How to help children with ADHD in school depends on offering consistent support and actionable tools.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a fairly common neurodevelopmental disorder. Symptoms can make ordinary school tasks challenging for kids with this condition, including time management and organization.
By identifying the right support tools, it’s possible for children with ADHD to have an enjoyable, successful school experience.
Kids with ADHD can experience symptoms that might make school more challenging for them, such as:
- forgetfulness or misplacing things
- trouble with organization and time management
- difficulty focusing and becoming easily distracted
- lack of motivation
- difficulty following instructions and completing tasks
“Children with ADHD are often bright but lack the executive functioning skills to prioritize and plan, which interferes with getting tasks done,” says Roseann Capanna-Hodge, a licensed professional counselor in Ridgefield, Connecticut, and the founder of The Global Institute of Children’s Mental Health. “The day-to-day grind of endless academic tasks can be hard to manage for a child with ADHD.”
But with help from the adults around them, your child can learn those executive skills. Support, patience, and practical help can go a long way.
Here are tips to consider to help your child with ADHD achieve academic success.
One of the first steps in supporting someone with ADHD is learning more about the condition. Understanding the symptoms of ADHD might help you notice when your child is finding something challenging.
Many of the symptoms of ADHD in children might look like misbehavior to the adults around them. Adults might dismiss a child as inattentive, disruptive, or lazy when they’re simply experiencing symptoms they don’t know how to manage.
Symptoms of ADHD include:
At school, children with ADHD might find it difficult to:
- manage their time
- execute and complete tasks
- organize their books, stationery, and equipment
- focus on tasks
- pay attention to the teacher
- wait for their turn
It’s important to communicate with the other adults in your child’s life about their condition. Effectively supporting and advocating for your child with ADHD often means ensuring you’re on the same page with their:
Touching base with teachers
If your child is going to a new school or class, or if they’ve been newly diagnosed with ADHD, consider contacting their teachers to let them know about their diagnosis.
Talking with your child’s teachers about what helps and what hinders your child can be essential for a successful school experience.
For example, if you know your child tends to get distracted when they sit near a window, try to inform the teacher so that they know to seat them elsewhere.
Individualized Education Plan (IEP)
Together with their teacher and school counselor or psychologist, you can discuss whether your child would benefit from an Individualized Education Plan (IEP).
Your child’s IEP can include accommodations like extra test time or a special aide. You can usually contact the school counselor or principal about applying for an IEP.
Although both you and your child might feel frustrated at times, it’s important to practice patience and compassion with them.
“Being patient — with your child and yourself — is an important step in helping your child not only learn to be more present but to celebrate their brain and all of their strengths,” explains Capanna-Hodge.
Many people with ADHD thrive when they have a set routine. Children with ADHD are no exception.
The benefits of creating routines can include:
- eliminating decision fatigue by reducing the number of choices you and your child have to make
- easier time management
- reducing anxiety and stress, which can worsen the symptoms of ADHD
But creating a routine isn’t always easy. Your child will likely need your assistance to design and stick to a schedule that works for them.
How to build a routine
You could start by listing things that need to be done on a typical day, and then figuring out how long each activity takes. From there, you can decide on a reasonable time to do each task.
Consider the following activities:
- waking up
- school drop-off and pick-up
- after-school sports or clubs
- family time
- relaxation and fun
- showering or bathing
- heading to bed
You might find it helpful to type this routine up and stick it on your fridge or in another place where your child can easily reference it.
It might take a little time to figure out a routine that works for you and your family. If a routine doesn’t seem to be working, feel free to experiment.
Don’t forget to include self-care time as well as buffer time so that you’re not rushing from one activity to the next.
Disorganization is a common symptom of ADHD in children.
“Some of us are innately organized, while others, such as children with ADHD who have difficulty with executive functioning, need explicit instruction and practice to develop those skills,” says Capanna-Hodge.
For people with ADHD, getting organized can help with:
- reducing stress
- improving time management
- eliminating distractions
- making it easier to execute tasks
Teaching organizational skills
Organizational skills can be learned. If being organized doesn’t come naturally to your child, you can help them figure out systems and methods for staying on track.
Some ways to teach your child organizational skills can include:
- purchasing a planner for your child and showing them how to use it
- regularly reviewing the planner and your calendar with your child, so that they’re reminded of upcoming events or tasks
- showing your child how to write and use to-do lists
- encouraging your child to write down reminders, even ones that seem obvious
- helping your child find “homes” for important items — such as their schoolbag, keys, books, etc. — and encouraging them to frequently check that their things are in the right place
- regularly assisting your child with decluttering and organizing their bedroom, study space, and schoolbag
When it comes to organization, different methods work for different people and situations, so feel free to experiment.
Many people find that exercise is great for managing ADHD. Your child might be more focused after they move their body.
People with ADHD tend to have lower levels of dopamine than the rest of the population, according to 2019 research. Many ADHD medications are meant to increase dopamine levels, which often boosts focus. Regular exercise can also increase dopamine levels.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that children over the age of 6 get at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day.
Enjoyable forms of exercise can include:
- playing school sports
- walking in parks, on beaches, and other natural outdoor spaces
- hiking or cycling as a family
- playing playground games, like hopscotch or hide-and-seek
- dancing around the house
- doing obstacle courses
- playing on park equipment
Your child is more likely to exercise regularly if it’s fun and enjoyable for them. Consider framing it as a fun way to spend time with family or friends, not a chore.
Although there’s a lot you can do to help your child on your own, it’s important to recognize when they might benefit from a professional’s input.
Contacting a doctor or pediatrician is often the best first step. They might be able to recommend a therapist and psychiatrist to prescribe medication, if necessary. Your child’s school counselor could also point you in the right direction for treatment.
Children with ADHD could benefit from different kinds of therapy, including talk therapy and behavioral therapy.
Talk therapy can help kids with ADHD learn to:
- process emotions
- build social skills
- manage their feelings in a healthy way
Behavioral therapy can also help your child learn to create positive routines and habits
A professional therapist or counselor can also help you create an effective behavior management plan.
The symptoms of ADHD can sometimes make seemingly simple tasks frustrating for your child. Frequently giving them kind, encouraging affirmations can go a long way.
“When it comes to parenting and educating kids with ADHD, we often focus on what they are doing wrong instead of reinforcing what they are doing right,” says Capanna-Hodge. “In order for the brain to learn new behaviors, it needs positive reinforcement.”
Praise them when they accomplish tasks, especially those they’ve worked hard at. This can encourage them to keep practicing those essential skills.
It’s common for children with ADHD to experience difficulties in school. Symptoms of ADHD can make everyday school tasks seem overwhelming or difficult for kids with this condition.
But children with ADHD can learn to successfully manage their symptoms and thrive at school when they have the right support from the grownups around them. That often requires offering them compassion and patience while helping them learn skills.
If you think your child might have ADHD but has never been diagnosed, consider reaching out to a doctor or child therapist for a screening. Check out Psych Central’s guide to finding mental health support to get started.
ADHD resources around the web
If you want to learn more about ADHD and find useful resources, the following links might help: