Back to School: Tips and Strategies for Children and Teens with ADHD

Ah, the season of fresh notebooks, new pencils, and the promise of a structured daily schedule – back to school is upon us! And while many parents look forward to this season with a mix of excitement and relief, for those of us with children who have ADHD, the return to the classroom often brings a unique set of challenges and anxieties.

The ADHD-School Dynamic

Navigating a traditional school environment that puts pressure on executive functioning, can be a minefield for a child with ADHD. For a child with ADHD, standard school expectations – like sitting still, paying attention, and following multi-step directions – become monumental tasks. Throw in the expectation of timely homework completion and the sensory overwhelm of existing in a busy classroom and you are often navigating anxiety, overwhelm, and behavioural challenges.

Back to school and ADHD

Tackling the Homework Beast

We’ve all been there – battling with our child or teen over homework assignments that end up taking three times as long as they should. This is a reality many of us grapple with. I have a couple of strategies below, but I also recommend that parents set up a homework plan with teachers. Homework is never as important as the parent/child relationship. If homework assignments are straining yours, start with a conversation with your child’s teacher. Reducing the quantity of questions and the number of homework assignments can be an easy adaptation for a teacher to provide.

Here are some strategies to try:

Timed Work Blocks: Use a timer to set short work blocks, followed by a short break. This system aligns well with the ADHD brain, which responds well to immediate rewards. My favourite timer is the “Time Timer”

Back to school and ADHD

Get Comfy: Learning doesn’t have to occur at a table or desk. If you watch your child when they are doing preferred focus activities like reading, Lego, or drawing, they probably move around and find all kinds of interesting positions and spots to sit, lie, lounge in. The same goes for homework, there is no rule that it has to happen at the table. Try to reduce distractions, but let your child nest where they can focus best.

Add a White Board: White boards are fun. They are also great for learning because they keep attention on one focused thing at a time and they have us writing in a larger way supporting our visual and kinaesthetic learners. I like them for math practice, spelling practice, and for any other problem solving.

Body Double: Body doubling is a strategy where individuals with ADHD work on tasks alongside someone else. The key is that it doesn’t have to be the same task. As a parent, try sitting alongside your child and work on your own to-do list. Try paying bills, meal planning, working on work projects in the same space as your child.

School Communication: It’s a Two-Way Street

Regular communication with teachers can be a game-changer. Gone are the days when you only hear from the school when something goes wrong. Proactive communication means you’ll get a more holistic view of how your child is doing, socially and academically. The goal isn’t just to avoid problems; it’s to identify opportunities for support and growth.

To start the communication ball rolling, I recommend an introductory letter/email or meeting to start the conversation. I also recommend creating a communication plan early on. This plan can include what form of communication you will use, frequency of conversations, and the best time of day to connect. The goal is to find a plan that feels comfy for both you the parent and your child’s teacher.

Back to school and ADHD

Here is my go-to list of what to share with your child’s new teacher:

  • Strengths and interests
  • Academic struggles
  • Behavioural struggles
  • Previous Learning Plans and IEPs
  • Most successful supports/adaptations
  • That you are excited to work with them this year!

Tailoring the Tools: ADHD-Specific School Supplies

As you prepare for back-to-school shopping, remember that not all supplies are created equal. For instance I recommend:

Organizational Systems: Pre-divided folders and binders can help keep track of multiple subjects and tasks. The physical separation can help mimic the ‘mental drawers’ that may not come naturally to your child. Think about ease of use.

Meeting Preferences: Children and Teens with ADHD can have pretty specific preferences when it comes to stationary and tools. Often this is related to sensory processing. I recommend shopping with your child or getting a very detailed list from them. Pens are an example that adults with ADHD are often very passionate about, how it feels in the hand, how it writes, the feeling as it moves across the paper. Allow your child to choose the tools that they are excited to use.

Reinforce Routine but Allow for Spontaneity

Having a routine can bring comfort and predictability, especially for a child who struggles with executive function. However, rigidity can backfire. It’s key to allow space for spontaneity and choice, which can serve as “micro-rewards” to keep the interest and energy levels up. I recommend rhythms that flow and visuals to support them.

Back to school and ADHD

Taking Care of the Caretakers

Finally, let’s talk about us, the parents. Managing ADHD in the school setting can feel like a full-time job. Don’t underestimate the value of self-care. Believe me, the better you feel, the better equipped you’ll be to support your child.

In Conclusion: It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint

Back-to-school for children with ADHD requires a different playbook, one that involves lots of teamwork and flexibility. This isn’t a sprint; it’s a marathon. And we’re in it for the long haul, armed with strategies, tools, and the wisdom that comes from lived experience.

For more resources on supporting your child with ADHD, you can check out my Instagram @Behaviourcoach. Or sign up to hear about my upcoming parenting group program:

Back to school and ADHD

This is a 6-week program for parents of children and teens with ADHD.

We will meet on a weekday evening for 60-90 minutes 6 times in a small group. These are truly small groups, I keep the sizes very limited! The goal is to create community with other parents navigating a similar road and learning together. Some of the topics we will be covering include:

  • Understanding ADHD and Brain Basics
  • Supporting School
  • Creating Calm at Home
  • Escalations and Meltdowns
  • Sensory Sensitivity and ADHD
  • Overwhelm, Anxiety, and Rejection Sensitivity
  • Parenting in the Digital Age – Screen Time and ADHD

If you are interested in joining the waitlist for this fall’s program sign up here: