For parents of school-age children, 2020 has brought a variety of challenges. In many cases, these challenges are exacerbated if the child has ADHD. Many parents have been, by necessity, forced to add teacher and school counselor roles to their daily activities - alongside their day job - while still being a parent. It can be daunting, especially if your child’s ADHD diagnosis is a recent one. Recently I spoke with Penny Williams for an episode of her podcast where we shared a number of tips for parents who find themselves struggling in the current conditions, and are perhaps low on resources. I really enjoyed speaking with Penny, and if you have the time I encourage you to give it a listen. If you just need some key take-aways, here are several things you can do to help your child while they strive to work under unusual learning conditions:
When speaking with your child, always say what you mean, and mean what you say. Stay consistent with before and after-school routines, set reasonable and fair expectations, and make sure you follow through on any clearly defined and agreed-upon consequences. Kids do best when routines are maintained and there is a level of accountability.
Have a Visual Schedule
For kids, time is often broken down into two states: now and not now, a dichotomy Penny refers to as Time Blindness. To avoid arguments over when something like homework is going to happen, create a visual calendar. This doesn’t have to be some elaborate creation or expensive purchase, figure out what works best for your family, but establish a consistent location, have the schedule for the day, week, or month clearly laid out, and eliminate those, “you said you were going to do it an hour ago!” conversations.
Think About Your Reward System
In addition to Time Blindness, many youngsters also struggle with delayed gratification. Being promised a reward at the end of the month seems like an eternity away. Devise a reward system that incorporates smaller rewards (extra TV time, a milkshake from their favorite fast food joint) at more regular intervals as they learn to build longer-term habits. Or, rather than receiving a complete skateboard at the end of the quarter, build up to it by earning the board, wheels, and other components during the semester.
Create a Learning Space
One of the benefits of in-school learning is that the children are in a place for several hours a day that is purpose-built for learning. Children are physically and mentally tuned-in to learn when they are at school. Conversely, home is less structured and is typically the place where kids can unwind. Recreating a full classroom environment at home isn’t feasible for most families, but even a small desk and “work chair” (not a comfy recliner) can help with focus. It’s important for kids to get out of bed and make that transition to ‘school mode’ by going to a place in the house they associate with learning that’s different from the place they watch TV or play video games.
Create “Forced Choice” Boundaries
Teen years are a time for increased independence. That often involves a desire to make choices for themselves, and as a result, kids can bristle at being told what to do. It doesn’t take much for this to quickly devolve into a heated debate over what should be happening and when. Instead of dictating that your child be doing their math homework right now, try giving them a forced choice. Saying, “Do you want to work on math, history, or science right now?” Gives your child the opportunity to decide what subject they want to tackle, while still keeping them focused on the tasks you know they need to complete.
Catch Them Being Good
Whether it’s a teacher, a coach, or a parent, so often a child is told what they’re not doing right. What may be intended as constructive criticism can feel like a never-ending stream of failures. Try to find opportunities to call attention to actions, even small ones, that demonstrate good efforts. Getting work done without complaint, being ready for virtual class on time, or making their bed in the morning may seem like a small thing, but positive reinforcement can help build strong habits.
Much of the suggestions above may seem like small things, and you might be wondering if the small positive impact is worth the effort. The truth is, while all these ideas are simple, implementing all of them consistently can be difficult as we all do the best we can under the circumstances. Pick the ideas above that are easiest for you to start implementing today, and add more when you can. Many of these ideas build upon each other and create a cumulative effect, reinforcing themes like consistency, effort, and a good attitude. None of them are meant to replace treatment for ADHD symptoms, but they all can help add a little structure during this unusual and challenging time.
Thanks again to Penny for the wonderful chat, and remember to give a listen to our podcast conversation if you want to learn more.