It’s a real challenge when our little ones have a tough time paying attention! Sometimes, it’s due to an actual diagnosis, such as ADD or ADHD. I recently received a question from a reader whose son started kindergarten this year, was recently diagnosed by his doctor with ADHD, and is struggling in school. She wants to help him so that he’s successful and doesn’t end up hating school, but she’s not sure where to start. So, I came up with ideas for her, based on my experience as a teacher, and in keeping in mind what is realistic for a classroom setting and to work on at home.
Here’s the question:
Hi Connie, I’m hoping you can help me. My son is struggling in kindergarten. He can’t sit still and doesn’t follow directions well. He was recently diagnosed with ADHD. What can we do to help him? Thanks!
- Make sure his feet touch the floor when he’s sitting in his chair. It helps stabilize his body and was suggested by an occupational therapist.
- Let him sit in the back or on the side of the classroom so that he can get up and pace. Tell him that he can’t touch anyone or anything while he’s walking back and forth and needs to do so quietly. When kids need to move, they truly need to move, so it’s crazy to try to keep them penned up and sitting still.
- Fidget toys/tools are a great option. Set up rules in advance. Examples of fidget toys include: bean bags, squish ball, and anything they can manipulate in their hands, preferably that doesn’t make any sounds. Amazon has a plethora of fidget toys!
- Placing something heavy on their laps also helps, similar to how a weighted blanket helps some kids sleep, or how a thunder coat works for a dog. It works the same way with kids and can help them sit still in their chairs or on the floor at rug/circle time.
- Incorporating movement, such as having them pass out things or erase the board, especially before seated work, helps ADD/ADHD children get ready to sit and focus.
- With regard to sitting “still,” an exercise type ball or bouncy chair also helps. They’re in motion, but it’s a constructive and controlled motion.
- Have him repeat directions back to you.
- Having written or visual (picture) directions as well as saying the directions helps.
- Ask the child what they’re going to do next instead of always telling them, especially after directions have already been said.
- While they’re working, ask him what step he’s on and what he’s going to do next (monitor them).
- Having a clear routine helps. Kids know what to expect and can better predict what they need to do. It also lessens any anxiety they might be experiencing (but might not be saying). If there’s a break in the routine, tell the student(s) about it ahead of time if possible. The same goes for home. Go over your day at the beginning of the day. He doesn’t need to know specific times necessarily, but a general order to the day is helpful.
- Being positive. Recognize when they follow directions and do something on their own. Keep a positive frame of mind. This will take time to help him get better at following directions.
- Limit distractions. Have a quiet, distraction free place to do homework and reading.
- When doing homework, break the homework into small, achievable sections. Then, complete that section (or set a timer for his current attention span) and take a short break (set a timer for break time. Make the break something movement related to get out the “wiggles”). Gradually increase the length of the sections between break times or the amount of time he needs to work before a break. You should tell him the rules ahead of time so that he knows and doesn’t feel like they’ve been changed on him.
- Complete homework with him, or as near to him as you can. This will allow you to monitor him and remind him to focus on his work. Even subtle things like tapping on the paper can redirect him when you notice his mind starts to wander.
- Follow the same type of classroom stuff listed above.
- Model what you want to see. When you’re doing a task, talk about your thinking process and what you’re doing, going to do next, and why.
- Limit screen time. Set a timer if needed. Fill out a chart if needed. But, limit screen time. There are countless studies that show a negative correlation between screen time and attention issues.
- At meal time, have him sit on his bottom on his chair. For example, if he gets up on his knees, remind him that “we sit on our bottoms on our chairs while we eat.” Keep doing this, and it’ll eventually work. It might take a while. It might feel like it’s not working, but it will if you stick with it.
- Hold him accountable. Don’t fall for excuses that he can’t do it. “It’s too hard.” “I can’t do this.” “I don’t get it.” Tell him, “It’s not too hard,” or ask, “What part is difficult?” Remind him that he is capable and if he says that he doesn’t know how or that it’s too hard, it might be, so ask him to explain it so that you can help him.
This is tough. It’s not easy when our little ones don’t listen to us. It’s hard to see them struggle. It’s hard to not be able to help them, or to feel like we can’t help them. We get tired of repeating ourselves and dealing with a child who is always distracted and doesn’t follow through with tasks.
But, you can help your child. It’ll take time. And you’ll probably want to tear your hair out, but the best thing you can do for your child is to be consistent, and do your best to help him reach his goals. Before you get started, it might be helpful to write a list of what he’s currently doing (or not doing), and what you’d like him to do (or what he needs to do). Prioritize that list to 1-2 things. Focus on those things until you’re making good, solid progress. Then, slowly add in the rest, one at a time. If you try to work on it all at once, you’ll drive yourself crazy (and probably your child too). And, in all honesty, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
Communication is key!
It’s also a good idea to regularly check in with your child’s teacher. Teachers are busy. They have lots of kids to help. Lessons to plan. Assignments to grade. Meetings to attend and other parents to communicate with. But, your child’s education is important and your child deserves to be helped. So, check in with your child’s teacher once a week or so. Find out: What went well this week? What did he struggle with the most? Where does he seem to be making progress? Ask your child’s teacher what their preferred method of communication is. If I have to guess, I’d go with email as the preferred communication method, with randomly dropping into class/school to talk being their least favorite method. Your child’s teacher should have ideas on what has worked well in the past for other children who have ADD/ADHD, so ask for input and advice. What does your child’s teacher think you should be working on at home? How?
A final note on formalities…
Is a formal meeting needed to get everyone on board at school? Does the school need to do testing (or should the school do testing)? If so, put your request in writing and find out what the timeline is for testing and when the school needs to have your meeting set up. I know in my area, the school as 30 days to start testing and 60 days to complete it when the parent makes the request. Your state and district might be different.
Also, keep in mind the time of year it is. If it’s towards the end of the school year (like 2-3 months of school left), I would get a formal plan in place for next year. Just because your child’s current teacher is doing things to help him/her doesn’t mean that future teachers can or will. And, meetings are easier with a teacher who knows your child well, instead of a teacher who has just met your child (middle to end of a school year vs the beginning of one). If you think you should have a formal plan, you need one. If you think your child needs it, request it and get it done. Your child’s education is at stake. Don’t worry about inconveniencing the school. Get that ball rolling to help your child! It’s better to have a plan in place and not need it than to not have a plan in place and wish you had one.
What has worked for helping your child follow directions and sit still in class? Do you have advice for other parents of ADD/ADHD kids? Comment and share below!
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