Being the parent of a student with ADD or ADHD comes with a number of challenges. However, as a parent, if you can learn to effectively advocate for your child, it can make a big difference in both their day-to-day school experience and their overall experience and outcome in the educational system.
When teachers understand the struggle of a student with ADHD, they can better help that student in the classroom. (By the way, the same concepts would apply if you happen to be an older student with ADHD yourself.)
Below are 7 things you can and should do to establish a more effective relationship with your child’s teacher and achieve the best management of your child’s ADHD.
1. Get Your Child’s Teacher on Your Team!
Your child’s teacher is an expert in educating but you are an expert in your child! As a parent, you are intimately acquainted with distinct information about your child’s specific symptoms, the types of responses they have to stressful situations, the types of behaviors they engage in struggling, the types of positive reinforcement they really respond to, what you’ve been working on lately, and so much more. If you partner with your child’s teacher, and share this specific information, your child’s teacher will be several steps ahead of the game in understanding how to teach your child more effectively. And, you will have opened the lines of communication for an effective and productive partnership with your child’s teacher.
After all, the work that’s done at home over the years should be built upon at school!
It is also important that your child’s teacher feels comfortable contacting you with information as well. For example, medication works, and it’s an important part of the treatment for ADHD, but sometimes medicines and/or dosages need to be adjusted. Your child’s teacher can be a huge “front-line” help if they notice consistent behavioral changes. It is essential to make sure your child’s teacher feels comfortable contacting you! This type of information can be invaluable.
2) ADHD Is Real And You Can Help The Teacher Understand How to Help.
ADHD is a medical condition. At this point, most educators are aware of this fact, but this can be an important starting place for a discussion. Your child is not crazy, or lazy, or bad, or stupid. They have what might be conceived of as a brain that is “wired differently” than some other children.
When a patient struggles with ADHD, the part of the brain that manages executive functioning is impaired to various degrees. Executive functioning refers to the (age-appropriate) skills associated with regulation, control, planning, and execution. Students who have ADHD may struggle with the ability to handle frustration, stay on task, follow multi-step directions, self-monitor, and control their emotional responses. Notably, these symptoms are less responsive to medication and will often need the help of teaching, learning, and reinforcement.
When a patient struggles with ADHD, the part of the brain that manages executive functioning is impaired to various degrees. Executive functioning refers to the (age-appropriate) skills associated with regulation, control, planning and execution. Students who have ADHD may struggle with the ability to handle frustration, stay on task, follow multi-step directions, self-monitor, and control their emotional responses. Notably, these symptoms are less responsive to medication and will often need the help of teaching, learning, and reinforcement.
Most teachers have access to basic resources related to teaching students who struggle with ADHD. What they don’t have, though, are the resources YOUR family found helpful (culled from the enormous list of books, videos, pamphlets, and podcasts that you found to be particularly helpful in understanding your child). If you found a particular resource helpful in understanding your child’s ADHD or in working with your child, pass it on! As no two children are exactly alike, no two children manifest an illness exactly alike. Share these resources with your child’s teacher and they’ll have a leg up on understanding how to work with your child in particular.
Additionally, analogies can help! Some people think of this aspect of ADHD like having a “sports car for a brain with bicycle brakes” . Alternatively, a parent may describe their child as (at times) having “great musicians playing instruments” in their mind, but that sometimes the conductor “gets off track” and can’t get everyone in time to produce beautiful music. Particularly, when people are frustrated (and this may happen to you sometimes too!) they may benefit from putting themselves in your child’s shoes for a moment.
3) “Acting Out” Is Not Always What It Seems
Students who struggle with ADHD may be labeled as “bad” kids. Or their behavior may be lumped together under the (incorrect) title of “misbehaving”. Usually, students with ADHD, like all kids, engage in behavior for a reason. It’s important when any particular behavior occurs to take careful notes on what exactly the behavior is. It’s also valuable to note if there are times or situations when it seems to improve and if there are times or situations when it seems to get worse. It’s important for you and your child’s teacher to master describing your child’s behavior in all of these dimensions! And then, compare notes!
For students with ADHD, controlling behavior is legitimately hard. Ask the teacher to imagine hearing 5 radio stations playing at the same time. It would be hard to focus, right? Then, imagine being asked to do one more thing. In that situation, someone might feel really overwhelmed, or frustrated. They might “lash out” or “act out” around times when they are feeling overwhelmed, frustrated,or otherwise struggling with their symptoms.
Additionally, acting out can sometimes be a way for a child to hide the embarrassment of needing help, or to hide the fact that the child is feeling “lost” and inadequate.
It is important for your child’s teacher to understand these concepts.
Children with ADHD need help with organization. They often lose papers, leave their homework at home, or simply forget to do an assignment. If this is happening, help your child’s teacher understand that your child really does want to do well and really does want to be more organized. It’s simply hard.
So, work together!. At younger ages, it’s appropriate to organize for them, and split this task between parent and teacher. At older ages, you will begin to introduce making your child responsible for how they organize for themselves, as this will remain a vital strategy going forward. In fact, learning organizational strategies throughout school will remain a key to your child’s future success in managing their illness throughout life.
5) Directions Must be Clear & Consistent
Because they struggle with executive functioning and focus, children with ADHD often need help following directions. This is especially true when it comes to multi-step directions. For that reason, it’s very helpful if your child’s teacher is willing to break complex instructions into small parts. By being as clear and precise as possible, it will help everyone involved. Later, your child will model the technique of breaking down multi-step directions themselves!
Additionally, making classroom expectations, rules, and schedules as clear as possible will also be a major help. Parents should make an effort to learn these at the beginning of the term, so they can help reinforce them and avoid confusion at home.
Consider scheduling a regular meeting or check-in with your child’s teacher once every other week, or once a month, to be sure that you, as a parent, are up to date with the classroom assignments, rules, schedules, and expectations as they change over the semester.
6) Movement Is Important For Children With ADHD
Children with ADHD benefit from exercise! So, if the teacher can provide regular and/or frequent breaks your child will have the chance to get the “wiggles” out so to speak. If that’s not possible, allowing kids the chance to stand or move a bit during class can be extremely beneficial.
7) Positive Reinforcement Works. Punishment Doesn’t.
Your child’s teacher will find that encouraging, rewarding, and praising your child (especially immediately after a positive accomplishment) will bring about far greater progress than punishment. Students with ADHD may already feel discouraged in school. If they don’t, we certainly don’t want to cause them to feel discouraged! Punishing or embarrassing students is ineffective and causes children to feel negatively about themselves and/or school. Neither of those responses is what we’re looking for!
Taking away recess or gym class is the worst thing a teacher can do. Students with ADHD need to move! They need to blow off steam. Preventing that as part of a punishment will nearly always make the situation worse.
We’re hopeful you have found a few tips you can apply in your own situation! If you would like more information about ADHD, parenting a child with ADHD, working with your child’s school, or managing ADHD as older student, contact our office at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you feel that you or your child could use additional help, please don’t hesitate to contact our office at 917-609-4990 to arrange a consultation. We would be delighted to