Back to School: Managing ADHD in School and at Home

By Cassie Finegan, MFT Intern

Learning tips for managing ADHD in school and at home can help set your child up for a successful school year.

Tips for Managing ADHD in School and at Home

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, also referred to as ADHD, is a condition in which individuals often struggle with persistent patterns of inattention and impulsivity that can interfere with their daily functioning. Kids and teens that struggle with ADHD often work with a therapist and take medication to manage their symptoms. However, parents can help with managing ADHD in school and at home by learning a few tips and tricks.

Below is a brief overview of the common symptoms kids and teens with ADHD face.

Common symptoms of ADHD for kids and teens often include:

  • Struggling to follow through on instructions, failing to finish schoolwork, chores, and other tasks
  • Fidgeting and trouble sitting in their seat at school for prolonged periods of time
  • Trouble staying organized
  • Losing things necessary for tasks and activities such as school materials, pencils, books, glasses, paperwork, etc.
  • Overall trouble holding attention in play activities
  • Talking excessively and interrupting others’ conversations
  • Often blurting out the answer to questions before the questions have been completed

The symptoms of ADHD are experienced differently by all individuals, yet there are practices that parents can put in place for their kid and/or teens to help manage these symptoms.

Ways to Support Both Children and Teens

In general, giving hands-on help with kids and teens can be an important tool to both model desired behaviors and set expectations for how tasks get completed. For example, if your kid or teen struggles with organization skills and has a messy room, rather than solely giving verbal directions to your kid, they may best benefit from collaborative help such that you show them how to complete that task so they can do it again in the future. Helping to walk through the task at hand can provide visual cues for task completion and to reinforce behavioral expectations.

Giving hands-on help with organization patterns can also look like making a monthly or weekly calendar with your child/teen. This can help them understand what each daily routine should look like, what time of the day is dedicated to chores and homework, when they may have other appointments or extracurricular activities, when assignments and exams take place in school, etc.

Using organizational tools such as planners and calendars can help with managing ADHD in school and at home.

Limiting Distractions and Maintaining Focus

In order to limit distractions at school, kids/teens can benefit from sitting toward the front of the classroom. Inquiring about opportunities for your child to take approved activity breaks throughout the day and allow for additional movement time can aid in managing energy levels and focus. Additionally, children and teens with ADHD can be granted access to smaller class sizes and/or separate spaces to take exams throughout the day.

Homework time can be an especially challenging time for kids and teens as it often involves unsupervised time requiring the child to stay focused on completing various tasks one at time. Some children with ADHD work best with mild background noises such as music or white noise in order to consciously choose which stimuli to focus on. Others may benefit from turning off any TV, music, or outside noises, and having a clean workspace to limit other available distractions.

Testing out various changes to the physical environment of the space for your child to gauge what works best for them can provide an improved environment for focus and efficiency. Building rest breaks into their designated homework time and/or chore time can also help manage energy levels and maintain focus, especially when rest breaks can include some form of physical activity.

Managing ADHD in School: Supporting Young Children

With ADHD, it’s best to put organizational tasks and decision-making processes in place as soon as possible to encourage routine for children. Therefore, involving children in making family rules together about behavioral practices can support the child’s understanding and acceptance of their expectations at home and in school.

Additionally, setting consistent and predictable daily routines for things such as bedtime, chores, homework time, etc. can help. A daily calendar with visual cues may help with staying focused during those tasks and follow their expected daily routine. Within these daily routines, encouraging children to put their clothes, bookbags, homework, and toys back in the same places every day can enhance their organizational skills, serve to limit visual distractions, and continue to set the expectations for the organization both at home and in school.

Teens with ADHD can benefit from listening to music or white noise on their phone, or by placing phones on Do Not Disturb while working.

Supporting Teenagers with ADHD

When your teen/adolescent enters high school, academic demands and responsibilities tend to increase while supervision and guidance often decrease. As students’ workload and difficulty increase, students with ADHD may benefit from specific training in note-taking during class, studying skills, and other time management practices.

While both children and teenagers may have access to cell phones, teenagers may benefit most from the resources their phones can offer them in terms of organization. For example, setting reminders on one’s phone for tasks that need to be completed, when and where their classes are, or reminders to bring certain materials with them to school and back home may be useful.

While limiting distractions overall can be helpful for both teens and children, the social life of teens is often more rich and abundant when they enter high school. Turning their phone off or placing it on ‘Do Not Disturb’ can help to limit distractions while doing homework.

As teenagers’ social lives expand, getting your teen engaged in various extracurricular activities can be an outlet for excess energy. It also offers a space to work on focused attention with something they enjoy, rather than just what is expected of them at home and in school. This can also cultivate their confidence and self-esteem through their adolescent and teenage years.

While children and teenagers may be more prone to struggle academically, behaviorally, and socially, there are many practices that families can put in place to improve overall functioning. Having a diagnosis of ADHD is nothing to be ashamed of, and working with school faculty and a therapist can be greatly beneficial.

Helpful Resources for Additional Information:

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