School is stressful for kids and parents alike, especially when our kids are complex kids with ADHD, Anxiety, Learning Disabilities, or any combination of neurodivergence. Here are a few tips we’ve given over the years to our parents of complex kids for school success with less stress.
Don’t Talk with Kids about School
It's easy to fall into the habit of making every conversation with your child about “business.” There are so many things to keep track of, conversations with teachers, assignments, and due dates. If you pay attention, you can see how all-consuming it can be to talk about the details of managing your child's life with ADHD.
My tip – spend one afternoon (or even one hour) a week and talk about something else – the new song that somebody released, the friend that has a new boyfriend, the neighbor with a new car. Connect with your child on some other level. It will model for them how to create and sustain lasting relationships, ones that aren't simply about the business of life.
Teach Them to Fly!
Being a parent of an emerging teen is like flying a kite. It's a constant dance of testing and trying independence, along with competing wills and priorities. The wind, the string, the pulling, the letting go. Our kids think they know what's best. They want to be independent, but sometimes it doesn't quite work the way they think it will, and they plummet.
This week, my oldest starts high school. We are again in the midst of that dance.
The coaching tip: As your children get older, start giving the rope a little more slack. When facing your child's desire for more independence, it can be easy to force them to do things your way. But when you give them some rope so that they can fly on their own, you allow room for them to make mistakes and find their own way. Your goal is to teach them to fly – and be ready with a strong arm (and maybe a net) to catch them if they fall.
Stop Telling Your Child with ADHD to “Be Still”
If your child struggles with hyperactivity, movement is part of what helps to organize the brain. So when your kids stops moving, sometimes it makes it hard for them to keep thinking.
To manage this, whenever possible, allow standing or movement when it is generally expected that ADHD kids sit still or be seated. Generally speaking, if you take the pressure off of your ADHD child to “sit still” all the time, your child's behavior will start to improve, and you'll appreciate how simple it can be to enjoy being with your child again.
Perhaps your child can stand at the dinner table or sit in a swivel chair. Find a bouncy ball to sit on (a large exercise ball works great) during homework time, or allow your child to lie down and bounce their foot off the edge of a couch (or table – Elaine's kid loves to do homework lying on the dining room table.)
This may seem odd at first, and there are certainly some places where you cannot make that accommodation. In those instances, handheld fidgets can be enormously helpful.
Of course, there are times that you may need to still a bouncing knee that is distracting an important family conversation, but you can do that more easily, and without reaction from your child, when you are not constantly trying to harness the energy of a racehorse.
Have Patience with the Process
Creating change can be like taking a slow-boat to China – it doesn't happen overnight. The challenge is when we want to make changes to improve our children's lives, we want to see results immediately!
Sometimes We Have Instant Gratification
Of course, there are times when we see amazing growth and success right away. Maybe it's from a diet change or a different teacher, a few coaching calls or a new medication. Sometimes it's stunning how quickly things can change. I'm always amazed at what a difference I see in my private clients after just their first “Discovery” session with me. The awareness and understanding they get can be nothing short of transformational.
Most Times, It's Just Not The Case
But, on the whole, this whole raising-kids-and-managing-ADHD-by-conscious-parenting-thing is not a quick fix. Change takes time. And when we accept that – when we train ourselves to have patience with the process and allow our kids to learn step by step – we will be calmer, more confident parents. The irony, of course, is that calm and confident parenting will more than likely speed up the process of change!
Using Rewards with an Anxious Child
The Issue With Rewards
How often do we set up rewards for our kids, only to be disappointed that they haven't reached for them or that they're not really interested in working for them?
Here's one possibility: they may not be reaching or working for rewards because they are in some way scared, terrified, afraid of failure, or even afraid of their own success. (Yes, fear of success is very real! “If I do that well, then Mom will expect more from me!”)
The Struggle Is Real
A lot of our kids struggle with anxiety – whether it's a co-existing diagnosis or the resulting frustration from the challenges of managing their ADHD. When anxiety rears its ugly head, it's extra hard to get ANYTHING done!
Get On The Same Page
So when you're setting up a reward system, start by getting clear on what you are rewarding. Is it a specific outcome? Or is it possibly just a reward for trying something, regardless of the results?
And don't forget to include your child in the equation. Has he bought into the goal you've set? Are you on the same page with each other? Is there something else getting in the way, like some anxiety or confusion?
Rewards work great for many of our kids when they make as much sense to our kids as they do to us!
Let Someone Else Support Your Child
Sometimes, the hardest thing for a parent is to step aside and allow someone else to be there for their child. Whether it's a skinned knee, an emotional upset, or a classic life transition, you can't always be there for every event when they need support – and you shouldn't be, either.
As much as you think you want to be the one they turn to, it actually empowers your child to learn to rely on other people. Part of the skill is in recognizing when they need help, and part of it is in learning to ask for it. We, parents, tend to swoop in before it's clear that our child really needs help at all!
