Sarah was a pro at getting her daughter Alisa and son Luke ready for the school year. A month before school would begin, they’d start adjusting bedtimes and morning routines. As the first day of school drew closer, there might be a few changes they would have to get used to, such as a new teacher or a best friend assigned to another class, but it was easy for Alisa and Luke to take these things in stride.
It was more challenging for Sarah’s son William, however. After William was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Sarah and her husband Ben were relieved to understand why he struggled with things his siblings didn’t. Sarah read everything about ADHD she could find and sought advice from William’s pediatrician. With some trial and error, Sarah developed some routines and habits that helped relieve everyone’s stress in the family — not just at the start of the school year, but all year long.
1. Develop a healthy eating plan.
Like many kids with ADHD, William was concerned about the texture of his food. He was also of the “grab and go” school of eating, and Sarah wasn’t always happy about what he chose to eat. She put together a plan for lunch and snacks that incorporated a variety of his favorites that were healthy too, and made sure something was always available to him.
2. Create an easy-to-follow family calendar.
Developing a master family calendar is a great visual aid and organizational tool for any family. Sarah set up time to sit down with William every week to preview the next seven days. At first, William would bring items to Sarah to have her add; when he was able to add things on his own, he was proud and excited. “Isn’t our calendar cool?” Sarah heard him say to a friend.
3. Establish open communication with teachers.
Next, Sarah and William developed a school-to-home communication system with his teacher. They agreed on how verbal information would arrive at home, and how Sarah could receive a snapshot of William’s day: his positive and not-so-positive experiences, daily work completion, homework assignments. Sarah wanted to keep things calm and predictable, so she placed particular emphasis on how she would receive notice about changes to their routines, such as a shortened school day or substitute teacher.
4. Simplify tasks to make them feel less overwhelming.
Because children with ADHD often find multi-step directions overwhelming, Sarah broke down tasks into bite-sized pieces, making it easier for William to complete them. When he was young, she put together visual charts with pictures; he could draw a line through each picture as he completed the task, and bring it to her when it was completed or even after every step. As he got older, a written checklist worked much the same way.
5. Create a designated place for everything of importance.
Having a special place for William’s things also made life easier. His backpack belonged on a peg on his bedroom door (William helped paint the peg red, his favorite color). Ongoing projects were on the desk in his room. Library books were stacked on a shelf by the back door. Permission slips were pinned to a bulletin board in the kitchen.
6. Adhere to a bedtime routine that works for your child.
A bedtime routine helped set William up for success. Each night, Sarah watched him organize his backpack for the next day (where occasionally, they discovered some important information on papers he brought home). While Sarah sometimes had to bite her tongue, she let William take the lead. She sat with William while he picked out the next day’s clothes, making only an occasional suggestion about gloves or a coat.
“It’s great to have that time together,” Sarah told her husband Ben one day. “If I’m quiet and just listen, sometimes William will talk about things without me having to bring them up, because he’s relaxed and comfortable. Other times he doesn’t have much to say, and that’s okay, too.”
“It just feels like a special time,” she continued, “and that’s great, because William is a special kid. All of our kids are special – just the way they are.”