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Back-to-school Success for Your Child with ADHD

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Dr. Meg Meeker

The back-to-school transition is hard on every child, but especially for a child who has been diagnosed with ADHD. If he has been able to spend his summer playing with his friends, spending time outdoors or enjoying a relaxed schedule at home, a sudden shift into a rigid school day can feel particularly trying, for him and his parents.

Because I’m a pediatrician, I talk about ADHD often. ADHD diagnoses have risen from six percent to 10 percent among children in the U.S. in the last two decades. This could be because physicians know more about the disorder and can identify it better in children, or it could be due to over-diagnosis. Regardless, if you have a child with ADHD, know that you are not alone. This is one of the most common disorders we’re seeing in children today.

You and many other parents in the U.S. are probably wondering what you can do to make this year’s school transition easier for your child, and what you can do to ensure you set her up for a successful year. Here are a few tips that apply year-round but especially in this season:

Order her external world.

Something I try to explain to parents is that the brain of a child with ADHD is like a Porsche engine stuck inside a Volkswagen bug. Her body is going at one pace but internally she has a motor that’s running a million miles an hour.

Your job, as her engine continues to rev, is to calm her outer world. Make sure your child has a rhythm to her day: mealtime, bedtime, playtime, etc. Her mind is chaos; don’t let her outer world be chaos too.

As her surroundings settle and calm, this will help her inner world calm as well. Make sure to include downtime as a part of that rhythm—a time when she doesn’t have to actively do anything. Her mind is already racing, so she doesn’t need her day to be jam-packed with activities.

Limit screen time.

Kids have auditory and visual messages coming at them 24/7. Social media, YouTube, video games—technology makes this impossible to escape. When you have a brain that’s on overdrive, that stimulation makes the hyperactivity even worse.

Wean down YouTube, social media use, loud music and video games for your child. Try listening to an audiobook or something that is soothing and calming. Your child doesn’t need any more distractions than he already has.

Get him moving.

One of the worst things that can happen for a boy in school with ADHD is having to stay in from recess as a punishment for acting up too much in class. He’s got to get outside and play because his engine is saying Go! Go! Go! The worst thing you could tell a child with ADHD is to sit down and color in the lines.

Make sure your child has playtime outside when he gets home so he can run out all of that extra energy, even if that means altering your normal routines to make sure your child has adequate time to run and play.

An ADHD diagnosis does not mean your child has to struggle at school. By making a few small changes at home, you can make this transition much easier on your child, and on you.

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