So letting others support your child through life's challenges actually fosters independence and self-reliance.
This is true when co-parenting, as well. We moms tend to do too much and make it hard for our kids' dads to do enough. Sometimes, we need to step back and give Dad a chance to be the parent their child needs the most. It's difficult. It can require a lot of sitting on your hands. But it's a gift to the entire family.
How to Get to School on Time (For Kids Who Talk Incessantly)
Miss Manners might have a bone to pick with me on this one, but I figured out one piece of the puzzle when it came to helping my elementary/pre-teen son get out the door and get to school – on time, and I've got to share it with you.
Not The Most Traditional Advice
Admittedly, it was an unconventional solution. But sometimes those work best for our kids.
So here's my true confession: I encouraged him to eat with his mouth open.
Okay, I know it's controversial, and some of you may be horrified. But go with me here.
One characteristic of ADHD – a trait that can wear parents out faster than lightning – is incessant talking. Some kids are known for their constant chatter, and they think out-loud through verbal processing. Whether they are telling stories or narrating their activities, their motor mouths are never idle. In his less generous moments, my husband privately referred to this lovely trait as “verbal diarrhea.”
Whatever you call it, many kids with ADHD are chatter-boxes. And if your child is one of these loquacious lads or ladies, you know how maddening it can be.
Even worse, it can slow everything down!
In the mornings, things tend to run on tight time frames, and with talkative kids, there may not be enough time for breakfast when their mouths are running full steam ahead.
So when our kid was happily (thankfully) chattering away, and we wanted to keep things moving, we finally learned to give him a simple direction: Eat with your mouth open.
Stay With Me...
I know, I know, it's not exactly teaching the best etiquette (though I'm willing to bet that Miss Manners never raised a child with ADHD). And in our defense, we were clear with our son about why we were making the suggestion and limited it to breakfast only. I mean, desperate times call for desperate measures, right? That early morning witching hours before school definitely qualify as desperate times!
But here's my promise. If you communicate your expectations clearly – that is, make allowances for the mornings that are clearly exceptions to the rule – you can actually encourage your child to chew while talking in order to keep things moving toward the bus stop or the car... and not end up with a Cretan who can't close his mouth when eating with grandparents or potential bosses!
Besides, you're finally giving a direction your kids actually want to follow. After all, how many twelve-year-old boys would be unhappy or unwilling to follow the direction to talk while eating, even if the goal is to get to school on time? Who knows, the reverse psychology of it may have long-lasting benefits!
Healthy Living for School Success
“Vitamin M” How Exercising the Body Boosts the Brain
So it's time to get some schoolwork done. Maybe you've taken a break after a long day. Or maybe it's the weekend, and you want to get that project out of the way.
Any time that's schoolwork time (or serious focus time), you can kick-start your child's brain with what Kelly Dorfman calls Vitamin M – some good old-fashioned physical activity!
To get your child's brain in gear for homework, think in terms of moving large muscle groups. Playing outside (when running is involved), carrying in heavy groceries, doing wall push-ups, a few rounds on the chin-up bar, or even wheelbarrowing your child around the house are all ways to get the brain ready for work.
You might want to try it yourself. A little brawn can actually help you, too!
Eat (Protein For) Breakfast
About 31 million of us skip breakfast – and 31 million of us need to break this habit! Mornings are hectic, and time is a luxury that is scarce, especially in ADHD families. But Mom was right: breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Turns out science agrees. The brain needs energy to operate effectively. If you're not a “morning person,” consider fueling appropriately and see what changes for you! Your body needs those nutrients, too: if you go 16 hours (say from 8PM until lunch) without food, you go into starvation mode. Your metabolism shifts; you burn fewer calories and start to store fat at a higher rate. Breakfast is the only meal you should eat, even if you're not hungry. Your body – and mind – will thank you. More than likely, so will your family. Much like our kids, hungry parents tend to be grumpy parents!
Eat Little Bits of Protein, More Often
Protein is an essential building block of health. There are at least two reasons why eating protein is an effective self-care tip:
- It builds muscle. As a parent, you need all the strength you can get! It's like the steel reinforcements in a building; you want to make sure your support structure is secure.
- It's a long-lasting energy source. A piece of fruit may keep you going for an hour. A serving of protein can power your body, and mind, for 3-4 hours.
Average diets contain enough – and, sometimes, more than enough – protein. The trick is not to eat more of it, but to eat it more often. Try starting your day with protein and eating small amounts (3 ounces) every few hours. You don't need to be a carnivore either: nuts, eggs, legumes, quinoa, dairy, and leafy greens are all great sources. Share this tip – and, more importantly, this food – with your kids!
School Success with Less Stress – for Complex Kids and You
For more school success tips, see our Overcome School Challenges category and our articles on Communication with Teachers and Homework Advice: