Have you seen the ad featuring a happy family blissfully preparing beaming children for back to school? That is not my family.
Our ADHD family always dreaded the first day of school ... the swirling mass of new people, unfamiliar rules, complicated forms, thick books, and important instructions. For our boys who already struggled to sit still and pay attention, back to school meant back to all the reasons for that ADHD label.
I know that we’re not alone, and that dread isn’t only for the attention challenged. The new school year can stress any student, even the ones who love the smell of a new box of pointy crayons or adore labeling the sections of a binder. To help ease the way to happy, new beginnings for your child, take a look at these five tried and true tips to make back-to-school days a bit easier on you and your child.
1. Take a walk. Make sure your child is familiar with the physical layout of the school.
ADHD children are notorious for getting lost, often because they just aren't paying attention. If your child attends elementary school, that means finding the classroom, then going to the cafeteria, gym, library, bathrooms, and the bus or parking lot. If your child goes to special instruction, walk to those areas, too. In middle and high school, walk the daily route. Go from drop-off to locker to homeroom, and then to every single class. Lots of schools have kids go to their first class before homeroom, so walk from the locker to that first class, too. Then add a trip to the main office and guidance/student services.
Then do it again. And maybe one more time. You can probably do this during open house, or you can arrange for a special time. Note: This is NOT the time to meet the teacher. Doggedly pursuing a conversation with an overworked teacher can start you off on the wrong foot.
2. Make a friend. Get to know the school secretary.
Don't tell, but this woman (or man!) knows more than anyone else in the school. She's the face you'll see when your child is late, when you rush back in to deliver field trip money or go back to the school to retrieve a lost jacket. She comforts crying children, gives an earful to unruly ones, dispenses medicine, remembers allergies, heck - she even knows how to turn off the fire alarm after a drill.
Principals and teachers will change from year to year, but the secretary often sticks around for a long time.* She can be an amazing partner on behalf of your child, but will know very soon if you're a helicopter parent and will roll her eyes at you accordingly. If you are truly interested in making the school a better place for all children, you'll find that the school secretary will be a valuable asset to your child's education.
3. Make a list. Get your school supplies now.
Tax-free weekend is past, and now school supplies are even cheaper. Stock up. Get extra glue sticks, printer ink, calculator batteries, paper, markers, pencils (and then more pencils), sticky notes, Sharpies, notebooks, folders, and notecards. Buy what you think you might need for projects - like science boards. Trust me: now is better than later. Take advantage of the sales and coupons today, and avoid that last-minute-after-dinner run to Megamart when your child loses yet another notebook, or announces quietly, "My book project is due tomorrow."
4. Write a name. Label EVERYTHING.
Write your last name and phone number on stuff that you don't want to lose. You'll be amazed at how labeled shin guards, math books, water bottles, and calculators can magically be lost - and then found. You can label anything with a silver or a black Sharpie. If it leaves your house...label it. For safety and hand-me-down reasons, don’t put your child's first name.
5. Kiss a kid. Love your child.
Don't forget that the most important thing to do is LOVE your child! Insensitive classmates, missed buses, forgotten assignments and misunderstood math can make school a traumatic place. Strengthen your child by expressing your love over and over again. Tell her you love her. Give him a hug. Hide an encouraging note in a geometry book.
Now take a deep breath and repeat after me: "it's going to be a great year." And it is! Prepare, start well, and keep on loving ... you're on the way to success.
*Shout out to Jeannie Kernodle, who has been at E. M. Yoder in Mebane for 27 years.
Kayla is the mom of four grown sons in Alamance County. Three have been diagnosed with ADHD-Inattentive. She is an author and runs the website www.adhd-inattentive.com. She writes under a pen name to protect the identity of her sons.