By Kathryn Korch, M.Ed.,NCC, LMHCA
The summer is quickly passing and we are approaching back to school time. Stores have started to stock the shelves with back to school supplies, students may be getting their schedules in the mail and students are starting to talk about what they plan on wearing on the first day of school. Parents may also start feeling a lingering angst around switching their family from summer schedules to school schedule.
The transition from summer to the start of the school year does not have to be stressful, anxiety filled or chaotic. In fact it can be enjoyable. Here are some tips to help with the inevitable transition back to school.
Get some sleep.
Getting enough sleep is key for all students, whether you have ADHD or not. Kids are growing physically, emotionally and mentally and getting enough sleep is crucial for their development and growth. Sleep is also important for managing ADHD symptoms because it is even more challenging to concentrate on what the teacher is saying, trying to manage impulses or sustain focus on an assignment when you are tired. Going to bed at a reasonable time and getting enough sleep is a must.
You can start working on this over the summer or at least a few weeks before school starts. Start the bedtime routine, however that looks in your house before the first day of school in order to help your student get all the rest they need.
Bedtime routines can include laying out clothes the night before, packing your backpack the night before or prepping your lunch and water bottle the night before. Getting ready for school should start the night before to help alleviate any potential chaos in the morning routine.
Equally important to sleep is eating breakfast. There is a reason why the age old saying of “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” is still said today. Eating a breakfast with a good amount of protein (aiming for 15 grams of protein) will help your child have adequate fuel to start the day off on a good note.
Lunch is also important and trying to get more protein in during lunchtime is also a good idea. Students are using their brains all day to learn but also to manage their ADHD symptoms. They need the fuel and energy to do this.
Now for some kids their medication makes them not hungry or they are picky eaters. Over the summer is a great time to ask your child what foods they would like to have for breakfast and lunch. You can ask your child to make a menu of breakfast and lunch items that they would enjoy. Then work together on creating these over the summer and during the school year.
If your kid just can’t eat a meal in the morning a protein shake, granola or breakfast bar, toast with some sort of protein on top are quick and mobile friendly meals. But start talking about options now and not at 7:00AM when you have 10 minutes before you need to leave for school.
Elementary School Students
Make space for learning
Yes, even your elementary school student should help with preparing for back to school. Some of my favorite things to do with elementary aged kids is to talk with them about how their room is set up and even creating a space in their room where they can read, do school work or have a quiet space in their room that is designated for learning.
As parents you can talk with your child about this and spend some time over the summer creating a room that feels good to them and also has a designated learning area.
Stock up on the essentials.
The other task you can do with your child is to create a list of school supplies they will need. Usually the teacher or the school will send a list home but allow your child to be part of the process of creating their own back to school supplies shopping list. Then you can go together to the store and they can help pick out their school supplies and take some ownership in this process. My expert tip around school supplies is to buy a few extra supplies just in case things get lost or left at school.
Middle School Students
Start with a conversation.
Middle school feels like a big transition for many students. This is a time when new and intense feelings come up, social pressures start to increase as well as academic pressures. As your middle school student is growing into a young adult they are struggling to find the balance of needing parental support and being autonomous. You can help your middle school student by asking them if they have any concerns about starting middle school. Helping them explore these fears before school starts and helping them work through some of the uncertainty.
Prepare for middle school "firsts."
If this is the first time your middle schooler will have a locker with a lock, you can practice using a lock over the summer so they don’t panic when it comes time to put their books in their locker.
You can also work with your child on getting in the habit of writing things down by creating lists of things to do each day or over the course of a week. Even if your summer isn’t filled with set plans, activities or appointments there are a few things that your child can write down (even if it is just the first day of school or writing down what they want to do today) but the idea is to help them practice writing things down. That way, when school starts they are already in the habit of writing things down so then they can write down in their planner or notebook when things are due or when things are happening at school, home or in their social lives.
High School Students
More work, more responsibilities.
High school is another one of those transitions that can be stressful for students and also parents. By the time your child reaches high school we make the assumption that they can advocate for themselves, they can write down when their homework is due and they can manage their time appropriately. But high school is also the time when the workload increases again and expectations grow. Now kids are thinking about volunteering, getting a job, dating, driving and applying to college/trade school. They are expected to be students but to also be responsible young adults. They are also more autonomous and can handle things on their own.
Help them take the reins.
As parents what you can do is start talking to your high school student about their schedule and help them learn to manage their own schedule more. This means including your student in booking dentist and doctor appointments, talking about the schedule for after school activities and also helping them schedule in study time as well. Doing this before school starts will help them not feel so overwhelmed when the slow pace of summer switches to the fast pace of the school year.
Kathryn Korch is a Coach/Therapist here at the Hallowell Todaro ADHD Center. Starting this Fall, she'll be leading a weekly, two-hour homework club on Monday evenings to help students stay on track with their schoolwork.