As a psychotherapist who work with children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), I have heard how happy they are during summer or on school holidays. They feel they can relax and enjoy life. There is no worry about homework or having to follow directions at school. Also at home life is much easier. Their parents are not telling them they need to do homework and there are less arguments at home. I have heard parents tell me the same story. Parents who have children with ADHD find summer to be less stressful and they find the school year to be a series of struggles and arguments over school.
While this is the common experience, it does not have to be. If parents and the child with ADHD discuss the school before it starts or at least before the child has homework on a regular basis, the school year can be less stressful. Dr. Robert Meyer wrote an article where he also suggests if the family with an ADHD child develops a game plan regarding how they will handle school, the school year does not have to be so stressful. This is the same approach I suggest and use with the children I work with who have ADHD. Therefore, I will list the steps parents can take to develop a game plan with their child and therefore reduce the stress associated with the school year.
1. Set Goals for the Year
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; meet as a family to work these out. 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.
Goals are great, but motivation for achieving goals is enhanced by the anticipation of rewards. Reward and celebrate meeting goals. 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. Be creative.
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.
Praise and Encouragement
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.
2. Agree on Morning and Afternoon Routines
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.
Afternoons can include after–school activities, chores, homework, play time, computer time, reading, evening meal and getting ready for bed. While mornings are usually the same from day–to–day, you may have to make a schedule that varies for each day of the week. Again, get input from the family and revise as needed.
Family mealtime has been found to very beneficial to all members of the family. Try to schedule the evening meal so everyone can sit around the table (no TV) and interact with each other. Start using the “roses and thorns” approach to encourage interaction. Each family member shares one positive experience (rose) and one not so positive experience (thorn) when it is their “turn” to share.
3. Meet with Your Child’s Teacher
Make arrangements to meet with your child’s teacher as soon as possible. If your child has an IEP or a 504 plan then you can meet to discuss how you can best work with the teacher to implement the plan in their classroom. If the school is not aware of your child’s ADD or ADHD, just meet as an interested parent first.
During the meeting, find out about any major projects or other assignments that are coming up during the year. Learn about the teacher’s expectation for homework. Find out how you can communicate with the teacher to keep track of completed and outstanding assignments. Showing that you are interested and want to play an active, supportive role can form a relationship that can help keep your child on track and make it easier to work out problems if the need arises.
4. Set up a Study Schedule
Once you know what to expect for homework, you can work with your child to establish a homework routine that works for all concerned. Decide if your child will have free time before homework. Agree to the time homework should begin and a schedule for completing daily or weekly assignments for each subject as well as a plan to complete any larger projects. If your child has a lot of homework, you may want to schedule some brief breaks in between subjects.
Decide how you will be involved as far as checking for accuracy and completeness. Develop a system that works for you for keeping track of assignments and their completion. Some parents use a notebook or have a chart where they check off each assignment. Also, develop a system to help your child remember to turn in the completed assignments. It’s not unusual for ADHD kids to complete assignments and then forget to turn them in.
5. Schedule Daily “Fun Time” with Your Child
I know that parents are very busy and spend a lot of time helping and taking care of their children in addition to working and running a household. I know that some days you may feel depleted and/or defeated. From time to time your child most likely feels the same way.
In my 30 years of practice as a child psychologist, I have always recommended that parents take a few minutes out of the day (10–20) to make time to do something fun with their children. Find out what your child likes as well as suggest new things they might come to enjoy as well. Playing a short game, making something together, reading a story, going for a walk, tossing a ball or Frisbee in the backyard or at the park—and anything else that works for you and your child and family—will strengthen the bond. When your children are close in age, spending time together is great, but from time–to–time also make time for one–to–one as well.
Confront Your Fears
The start of the school year doesn’t have to be a time of dread. Anxiety is our reaction to fear. In this case there is the fear of the unknown (How will things go?) as well as a fear of the past (Will there be a repeat of previous school year experiences?). The best way to handle anxiety is to confront the fearful situation and develop a plan to handle it in a way that will result in a positive outcome. Then stick to the plan, revising only when necessary.
Take One Day at a Time
Finally, take one day at a time. Take time for yourself to relax during the day and appreciate the small, good moments whenever possible. This recharges your battery and restarts your brain—and helps you find renewed joy in your child, in being a parent and in life in general.
Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 20 years experience treating children and teenagers. If you would like more information about Dr. Rubino’s work or private practice visit his website www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page www.Facebook.com/drrubino3.