Back to School – Back to Basics: Strategies for Parents with ADHD

About this time each August, my friend Maureen, mother of four active sons, two with AD/HD would often say, “I can’t wait for school to start!” I think her lament was typical of many families. On the one hand, we love the more carefree, lazy days of summer. But on the other, we know the structured and organized pace of the school year can serves us better, especially in terms of AD/HD. So take time now to ease back into the strategies that help you and your children towards a successful school year by addressing daily routines, school transitions and the home environment from an organizing eye.

Getting Started

A good place to start your efforts is in reestablishing the routines and habits that help your household run more smoothly. Bedtimes have probably gotten lax and kids may be sleeping in much later than usual. So, to get back on track, set the new bedtime just 5 minutes earlier each day for the next couple weeks. Pair that action with setting a wake-up alarm 5 minutes earlier each morning. This strategy will inch children back into the necessary waking schedule and has the added bonus of getting morning medication taken at a progressively earlier time.

Another helpful strategy to ground now is selecting and setting out clothes the night before a school day, avoiding those early morning struggles. This will be especially helpful if the child wears a uniform or needs any special clothing. You can also use the end of dinner as a natural reminder of the routine for you and your child to prepare lunch or snacks that will be taken to school the next day. Working in the kitchen when things are already messy from a meal saves on clean up time and avoids the frustrating last minute scramble of the morning rush.

What’s New at School?

To ease the transition to a new school location or just a new teacher and classroom, plan a trip ahead of time to prepare your child with what to expect. Meeting with the teacher and other key staff briefly will give your child an opportunity to be more comfortable with the changes a new school year brings. (This meeting by the way, should be separate from one you would schedule with the teacher and school staff to discuss the child’s IEP and other goals for the year) Discuss with your son or daughter how to best use their locker and desk space. If allowed by the school, you could place removable label maker labels to create visual reminders for what goes where. For junior and senior high students, bring along locker organizing tools to try out such as shelves, magnetic holders and hanging pouches. This will confirm the student has organized homes for notebooks, supplies, even personal care items.

On the Home Front

In the home environment, a first priority is to evaluate if you have a supportive homework area. Minimizing distractions is important, so make sure that TV, music and other compelling entertainment doesn’t interfere with the area. If needed set up quiet times in the late afternoon and early evening to support study time. Set up a system to contain supplies that your child will need and source it close to the homework area to avoid a missing-in-action student in search of paper or colored pencils. A plastic cart on wheels with several drawers is a great choice for this mobile home of separated and labeled supplies. (Find these at office supply and discount retailers)

Another helpful tool placed close to the homework area would be a monthly calendar. Encourage your child to note dates for upcoming tests, assignments or project deadlines to help them develop planning skills. Work with them during homework sessions to prioritize their time based on what’s coming up. Show them how spending just 20 minutes each day during a week working on a project or large assignment is preferable to cramming two hours all at once right before the due date.

Finally, make sure you have homes for handling and managing incoming school papers and communications. Set up a labeled magazine file or wall pocket holder as the drop-off zone for papers from backpacks and take-home folders. This step will minimize counter clutter and keep papers contained till mom or dad can sort through them. Devote a bulletin board placed near the home’s most used entry door for regular posting of schedules, lunch menus and notices. Other school papers used mainly as reference such as class rosters, teacher’s instructions, contact info and report cards can be stored in a 3-ring binder devoted exclusively to each child. Keep a 3-hole punch close at hand so papers are quickly secured and store the binder on a kitchen countertop or open mail cubby.

Taking time now before school starts to reestablish routines, get comfortable and organized at school and revamp the household surroundings will earn you an A+ in Back to School Basics.

Louise Kurzeka has been a professional organizer in the Twin Cities area for seventeen years. She provides one-on-one and virtual consultations to families and adults with AD/HD. She holds both CD and ADD Specialist designations from NSGCD and most recently served on their board as Teleclass Director. You can reach Louise by email.


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