get a $1 slurpee? Stop at a park on the way home from school and have a picnic and a game of soccer? Take the dog for a walk?

I hope some of these strategies will help you with the back-to-school year transitions.

Let me know what works for you so we can get ADHD Done Differently – together.

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