Teachers, coaches, and parents can help kids with ADHD (and themselves!) by accentuating the positive.
For children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), restlessness and inattention can make school, home, and community life challenging.
Tasks or behaviors such as organizing binders or completing assignments may not come naturally to kids with ADHD.
If you, as a teacher, coach, or parent, think a child in your care has ADHD, you can refer or take the child to talk with a medical professional. Before giving an ADHD diagnosis, they’ll rule out other causes and evaluate the type and severity of symptoms.
Treatment for ADHD often includes medication. Behavioral interventions at school, in sports, and at home are also recommended.
Research suggests that when caring adults meet the child where they are — beyond the ADHD symptoms — that child will more likely stay engaged with learning.
A 2019 research review suggested students with ADHD often feel disconnected from their teachers and vice versa. Less emotional closeness leads to decreased student buy-in and more teacher-student conflicts.
Ways to develop positive relationships include:
- positive communication
- clear expectations
- accommodations, rewards, and consequences, not punishments
Positive teacher-student relationships can mitigate the risks of ADHD. For coaches and parents too, focusing on strengths and goals rather than symptoms helps build rapport and can minimize frustration.
Immaturity, anxiety, or trauma can result in distraction and restlessness that mirror ADHD and present similar challenges for the kids and adults.
As a parent, teacher, or coach — while you can’t diagnose ADHD — being alert to its potential presence can aid positive interactions.
Common symptoms in children
- talking a lot
- hyperfocusing on “interesting” activities
- moving constantly
- acting impulsively
- attending to random stimuli
In particular, girls with ADHD sometimes hide their symptoms or manifest them quietly (as in daydreaming rather than constant movement). This can lead to anxiety or perfectionism if they feel that they never quite measure up.
The American Academy of Pediatrics designates three primary types of ADHD, based on predominant symptoms.
Children with this type of ADHD may appear not to be listening. Adults may think they don’t really care about school or sports. Challenges may include:
- missing instructions
- not completing homework
- not seeming to catch the play or strategy from a coach or team captain
- not following rules of lunchrooms, sports games, and more
Symptoms of hyperactivity may involve doing disruptive things, such as:
- getting up from a seat at inopportune moments
- bursting out with emotions
- seeming to “go rogue” from a team’s designated play(s) or strategy during a game
- risky climbing or jumping
Volley between overstimulation and boredom
Many children with ADHD show combined symptoms of hyperactivity and inattention. Challenging symptoms of this type include the child’s:
- hyperfocusing on “interesting” tasks
- excessively moving or daydreaming during “boring” tasks
- drifting or acting out during transitions
1. In class: Addressing symptoms with planning
In a small 2021 study, 90 children with ADHD ages 6 to 12 and several teachers were assigned to three groups, including a waitlist.
Therapists working with an “antecedent group” helped teachers identify what might trigger challenging behavior in their students. They developed techniques to change the stimuli prior to the behavior.
For example, a teacher wanted the student to work independently for 5 minutes on an assignment without assistance, but expected inattention to interfere. The antecedent-based intervention involved:
- breaking down instructions to the child individually
- providing the child with a step-by-step assignment plan with pictures
- giving the child a visual timer
In a “consequent-based group,” teachers were taught interventions to deploy after an undesirable behavior occurred. Consequences of not meeting an expectation to work independently involved:
- praising partial goal fulfillment such as a raised hand
- praising another child in front of the class for working quietly on task
- ignoring unexpected behaviors such as calling out
The takeaway? Planning helps. Both antecedent and consequent interventions reduced disruptive behaviors even after 3 months.
Louisa Brandeis Popkin, a special education administrator for Arlington Massachusetts Public Schools believes techniques benefiting kids with ADHD benefit the whole class. These include:
- implementing brief movement breaks (GoNoodle is a popular website for movement activities)
- collaborating with students to develop a plan that works for them
- trying “tempation bundling” — completing a less preferred activity before a highly desirable activity
A note on IEP/504 plans
The difference between an Individual Education Plan (IEP) and a 504 plan is the amount of accommodation your child might need for success in school.
It’s important to weigh the pros and cons of this decision for your child. These programs tend to stay on a child’s record as they move from school to school.
You can learn more about these plans and their differences here.
2. In sports
While exercise can be great for managing ADHD, irritability and inattention can sometimes interfere with kids’ athletic performance.
Coach Julio Zarate, a contributor to the United Soccer Coaches blog, believes it’s possible to create a helpful environment for young athletes with ADHD. His coaching tips include:
- chunking practice time into short segments
- keeping players active and supervised
- praising student-athletes whenever possible
- detaching from conflict with the player
- prefacing need for improvement with reminder of strengths
- keeping two-way, regular communication with parents
3. At home
- simple routines
- task completion
- reward systems
Children and Adults with Hyperactivity/Attention Deficit Disorder (CHADD) gives at-home behavioral management tips and suggestions for becoming your child’s best advocate.
Popkin says easy ways for parents to support their children with ADHD include:
- collaborating with teachers
- recognizing growth
- encouraging exercise
- incorporating preferred activities into the homework schedule
Supporting a child with ADHD can be an opportunity to hone your own communication, teamwork, and positivity.
If you’re looking for resources to help you help a kid with ADHD, you might start by checking out CHADD’s online or in-person courses for parents and video training for teachers.