Preparing your ADHD child for starting 'big school' after lockdown

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"Don't expect instant success, big changes start with small steps!"
"Don't expect instant success, big changes start with small steps!"

The end of the year is fast approaching, and many parents are beginning to start preparing their children for the move to "big school".

This is an important milestone in the life of all children and while some may be bursting with excitement, others may feel overwhelmed and anxious, particularly children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

"The transition from pre-primary to primary school is not only daunting for children but for parents and caregivers too, even at the best of times. Add into the mix the Covid-19 lockdown, and a child struggling with ADHD and you've got yourself a conundrum", says Kristen Strahlendorf, Educational Psychologist and Counsellor.

Children with ADHD generally feel more secure and perform better when they have a clear routine. Covid-19 and the recent lockdown has turned routine upside-down.

This, together with the change to remote learning may well have impacted your child's ability to concentrate and focus and is likely to have caused heightened anxiety.

It's important to prepare children with ADHD for the social, emotional, and academic changes that come with big school, providing them with the skills and tools to reintegrate into the classroom environment and preparing them for the more formal structure and expectations of grade one.

Strahlendorf sees a settling in period taking place, where some parents may find the adjustment just as difficult as their ADHD children.

Read: 'Nothing prepared me for this': A clinical psychologist opens up about raising her sons with ADHD

She offers the following four tips to make things a little easier and help prepare children with ADHD with the transition, as the pandemic rattled everyone's routine.

1. Reintegrate through routine

Creating boundaries around routine is key in easing into the big school environment. Simple things like a set bedtime, storytime, mealtime, and screen time need to be scheduled.

As simple as it sounds, it's probably one of the most difficult things to implement. You need to stick to your rules, and persist! Using visual aids, diagrams, pictures, and schedules help children with ADHD to focus.

By using a visual schedule, you also give your child independence, so that they understand their schedule goals while empowering them to cross off what they have done. This prepares them to move from the lockdown environment to the classroom.

2. Build learning resilience, with learning bursts

Using learning bursts - short periods of learning – helps expand an ADHD child's attention span. Try using an hourglass or timer or setting a challenge in which you reward good behaviour and participation.

Extend each session by two minutes and see how your child's attention changes. Try and find the optimal point that suits your child’s concentration span best.

This will help your ADHD child in the school environment and un-do some of the effects of lockdown. This can be a fun exercise, remember to be free of personal or work distractions!

Also read: SA's first children's book on ADHD has been launched 

3. Incentivise behaviour through positive reinforcement and reward

Harnessing the power of attention through positive reinforcement can work wonders for your ADHD child. This can be accomplished by reducing negative feedback while looking at what they have done right and amplifying the positive behaviour of small wins.

"Good job, you’re a champ" or "Have you tried it this way..." - are all positive ways to influence your child's attention. This is another way to prepare and potentially stretch their attention capacity.

Within your outlined routine build in some flexibility for a reward.

"Well done you did a great job and you get to have screen time for an extra ten minutes. Using rewards sparingly is key, as if rewards are handed out too frequently, they lose their effectiveness." 

4. Invest your time now for later.

Remote work, running the household, and family commitments are all taxing in themselves. By being present, parents can reduce future problems by implementing good routines and behaviours and building your child's confidence.

The best friend of any child, ADHD included, is time well spent with your children.

As children prepare to start school, the most important thing a parent can do is show their child their re-assurance, love and support.

Strahlendorf concludes, "Don’t expect instant success, big changes start with small steps!"

For pointers on how you can better manage to educate your children effectively during this period, visit her website, or contact Kristen Lisa Strahlendorf via LinkedIn.

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