Between keeping track of homework, remembering the sports kit and getting signed forms back to teacher, staying organized for school is one of the biggest challenges kids with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) face. We asked a parent and an ADHD expert to share their tips for the best school year yet.
1. Get forms home from school—and back again “We place a zipper bag in our son’s backpack for correspondence between us and the teacher,” says Shawn Bamford, the father of seven-year-old Fynn. “He puts it on the kitchen table when he gets home, and it goes right back in the backpack once notes are signed.” In the morning, Fynn hands the bag back to his teacher, who knows to prompt him if he forgets.
2. Embrace the agenda The agenda is crucial for keeping on top of tasks, but many kids with ADHD find it boring to use. Have your child decorate their agenda with stickers, favourite movie or song quotes or gel- and glitter-pen drawings to make it more fun. If it feels personal to them, it will be more motivating to fill out and refer to—and less likely to be forgotten or lost—explains Jennifer Lewy, Ph.D., a licensed clinical child and family psychologist, based in Montreal.
3. Get a grip on gear From indoor shoes and sports gear to seasonal items like baseball caps and sunscreen, mittens and scarves, kids have to ferry so many things to school and back. Labelling is a given, but you also need to put extra systems in place for kids with ADHD. “Organize uniforms and gym equipment the night before,” says Lewy. “And keep things in the same location—ideally near the door—so that your kid sees them and remembers to take them.” When you’re not around to remind your kid, they need to have strategies to prevent things from getting lost or left behind. “We showed Fynn how and why we use clips to keep his mittens attached to his jacket,” says Bamford. If gear is being lost at an alarming rate, don't automatically buy expensive replacements. While it's not fair to punish kids with ADHD for their forgetfulness, you can use natural consequences to reinforce positive discipline, for example replace lost brand-new sneakers with a sibling's pass-me-downs.
4. Involve your kid in lunch. Many kids with ADHD are easily distracted in the school dining hall, where it’s noisy and hanging out with friends and classmates can feel like the top priority. Parents often report that the lunchbox gets left behind, or else it comes home with the contents untouched. “Create a routine together around packing lunch, and have your kid choose their snacks and prepare parts of the main dish, so they’re highly motivated to eat when the time comes,” says Bamford. “I also like to slip a little note of encouragement in the box, with a reminder to put the lunchbox back in their backpack when lunch is done.”
5. Task your kid with hunting down lost property If your kid comes home without something, make it their job to check the Lost and Found box, recommends Lewy. “This will help reinforce in them the importance of keeping track and taking responsibility for their belongings rather than falling back on Mom or Dad.”
6. Celebrate small victories Positive parenting is essential for kids with ADHD—they tend to receive a lot of negative feedback out in the world, particularly at school, and it can take a toll on their self-esteem. Ask questions like "How did that make you feel?" when your kid uses organization strategies successfully. “It's important to encourage even small things like bringing back a sweater,” says Lewy.