Back to School with ADHD: A Guide for Parents
Heading back to school with ADHD is not an easy task and is often involves more than just a few jitters. There are lots of things we, as parents of amazing ADHD children, can do to make heading back to school easier – for the whole family.
Heading back to school can be a very trying time. But in this article you’ll find lots of ways to help.
Scroll down to find:
- “Must Haves” for Back to School – sometimes a product can be a lifesaver!
- Tips for Heading Back to School – actionable items you can start doing today!
- Ideas for even the most nervous kids of all.
Related: Fresh Ideas for your ADHD Homeschooler
Must Haves for Back to School With ADHD
Even though I am so grateful that distance learning is a thing of the past, we did learn A LOT from it – especially a few great things we held onto to help with homework this year.
Having a clipboard for each of your kids allows them to work in many different places. Having a hard surface to write on, means they can be sitting on a sofa, int the car or outside, if needed.
Clipboards can be great organizers – for kids who have a hard time keeping things neat and tidy! There is less crinkly and ripping of paper. Several sheets can be kept on at one time.
And maybe best of all — it’s hard to lose a sheet of homework when it’s attached to a clipboard.
Each family member can have a clipboard with their to-do’s!
Hang them on 3M hooks where all can see! See how much I love them?
I bought mine at Goodwill, but these are really inexpensive, too.
Dry Erase Boards
There might even be more uses for a dry erase board than a clipboard. Let’s see….
Small, dry erase boards have so many uses. Some of them include:
- Writing down what’s needed for school
- Doing a math problem along with your child
- Using them on Zoom to work problems or write answers on the spot.
- Making checklists for yourself or your kids
- Writing fun, inspirational notes for your kids
- Taking dictation from your kids for them to write in their own time
- Writing steps to completing a larger assignment
- And many, many more!
We have about three small dry erase boards that seem to be in constant use! I use them for chore lists and reminders and notes to my husband and to myself.
Seriously, you won’t know what you ever did without one!
I bought mine on Amazon(small, medium and large), but this is something to look for at Goodwill, too!
We use these timers ALL THE TIME!! Even before we were home for distance learning last school year, we used our timers at many points during the day.
This year they will be used for homework, screen time or reminders to get out the door in the morning.
Each kid has one and they use it for so many things:
- Remind themselves when they have to get ready to leave for school
- Setting work time and break time
- Self-timing for tests and quizzes
- Set for reading break
- Math facts practice
- Instrument practice
- Video game time
Timers are so great because they help kids be more independent and in charge of their own learning…a goal we should all be working towards.
Side note about timers and ADHD: ADHD kids usually have “time blindness”, that is they have no idea how to estimate the passage of time and usually grossly under or over estimate how long a task will take.
Timers have been a helpful part of getting my two boys with ADHD to understand how long 10 minutes or half an hour is. The visual red swath helps them to see how fast time is passing! These things are brilliant!
My kids use this one and this one.
Related: The Best Timer for ADHD
***Update on The Time Timer****
It’s like my two favorite things had a baby!! The Time Timer has a dry erase board version that is so awesome!! My younger son took one of these to school with him last year and it was a hit.
These are so great for helping kids stay on track, whether they are at school or at home.
Related: Our Favorite ADHD Resources
The Planner for Kids who Hate Planners
My son really struggled to find the right planner during middle school. This year for his second year of high school, we’re getting this planner again!! It worked well last year and it has tons of 5 star reviews.
It’s from Order Out of Chaos and has some simple features which help kids stay organized.
I think this worked really well for my teen with ADHD because:
- The layout is simple, with plenty of room to write.
- The pages are organized by class, not just be the date.
- There is space to check off when the day’s assignments are done.
- After school activities have their own section each day.
- There is a nice monthly calendar, as well as pages for each day.
The Case-It Binder
We had to buy a new Case-It Binder this year…my son’s old one finally got a bit too raggedy after 4 years!
This helps kids who struggle to be organized in check – it’s been a life saver for my son as soon as he started changing classes in middle school. It pretty much fits everything in it – even his chrome book fits in and can be zipped up.
Related: The Best ADHD Resources
The Best Tips for Going Back to School
Give kids the feeling of control!!
Your kids may be enjoying their last few weeks of loafing around, but it helps everyone concerned if they help with the preparations of school. Doing things like shopping for back to school supplies and new shoes starts to change their mindset and makes them feel more ready.
By giving them some decision making opportunities you are building their confidence and feelings of being in control. With so many things about school that they have no control over, it’s nice for them to know they can be in charge of at least a few things.
Give your kids a choice in these simple ways
- Let them choose their favorite breakfasts and lunches those first couple of days,
- Kids can choosing when to go to locker day/orientation day.
- Will they bike, walk, or drive the first day?
- They can pick out their first day outfit, shoes, etc
- Make school supply choices when possible.
- Choose a few special activities the last days of summer.
….find as many opportunities as you can for them to weigh in.
Get the supplies YOUR child needs
Obviously all schools have a supply list that you are required or encouraged to get. You may already know what works best for your kid – and it may not be on the list.
Following the required list of supplies may not be the best thing for your kiddo.
Do not be afraid to ask for modifications for your child right away – at parent orientation or even before school starts.
Even if its not specified in a 504 or IEP, most teachers and school staff are very accommodating when it comes to supplies. Perhaps your kiddo still needs wide-ruled paper or works best with a certain brand of pencils.
We have a few things on my son’s 504, like his Huge binder that keeps everything together (teachers wanted each class in a separate folder but that just doesn’t work for him).
Go school supply shopping in two sessions, so it’s not so overwhelming.
Kids can help! I give each of my kids 1/2 of their list and they try to find the needed supplies. Of course, I double check and point out the better deals before we head to the check out line.
Make it a fun activity that the kids look forward to year after year.
Make sure to pick up supplies for home too, so you can be certain to have what’s needed set up a great homework space.
Set up a study space
It is so important for each of your kids to have their own dedicated study space – preferably within earshot of you.
We want our kids to be as independent as possible with their learning, but kids with ADHD typically need lots redirection to stay on task while doing schoolwork.
This is true for my kids, even as they are entering 7th and 9th grade.
Set up a study space in the weeks leading up to school, so they’ll be ready to go.
Find a space where they are comfortable, but also where their computer or phone use can be easily monitored. It’s helpful to have supplies close by or in a caddy that can move around.
My kids mostly use the kitchen table and a sofa in the next room. A lot of their work is done on a computer now, so most days, all they need is a plug!
Related: Homework Strategies for ADHD Kids
Think About the Big Schedule Change to Come.
Sit down as soon as you can and familiarize yourself with next year’s school schedule. Write dates down on a large family calendar for all to see. Discuss these dates as a family.
It helps my son’s anxiety tremendously to do a bit of a preview and talk about our schedule a few days-even weeks- in advance so there are no surprises.
There may be many things about your schedule that will change as school grows closer. Bedtimes, waking times, meal times,
Which leads us to……
Get Back Into a Routine
All of these changes mean getting back into a new routine – it’s one of the things I love best about going back to school.
My family runs so much smoother with a routine. Kids know what to expect and what the expectations are for them, so there’s less nagging and reminding. WIN!
You might have kept some of your routine in place during summer, but surely the school year offers a great opportunity to get back to your familiar routine or modify it a bit to adapt to the new school year.
ADHD kids thrive on a routine. Having the same things to do each day helps build their executive functioning and gives them confidence and a feeling of independence they may not get in other areas of their lives.
Here are a few things to consider as you build your routine for the school year:
- Rising time, breakfast time, packing lunches,
- Morning hygiene – teeth brushing, showering, face washing, deodorant, getting dressed
- Morning commute – walk, bike or ride the bus,
- After school stuff – unpack backpacks, snack, homework time, dinner time,
- Bedtime – teeth brushing, time to read, family time
If you only do one thing now: Get your kids to bed earlier. This one simple thing can have a huge ripple effect – That will lead to waking up earlier, which in turn will mean going to bed earlier — you see what I mean?
Related: Getting ADHD Kids to Bed
Make a Habit of Get Things Ready the Night Before
While this may seem obvious, getting things ready the night before did not become part of our routine until last year. With middle school came a ridiculously early start time and so things were much more rushed in the morning.
Which led to many a preteen meltdown.
Getting things started the night before sets you up for a successful morning. Less rushing means a less anxious kid. It’s now the most important part of our routine.
Make lunches, get backpacks ready and set them by the door, set out clothes, take a shower…starting this right off the bat will create a super helpful routine for you and your child.
Attend Back to School Activities
There are usually a few opportunities to get kids into school even before the first day- Locker Day, End of Summer Bash, Supply Drop-off Night. Even high schoolers can come and walk thru the halls before the first day.
Whether it means being back on familiar ground or learning all about a new school, visiting the school before the big day will definitely calm nerves. It always helps to see familiar faces or get to know a few new ones.
If you school does not offer any pre-school activities, call and arrange for a tour or ask if you can drop off supplies before the first day.
Get Support in Place Early
Meet the teachers.
The best thing is meeting a teacher face to face (even if this means online). Take advantage of back to school nights and orientations to have you and your child begin to get comfortable with their classroom and teacher.
Even if you have to request a one on one meeting via Zoom with your child’s teacher, it’s completely worth your time and effort to try to arrange this.
Orientation night is a great time to check things out, but most likely this is not the time to have any real informative conversations about your child. Teachers are overwhelmed and have so much on their mind for the for first week or so of school.
Introduce yourself and your child. Let them know you’d love to have a longer conversation once the year gets underway. Exchange emails so you can set something up after the first week.
You will most likely have to create the opportunity to introduce yourself and your child more in depth. Tell them about your child. Tell them what works for you.
Send an email.
If your school does not have an orientation night early on in the year, send a quick email introducing yourself and your child. Request a meeting once the year gets underway.
Teachers love to get as much information about a student as possible. Any insight you can give into how your kid works is so helpful.
Set up a meeting with the school psychologist.
You might already know this person very well. But take a minute to check in – either in person, if convenient, or with a quick email. Update any changes that have happened over the summer and express how grateful you are to be working with them this year.
Set up meetings to modify a 504 or IEP.
Contact the school psychologist to set up a meeting to be preventative. Talk about any changes over the summer or any modifications that may need to be made.
Talk with your family therapist.
If you have a therapist that you see regularly, make sure to schedule an appointment close to the beginning of school to talk about any anxiety that may crop up. Our therapist gets very booked, so I am sure to choose our bi-weekly time slot we’ll have for the school year early before it gets taken.
Plan your food
Going back to school means time to get back into packing lunches!
Planning lunches is imperative: My kids get such a huge benefit from following an ADHD diet – in fact, its the most powerful natural remedy I have to help the symptoms of ADHD.
In addition to picking out their favorite snacks, we sit down and make a list of what they’d like their lunches to look like.
We have a great system for lunches. For my high schooler, having a lunch that looks like everyone else’s is super important for him. I find myself caving a bit and letting him have a few things each week that don’t meet our ADHD diet standards.
Getting in a great breakfast can often make or break a morning at school. ADHD kids benefit from a high protein, high fat, low sugar breakfast. Think eggs, bacon, leftover dinner, Avocado Toast, Oatmeal with protein powder. We have a few favorites we continually rotate.
Related : The Best Breakfasts for ADHD
Have Lots of Conversations With Your Child.
Starting back up at school is a big transition time that stirs up a lot of feelings. Don’t be afraid to initiate conversations about feeling nervous. Nervousness is normal but some kids definitely feel it more than others.
Engineer the time and space to have those conversations – they won’t happen unless YOU make them happen.
Initiate more one on one time in the days leading up to school. Tell stories about yourself feeling nervous about school.
Try asking things like, “What are your worries about the first day of school?” ,
“Are you nervous about anything in particular?”
“What are you feeling in your body when you think about school?”
“Is there someway that I can help ease your jitters?”
