Back-to-School Basics: Collaboration Leads to Academic Success

As schools open their doors for students, it’s time once more to begin thinking about the year ahead. For many kids, and especially those with ADHD, summer is a huge relief from academic and social pressures. Most of them don’t relish the return to classes and would rather think about anything else. How can you set your child up for success?

Most parents of kids with and without ADHD harbor a number of goals for their children related to school:  learn and retain information, obtain good grades, behave appropriately, etc. These are all important facets of a thorough education. But children and teens with ADHD need something more. Struggling academically and/or socially, they benefit from goals that address their strengths while shoring up their challenges. If your son doesn’t like math but loves creative writing, how can his interest be incorporated into learning algebra? If your daughter adores art and doing things with her hands, how can she do science or history projects that capitalize on her skills?  Approaching this year with an eye towards including such possibilities will improve your child’s engagement and performance.

Setting a positive course for this year depends on collaborating with your son or daughter to establish clear goals and useful strategies. Kids with ADHD spend a lot of time listening to what they could do differently from caring adults, friends, coaches, etc. They often believe that feedback is a euphemism for criticism. Well-intentioned suggestions may not fit with how their ADHD brains think and make it tough to follow through. If kids with ADHD aren’t able to express what makes sense to them and have it become part of a problem-solving process, any sound advice will likely fall flat. I’m not saying that a young person should dictate what’s going to happen. Rather, I’m advocating that you include some of their opinions in whatever program you create to ensure their buy-in. When they feel like their ideas matter, these kids are far more likely to cooperate.

Start this school year with a calm, honest family conversation. This chat sets the tone for how you will work together to make it a success. Ask yourself and your son or daughter these questions:

  • What do you hope for your son or daughter this year?
  • What went well last year and why?
  • Can you identify any behaviors or decisions that made a positive difference?
  • What were some of the challenges? What improved them?
  • What type of teacher feedback did you receive that would be useful this year?
  • What, if any, concerns do you have about this year?

Write down everyone’s answers and look for overlaps. Together, decide on a goal that would address your mutual concerns. Pick one that would be the easiest to start with (an early success builds confidence) and begin to brainstorm a plan for working on it.  Write down these ideas too and post your new plan in the kitchen. This way everybody can refer back to it. Establish a weekly time to check in on the progress toward your goal. When it’s going well, consider adding a new goal but keep up your encouragement and support for the first one.

Good luck and here’s to great beginnings!