Get Back To School Organized With Your ADHD Child

Back To School

Back to school is right around the corner, and for many, the upcoming school year is the beginning to a “real”, full, in-person school year for the first time since 2019. As a parent, you may be feeling some anxiety or overwhelm about sending a child or teen who struggles with organization, time management, getting homework started and completed, and turning it in. I offer some tips to help get your child or teen on the right track for a successful school year.

  1. Choose an organizational system. Many teachers require students coming back to school to use a certain size 3-ring binder with divider tabs. Some like 1 subject or 3 subject notebooks, or prefer composition notebooks. If your child has struggled with a certain system for keeping and organizing schoolwork and homework before, now is a good time to figure out alternatives. You may consider emailing or having a conversation with your child’s teacher or teachers about using different systems that will work better. After all, the ultimate goal of the classroom should be for each child to be able to succeed to the best of their ability. If they “must” use a certain type of folder or notebook that you know has caused issues in the past, have a conversation with your student to try to problem solve ways to make it work better. If you cannot “do your own thing”, you will be building the skill of flexibility and adaptability. There will be instances in life where you have options, and those where you do not. Parents who can verbally model that either one is okay and you will make the best of it will teach their student skills that will carry them throughout different school and work situations.
  1. Set a back to school morning routine. There is comfort in routines and predictability. Sit down with your students and discuss the 3 or 4 things that must be done every morning. Consider your back to school routine. For example, get dressed, eat breakfast, brush teeth. Discuss what can be done the night before as well. For example, setting out clothes, gathering necessary school/sport items and placing by the door, packing lunches, filling water bottles, and finding gym clothes and homework can all be prepared the night before. Set alarms and make sure everyone knows those 3-4 things that must be done in the morning. Initially, you may need to guide and cheerlead through them, but as everyone falls into the new routine, you can gradually back off. As you can see in the graphic below, SO much can be done the night before to reduce AM stress! I hear from so many parents who are running around gathering items 5 minutes before the bus arrives or they need to be in the car. Create some new habits this year and frontload most of the tasks. I know a few families who even have their kids shower and dress in school clothes the night before, and sleep in them. That way, they only need to put shoes on! I have another client whose daughter resists eating at home, but will get out the door for the school breakfast. Think about out of the box ideas that will save your family the repeated stress of the morning routine. And one you establish a *new* routine, everyone will be in a state of mind to begin the day on the right foot.

Night before school

  • Set out clothes and shoes
  • Make lunches
  • Fill water bottles
  • Charge chromebooks or other electronics
  • Put backpack by the exit door
  • Gather PE clothes or other sport items
  • Make sure homework is in the backpack and in a folder that is accessible for turning in
  • Put personal items such as school ID, bus pass, wallet/keys, etc with backpack

Morning of school

  • Get dressed
  • Eat breakfast
  • Brush teeth
  • Gather backpack and GO
  1. Plan for homework. Depending on your child’s age, back to school means back to homework. Consider the support needed in the past with homework, and make a plan that takes these factors into account. Ideally, your homework plan includes: What time homework will begin each day.Where homework will occur.
    • If child will need support prioritizing, getting started, or staying on task.
    • Who will check in, sit with, or otherwise support the student.
    • When to ask for help and from whom.
    • If no homework, an alternative task to complete to stay in the habit of work first/play later (examples: chores, reading, Khan Academy, other learning websites recommended by school, independent research).
    • When to throw in the towel. No homework is worth battles, tantrums, your child’s mental health or your relationship.
    (For kids who struggle with homework, I recommend the “Homework Window”. Open a window of 30 or 45 minutes – or whatever their personal capacity is – and whatever gets done in that time frame is it for the night. You can contact the teacher and let them know that you are struggling with homework and your child did as much as they were able to. This will work best for elementary school students. Middle school teachers may not give as much grace – unless a child has a 504 plan or IEP. I recommend that high school students dramatically reduce accommodations, unless absolutely necessary, so your teen can gain more independent skills.)
  1. Plan to avoid lost and found. If you have found yourself purchasing water bottles, lunch bags, and jackets repeatedly during past school years, now is a good time to devise some systems to avoid this. Labels are great, but if kiddos can’t remember to keep track of their items, a visual or auditory reminder on the backpack or electronic device may be your solution! A laminated card with a simple list of items (lunch bag, water bottle, jacket) to cue your child visually can work well. A recorded message to play at the end of the day when your child or teen can access their phone is also great. Work with your child or teen to find a solution that will work for them going back to school. Remind them that this is a life skill – and an economic skill – that we don’t want to continually lose and need to re-purchase items.
  1. Review and improve. After two weeks, review each system and problem solve together any issues that are still occurring. Listen to your child’s feedback – only they know what will really work well for them!
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