Don’t dwell in the negative. Be as positive as you can about school. This one is BIG–Kids do what you DO, NOT what you say. So show some enthusiasm and excitement about the first day of school.
These feelings are catchy. If they see your excitement and enthusiasm, they may wonder what all their worrying was about!
Spend More Time Together
Connection is often the antidote for so many things, including many of the symptoms of ADHD. (Dr. Ned Hallowell talks about this a lot)
Now, you may have spent lots of time with your kids this summer and are looking forward to a bit of a break once school starts.
Or maybe you work full time and your kids have been spending their days in camp.
Either way, spending even more time together over these last few weeks can go a long way in grounding your child and giving them the confidence they need to start school again.
Related: Connecting with your ADHD Kid
Start a Tradition to Celebrate the Start of School
What better way to bring some positive vibes to a situation than create a celebration around it!
With many schools still doing distance learning this is a very important step. All the regular markers of the school year starting will not be in place, so you will have to make your own.
Have ice cream with your neighbors. Start a bike parade around the school playground. Send cards to your new teachers and your old ones! Show a movie in your yard.
The skies the limit on this one. Ask your kids, they’ll think of something perfect.
What if my kids are still nervous?
What if I do all this prep and my kids are still nervous?
Even with lots of prep, you may still have a nervous Nellie on your hands that first day. Sometimes it’s little things, that get their minds off their worries, that can soften the jitters:
- Make them a special breakfast,
- If time allows play a quick game of cards in the morning
- Take a walk before school
- Meet a friend and walk in with them.
- Pack an extra special lunch,
- Give them a little trinket to hold in their pocket to let them know you are always with them,
- Write a special note in their lunch(unless they are in middle or high school and then it might backfire!)
- Plan something to look forward to after school.
Unfortunately school can be all about fitting in–at least at first—so anything to help with feeling one of the gang is great. I let my son bring a “super cool” lunch, with a few more of our healthy, packaged items than usual. for the first week or so. I also make sure his favorite clothes are clean and ready to wear.
These feelings may continue for awhile…..
Remember, this is a transition time. It may take several weeks for your child to feel comfortable at school. A new sleep schedule, the overwhelm of homework, and the stress of social situations can all cause kids to not be at their best cheerful self. Your kids may be cranky for a few weeks.
Do your best to keep positive and make sure there is space for conversation. Plan for lots of downtime, be careful not to fill up their schedule too fast. Stay close. Help with homework and pay attention.
We institute a 15 minute sit and rest time immediately after we come home from school. WE ALL just plop on the sofa and chill–sometimes we read or do nothing. But its a great way to make space for some big feelings to come out—and also to just be close.
Please share you best back to school ideas in the comments–I’d love to hear what helps you and your kids make a smooth transition from summer to school.
Need More Help With ADHD?
My all time most read post on breakfasts is HERE.
Read about our ADHD Story HERE.
How I get my ADHD Teen to sleep like a baby, HERE.
Thank you so much for this thoughtful and extensive article! As someone who’s worked in special education for the past three years, I know there are all sorts of parents of kiddos of all ages who can use this information and students who will benefit from it. My daughter (10th grade) has recently come to me saying that she’d like to be screened for ADHD after she did so poorly with online learning (after being a consistent B to A student all through her school career), and she wants to do better this year. Sometimes, it takes a change to identify a student who has different needs with learning. This is definitely going to help me be best prepared for the “blended” approach her school plans to take until I can get a formal identification of any special needs she has. Thanks again and know that your advice will be helping us for sure!
Hi Theresa! So insightful of your daughter! Distance learning is so challenging for us all. Let’s hope we are back to “normal” soon. Let me know what you find success with. Your daughter is lucky to have you!
I’m a mom of ADD boys too, and I LOVE this article. We are doing virtual school, and I forgot to make sure they have a clipboard for days they do their work on the sofa b/c the fact is that will happen. I pinned this on like four different boards. Promise I’m not crazy it’s just I know other moms can use this too.
HI April!!! Thanks so much for the feedback. I love to share ideas that will help busy moms like us. We’re all in this together. How is virtual learning going so far?