Families are struggling to cope with the new norm of homeschooling and disrupted routines, said Caroline Miller of Child Mind Institute, an independent non-profit dedicated to transforming the lives of children coping with mental health and learning disorders. Children with ADHD will need extra support and structure to help parents manage attention and behavior challenges and monitor learning amid the crisis.
Survey Respondents’ Experiences of Pandemic Anxiety
ADDitude, a magazine that caters to readers with ADHD, polled 3,561 readers who answered the magazine’s recent reader survey. 68.81% of readers felt worried/anxious, 67.48% felt overwhelmed or exhausted, 48.30% felt sad or depressed, and 37.69% said they were lonely. ADDitude readers also reported feeling calm acceptance (37.55%), relief at lack of daily stress (34.09%), angry (23.90%), panicked (19.99%), and optimistic (19.04%). Only 22.61% answered “other.”
About 13% of readers lost their jobs, 38% started working remotely for the first time, and nearly 13% continued to work as essential employees in medical and non-medical positions. Respondents were very concerned about their mental, emotional, and physical health (40.13% versus 48.13% “concerned” and 11.74% “not concerned), managing unstructured time (45.71% versus 35.18% and 19.11%), managing the household (27.76% versus 41.29% and 30.96%), and loneliness/separation from family and friends (25.11% versus 45.94% and 28.95%).
Other concerns mentioned by the readers were managing working from home (32.80% versus 28.62% and 38.58%), adequate income/financial stress (25.08% versus 36.31% and 38.61%), managing ADHD treatment (13.23% versus 37.81% and 48.96%), and managing another medical condition (13.94% versus 29.46% and 56.59%).
For parents of children with ADHD, 50.91% were very concerned about managing their child’s remote learning (versus 31.26% of “concerned” and 17.83% of “not concerned” parents). 48.06% were also very concerned about managing screen time at home (versus 32.52% and 19.42%). Other concerns cited by parents of children with ADHD were keeping their child on a reasonable schedule (43.79% of “very concerned” versus 39.63% and 16.59%), managing their own time (39.59% versus 41.97% and 18.45%), organizing household routine and planning for meals (32.82% versus 45.38% and 21.79%).
Parents were also very concerned about addressing their child’s anxiety/stress (32.02% versus 43.22% and 24.76%), maintaining their child’s ADHD treatment and services (11.74% versus 31.60% and 56.66%), and managing another medical need (8.09% versus 19.05% and 72.85%).
How to Support Kids With ADHD
1. Talk With your Child’s School
This way, you will know what support your little one is getting in the classroom, as well as how you maintain continuity at home. Ask your child’s teachers or school staff with regard to how much of a role you should have in keeping them organized and focused.
You should be comfortable asking questions such as: “What has worked for my child in the past when they needed to focus?” “How much assistance should I be providing during homework?” “Who is in charge of monitoring assignment completion?” Be sure to reach out consistently with school staff or teachers as this will help you and your child transition to remote learning.
2. Maintain Structure
All children will benefit from structure, but those with ADHD need it more. David Anderson, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, explained, “A child with ADHD often doesn’t deal well with uncertainty, long delay of gratification, and not knowing when the activities they will find more rewarding are going to occur.” For parents of younger children, it is important to post their schedule somewhere that shows what they are going to do at a certain time, he added.
When creating a schedule, be sure to dedicate time for exercise, schoolwork, creative time (ex: art and story writing), and chores, recommended ADHD Ireland, a website that provides updated information, resources, and networking opportunities to people with ADHD, parents of kids with ADHD, and professionals.
3. Utilize Learning Bursts
Also known as “chunking” by clinicians, engage your children for a certain period of time that is appropriate for their attention span. After the activity, give them a break. Children with ADHD will benefit from learning bursts when you establish clear expectations in advance such as how long each learning chunk will last and what they are going to do during that time. Follow up to see if they were to accomplish what they need.
4. Use Attention As A Motivator and Reward
Kids will seek more of their parents’ attention, which may distract the latter from remote working. Set your kids up to earn parental attention. This way, they can focus on their academic requirements or activities that they can accomplish independently.
Stephanie Lee, PsyD, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, suggested, “You might let them know, for instance, ‘I’m going to be doing work on the computer while you’re playing with your Magna-Tiles. And when you’re playing with your Magna-Tiles, if you play safely and you don’t interrupt,’ then we can play Magna-Tiles together.” Dr. Lee also recommended parents to make that expectation visual. For example, you can show two drawings of a traffic light, with one on red and one on green. Tell your child that if the traffic light is on red, you are not available but when it’s on green, they can play with you.
This method also applies when there is another caregiver at home. Be present! Avoid checking your phone or email when you have promised your child that you will give them undivided attention. However, this strategy only works if your child is convinced that work time is finished and step away from your work station—only then will they approach and get your attention.
5. Switch Up Activities
Find out which activities motivate your child and alternate activities that they find less appealing like schoolwork with what they enjoy more such as playing video games. Dr. Lee said, “It will help for parents to stagger the schedule and activities based on less preferred things being followed by highly preferred things.”
6. Don’t Expect Overnight Success
It will take time to figure out how to help your child stay productive in online learning. Set realistic expectations and think of it as a trial and error process. If your child does not meet the expectation you set, it would be best to reframe the goals and move it to another way to make them more achievable for them. Surely, no one wants their kids to feel like online learning is a bedrock of conflict and failure. You want them to feel like they are successful individuals.
Loss of structure can be a challenge for parents of children with ADHD. Parents should create a schedule and set realistic expectations regarding online learning and other tasks. It is also recommended for parents to contact their child’s teachers on how they can better help and support kids with ADHD.