Children all over the world are returning to school this week and I’d like to share a quick tip that might just help you and your child enjoy a smoother transition into the new school year.
There are many elements that can enhance our children’s school experience including friendships, enthusiasm for learning and a well-balanced homework routine. However, there is no question in my mind that, for children with ADHD, there is a single facet of school-life that carries more importance than all of the others, combined. I truly believe that the KEY determinant of our children’s happiness and success at school is the relationship they have with their teacher.
School can be extra tough for children with ADHD, for a number of reasons. Most school frameworks were simply not designed with the needs of children with ADHD in mind, and our children are frequently placed into situations that are so much harder for them to deal with than their non-ADHD peers. Sitting down for long periods without moving, remaining silent until being asked to speak and keeping on track with the lesson, without being distracted, can all be monumental tasks for our children. Inevitably, despite their greatest efforts, they will fall short of classroom expectations, and find themselves in trouble with teachers, more frequently than other children. A lot more frequently… Dr. William Dodson estimates that a child with ADHD will receive 20,000 more negative messages from parents and teachers by age 12, than children without the condition.
Just imagine the impact of that on a child’s self-esteem: The feeling that, however hard they try, they will never make their teachers or parents happy. All too often, the result is a child who falls behind in class, dreads going to school, and feels completely isolated, believing that no one understands them.
All of this can be avoided by having a teacher who ‘gets’ ADHD. A teacher who understands that your child’s brain works differently to others and is willing to adapt their teaching-style accordingly. A teacher who is attuned to the fact that your child may need to move around a little, or play with a discreet fidget toy, or be sitting at the front of the classroom, to have the best chance of engaging with their lesson. A teacher who not only won’t get annoyed when your child speaks out of turn but will have a secret sticker chart that they’ll use to reward your child every time they manage to raise their hand and wait to be asked before speaking. A teacher, who is not afraid to discipline your child, giving appropriate consequences when necessary, but will never end a conversation of this type without looking your child in the eye and saying “We all make mistakes sometimes. It’s ok. I know you’re trying really hard and I’m so proud of you”. A teacher who will champion your child to the rest of the school staff, who may not necessarily understand, or be aware of, their differences. A teacher who will frequently tell your child how pleased they are to be their teacher, and let them know that they are perfectly good enough, just as they are.
So what can you do to help?
Whilst I have no doubt that all teachers are selfless and caring people, who want to see all their students succeed, I know there are many who have never received adequate training on ADHD and how to get the best out of our children who don’t necessarily ‘fit the mould’.
So it’s our job, as parents, to help them.
Get in touch with your child’s teacher and arrange a meeting as early in the year as possible - even before the year starts, if that’s feasible. Use the opportunity to give the teacher a heads-up about your child, including their many skills and talents, as well as the things they tend to find tougher than other children. Help them to start the year with realistic expectations of your child and give them the opportunity to prepare some strategies for helping your child to deal with their more challenging moments, without making them feel like they’re being singled out or punished. Share what has worked well with teachers in the past, and what hasn’t. Most importantly, let them know that, despite being a great kid, who only wants to do well, you are well aware that there’ll be times when your child will not be the easiest child to have around, and that you want to support the teacher in those moments and work together with them, maintaining open communication at all times, to help tackle any challenges that may arise.
Oh, and thank them. Definitely thank them! The effort that your child’s teacher makes over the next year could make an imprint on your child’s perception of themselves, and their potential, that will remain with them their entire life…