By Beth Levine
Oh, joy! Just when you’ve finally gotten the summer routine under control, it’s back-to-school time. If you are a parent with ADHD, no jury would convict you if you just hid under a bed somewhere for, oh, eight to ten months.
Never fear! You can do this with these tips to get the school year off on the right track.
• Start early
Don’t wait for school to start to begin figuring things out. “We think of school as beginning on the first actual day of classes,” says Melanie Bieber, a licensed professional counselor and director of Level Up Counseling & Consulting, a private mental health practice. “In reality, school starts one to three weeks before that first day. In order to have the doctor’s appointments completed, the items purchased and systems and routines ready, work has to be done before the school year starts.”
• Put on your own parachute first
The very first thing that parents must do is make sure that their own ADHD is well taken care of. Stay on your medication if you are on it; continue therapy of you are involved with it.
“Do everything you can to manage your ADHD symptoms,” says Terry Matlen, a Michigan-based psychotherapist who is also a parent with ADHD. “What can you do now to make it easier for you, so that you are capable of helping your child?”
If you child also has ADHD, check out some of our tips and recommendations for helping them get back to school.
• Ask yourself: What has worked in the past?
Don’t reinvent the wheel every year. “Reflect on what has worked and hasn’t worked in previous years,” says Bieber, who is also co-author of Aaron Daniel Henry Davis: Just Another Day at School, a resource book for children with ADHD and their parents. “Paying attention to your strengths, and thinking about what you did to be successful last year, can help continue those successes this year.”
• Get everyone’s sleep schedules back on track
Get everyone back to a normal sleep schedule — your kids and you. That may be hard since people with ADHD are notorious for being night owls. Start a few weeks ahead of school start. Each couple of days, roll bedtime back for everyone until you hit the sweet spot.
“Summertime usually means shortened sleep, but getting back into longer hours can really help parents access the executive functions that they’re going to need for all of the back to school transitions,” Bieber says.
• Reach out to your child’s teacher before school starts
Most staff are in school setting up in the weeks leading up to the first day. Make contact with the assigned teacher to see if there is anything you should know.
Matlen, who is the author of The Queen of Distraction, says you don’t have to disclose your diagnosis but you can say something like: “’I’m a fairly disorganized person, and I want to be on top of things when my child starts school. What would be the best way that we can communicate so you can help me be the best parent I can be? Would you be willing to email me when important papers are coming home or a project is coming up?'”
“It doesn’t always work because not every teacher will agree, but try at the start to communicate that you want to be a partner in your child’s education to make everyone’s lives easier and more productive,” Matlen says.
• Engage your partner
Sometimes it’s just too overwhelming for the parent with ADHD to manage it all.
“Appeal to your partner in trading off responsibilities,” Matlen says. “Such as if they handle the morning routine, you’ll deal with the nighttime routine, and so forth. If you don’t have a partner, reach out to a good friend, family member, fellow class parent, or sympathetic administrator, and see if they can help you keep track of forms, trip dates, assignments, etc.”
Are you a father with ADHD? Check out some tips especially for you.
• Set up a large erase board in your home
Put up a large dry erase board in a central area in your home. Create a grid on it, separated by date and child. Use a different color for each child. Enter in — or, if they are old enough, ask your child to enter — what needs to be handed in by when. And when extracurriculars are happening. “Any kind of visual cue is really helpful for people with ADHD,” says Matlen.
• Establish a central home base
Near the dry erase board, set up a landing space for all backpacks, lunch boxes, equipment and so forth. Give each child a large basket where they can toss all of their items the minute they get home. Set up another basket for all papers that need to be signed, which you can easily check in the evening.
• Use technology
Program your computer or mobile calendar to alert you when due dates are coming. Set several alarms for when you have to go pick up your kids at school. Text or email reminders to yourself. Or go old-school, and leave Post-It notes all over the house — kitchen, bathroom mirror, computer screen and anywhere else that might help.
• Streamline back-to-school shopping
Shop online as much as possible to reduce aggravation. Some schools’ websites have a list of back-to-school needs with links to online retailers. Some have even arranged that the deliveries go directly to the school.
• Prep what you can the night before
Since people with ADHD tend not to be great in the mornings, do what you can the night before school to streamline the morning chaos. Pack lunches, lay out clothes, make sure homework is in backpacks, and the like.“Most parents are trying to get out the door for work as well as get the kids off,” Matlen says. “It can be a very difficult scenario. Anything you can do to make less work in the morning is a plus.”
• Acknowledge your feelings
Many parents who have an ADHD diagnosis may have had a hard time in school — so this time of year can be really triggering. Bieber urges parents to journal, or talk with another adult about their thoughts and experiences.
“This can help you be more available to support your own children in having a positive experience,” Bieber says.Also, when you are stressed and worried, it’s much more difficult to access executive function and be productive.“By talking or journaling, we are reducing stress and creating space to focus on all of the organizational tasks that are so incredibly important for getting back to school,” she says.Most of all, be nice to yourself. No one gets it 100% right, all of the time. You and your family are all in this together, and together you will all muddle through the best you can. No one can ask for more.