If your child is already back at school this year, you might have already gotten an email about your child’s behavior in the classroom. Or – worse yet – a phone call from the principal. Ugh. The dreaded phone call. 

These phone calls are SO incredibly difficult for parents because they bring feelings of embarrassment, defensiveness, frustration, helplessness, anger (at everyone), empathy (for everyone). You feel like everyone is looking to YOU to come up with a solution… And you’ve got nothing to offer. 

Here’s the honest truth – if your child has ADHD, your efforts at home will have limited impact on their behavior at school

You can talk to your child about school behavior, you can create rewards and punishments at home based on school behavior, you can even scream and jump up and down. Your child’s behavior likely will not change based on your efforts at home. Period. 

So what do you do? Two things: 

#1 Stop putting the pressure on yourself to make an impact where it’s not really possible. In other words, stop expecting the impossible out if yourself. 

#2 Start putting effort into helping the school problem solve, following their lead. 

{Before I go any further, I want to be clear that this post is intended to address the “usual” conflicts between parents and schools that are equipped and willing to meet your child’s needs. This is not fully relevant to schools that are refusing for one reason or another to meet your child’s needs. That will be addressed in another post.}

Let me explain a little more: 

All children’s behavior – whether they have ADHD or not – is largely impacted by their environment – and specifically, how they perceive their environment. This includes how they view the people around them (their peers, their teachers, their lunch and recess aides), how safe they feel, how predictable things are, where they sit in class, how they feel about themselves in the class mix, and on and on and on. 

In your own home, you have control over – or are at least aware of – most of those factors. But in the school setting you have very little insight and virtually no control. 

No matter what you say, threaten, plan, or reward at home your child’s experience in the school environment is always going to have a bigger impact on his behavior. 

This is especially true for kids with ADHD. See, ADHD impacts working memory, emotional regulation, impulse control and the ability to be motivated by delayed gratification (among many other things). Your ADHD’er is living in the moment – now. Any carrot you dangle in front of your child from home will be long forgotten in the heat of the moment

So what is a parent to do? Lean on those people in your child’s life who DO have control over the school environment — teachers and administrators. 

Their role is to lead. Your role is to support and advocate. 

  • When a teacher expresses a struggle with your child, offer to help them problem-solve what the cause of the issue is, and to brainstorm potential solutions. Sometimes this means you speak to the teacher. Sometimes it means you gather information from your child and relay it to the teacher. Sometimes you might offer to help them brainstorm together.
  • This means that your role involves sharing what you know to be true about your child – his or her strengths, weaknesses, past experiences, and triggers for less-than-ideal behavior. For example, your child may often move into fight-or-flight behaviors if he/she is subjected to public shaming, if they are embarrassed, or if they are prone to perfectionistic thoughts.
  • This also means that you re-inforce messages from school at home. Sometimes kids will have an easier time practicing a skill at home than in the school setting. I often ask teachers, “is there a message you want reinforced at home?” Or, “is there something in particular you want us to practice at home?”
  • Try not to dictate a particular solution. A classroom is a complex environment and a solution you may feel is obvious or easy may not be for the teacher for a number of different reasons. Assume that they know and understand the best ways to implement accommodations in their classrooms. This will go a long way in building trust and rapport with this vital person!

Remember, that support and advocacy begins with collaboration. Assume the school has your child’s best interests at heart and are willing to do what is necessary to help your child. 

If you aren’t seeing progress or significant accommodations are being implemented to help your child be sure you’re requesting an evaluation be done to determine if your child qualifies for a 504 Plan or an Individualized Education Plan (I.E.P.). 

Have a favorite teacher you’d love to share this with? Feel free to share with love and positive intention!

ADHD is a complex condition that creates confusing and complex behaviors. Taking a team approach where everyone understands their roles helps create the best chance of success for your kiddo!