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How to Support Your Child with ADHD during Distance Learning

Navigating learning for a child with ADHD is a tough job for parents but doing so without the structure and support of in-person learning can make this task seemingly impossible and frustrating for all. Here are some helpful tips:

Promote good sleep routine

  • Adequate, restful sleep is essential to your child's physical and mental health at any age.

  • Establish a consistent bedtime for school nights (Sunday through Thursday) and weekend (Friday, Saturday) with goal of 8-10 hours/night. Keep both bedtime and wake up time relatively consistent even on weekends (differ by 1-2 hours at most).

  • Turn off all screens at least 1 hour prior to bedtime.

  • Remove all screens/devices from the bedroom and charge in a communal area (ex. kitchen).

  • During the hour before bed, consider a warm bath/shower, quiet reading for pleasure (NOT homework), and listening to music to help unwind.

Create routines around the school day

  • Establish a consistent wake up time with a routine to get “ready” for the day (ex. washing, face, brushing teeth, getting dressed)

  • Aim for a healthy protein-rich breakfast even if small

  • Take advantage of the extra time that not having a morning commute to school allows by supporting more sleep (later wake up time especially for teenagers), cooking a hot breakfast together, or letting your child engage in a beloved activity such as listening to music, reading a comic book, working on a craft (but NOT screen time)

Set the stage

  • Find a good spot for your child to minimize distractions and if possible, where a parent can be near enough to support and redirect. If your unable to be present in the same room as your child, do check in periodically in an unobtrusive manner.

  • Avoid rooms with lots of toys or games that may tempt your child.

  • Discuss with your child the importance of not opening another window/browser during class (just as your child would not consider doing a different task during middle of a lesson if he's in the classroom). Set restrictions on their devices if needed.

  • Allow your child to stand or use a yoga ball to sit on during class.

Create reasonable expectations and positive rewards

  • Acknowledge that distance learning is VERY difficult. Now is NOT the time for perfectionism or focusing too much on mastering a challenging subject.

  • First focus on getting better at specific tasks (being on time, managing technology, asking for help when needed, managing distractions better).

  • Ask your child: What do you want to be better at by the end of this week?

  • Have a reward ready at the end of each school day (ex. a walk together, board game, after-school treat) to provide your child with a sense of success for even incremental adaptation and progress.

Build in breaks from the screen

  • If not already built in, proactively request from your child's teacher regular 10-15 minutes breaks after or between classes during which your child can have a snack, take a bathroom break, or get his/her wiggles out.

  • Schedule regular breaks during homework time and allow physical movement during that time. Keep breaks short (5-10 min) and gently but firmly redirect your child to his task once the timer goes off.

Ensure there is physical activity every day

  • Recess is usually a very important part of a child's school day, especially for those with ADHD. It's a means of releasing pent-up energy, taking a mental break, and re-centering.

  • Make physical activity part of your child's routine, breaks, and after school rewards.

  • Consider doing a workout together for 15-20 minutes before the start of school, during breaks, and/or after school.

Know your child

  • It's important that a child with ADHD have a non-academic outlet to feel success in and gain confidence from.

  • Cultivate your child's strength (ex. art, sports). Try to connect to virtual lessons with a live teacher, YouTube lessons, etc to continue to nurture those interests/strengths.

  • If your child is missing his/her teacher (even from the previous year), spend time connecting with that teacher by writing letters, emails, or connecting virtually.

  • Find ways to connect your child to his/her friends by non-screen means if possible - meeting outdoors for a playdate or hang out.

  • Please reach out to your pediatrician if you have concerns regarding your child's mood and anxiety as depression and anxiety disorder can both present with attention difficulties.

Consider starting or modifying your child's medication to improve focus

  • If your child is still significantly struggling with his/her learning in this environment despite the above interventions, it would be reasonable to speak with your child's doctor about the option of either starting (or if already taking medication, modifying the dose of) a medication to help him/her focus better and be less distracted.

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