Remote Learning Can Be Especially Hard For Kids With ADHD––7 Tips To Minimize Stress

by Rachel Garlinghouse
Originally Published: 
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“Hey, mom! The UPS driver is here!” my kiddo blurts out in the middle of a Zoom session with their class. I acknowledge and re-direct. “I see the driver. Now let’s get back to math class,” I reply quietly. The next day, it’s the monthly all-city tornado drill, complete with loud sirens. We’re only at the very beginning of the Zoom, and my kid is already done. It only takes the most seemingly miniscule distraction to move a child with ADHD from one path to another.

Raising a child with ADHD requires patience, lots of second chances, creative thinking, and deep breaths. Typical punishments and rewards simply don’t work, and in fact, often backfire. The challenges have been amplified during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially when so many children across the country are learning remotely.

There are some extraordinary things about raising a child with ADHD. First off, they are noticers. While the rest of us are busy checking boxes and rushing, a child with ADHD will often spot a beautiful detail, like a flower growing in a crack in the sidewalk, and stop everything in order to exam the petals. Kids with ADHD can also be gifted in certain areas of study and interest, becoming young experts on their favorite topics.

There are also difficulties. Children with ADHD tend to be highly emotional (we call them big feelings), prone to perseveration, easily distracted, and hyperactive. Remote learning requires organization, discipline, and a lot of patience—things that children with ADHD tend to struggle with.

We’ve been learning from home for about two months now, and I feel like we’ve finally got it down pat. This doesn’t mean that every day, or even every class session, is a success. There are plenty of difficult days when I want to throw in the home-learning towel. However, we have found some practical ways to make remote learning with my child with ADHD easier.

Prioritize Gross Motor Sessions

All children have energy to burn, but children with ADHD struggle with hyperactivity. Their need to move cannot be punished out of them, nor should it be. Instead, parents can meet the need. For our kiddo, after every school subject, we have recess. If it’s nice, we head outside and play ball or ride bikes. If the weather isn’t great, we do a yoga video together, wrestle, or even lift free weights. The output of energy helps maintain focus during learning activities. Hunkering down and pushing through all the academics doesn’t work–not for a child with ADHD or any kiddo.

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Offer Alternatives When Learning

Your child might need to lie on the floor, stand up at a table, or utilize an alternative seat like a wiggle cushion while learning. We have an exercise band around the chair legs of our child’s seat to provide a quiet and safe way for wiggly legs to expend energy. Fidget toys, like a stress ball, can provide something for the child’s hands. My kiddo’s magical focus tool is chewing gum. The goal isn’t to have a perfectly still, perfectly quiet child, but to have a child’s needs met so that they can learn.

Create Reward Systems, Not Punishments

Many children are triggered by behavioral clip charts and discipline systems. Instead of causing a child with ADHD to hyperfocus and worry about getting marked down for many behaviors they cannot control, give your child a positive goal. We are strict with electronic time and our kids, so getting time to play a game or watch TV is a big deal. I created tickets for my child, one per subject, where they can earn a few TV minutes after schoolwork is complete. It’s worked like magic. My child learns to be responsible for their own choices and to be proud of their accomplishments. Plus, the TV time gives me a little bit of reprieve during our long days. Win-win!

Have a Feasible Routine and Stick to It

A feasible routine doesn’t have to be a rigid routine. However, a child and parent without a routine will struggle to get the school work done. When expectations are set, it sets the parent-child team up for success. It certainly took us awhile, but we finally generated a routine that starts with breakfast, then movement, then a Zoom meeting. After this, we take a recess break, outside if possible, and have a popsicle. The rest of our day is a version of this on repeat. Structure generates security for both the child with ADHD and their parent.

Consider Seeking a Formal Educational Plan

If your child has ADHD, they may qualify for a 504 or an IEP. These are plans that lay out either accommodations or accomodations and specialized instruction for the child with a documented disability that interferes with their ability to learn like typically functioning peers. If your child is struggling immensely, it’s time to ask that the child be evaluated to see if they qualify for a plan that helps them have access to a FAPE, a free and appropriate public education (if applicable).

Stay in Communication with the Teacher

What’s working for your child and what isn’t? What changes need to be made, either at home, via the school, or both? I have found teachers to truly love what they do and care about the kids they educate. They want to know how they can help and what they can provide for all of their students, including kids with attention and hyperactivity struggles.

Keep It Real and Try Again Tomorrow

I have found so much power in stating out loud how I’m feeling on any given remote learning day. This doesn’t mean emotionally dumping or blaming my child. Rather, I’m empathizing with struggles. For example, “It’s raining today, you were asked to do a handwriting worksheet that’s frustrating for you, and I’m grouchy. It’s a tough day, isn’t it?” Pushing down our feelings and ignoring our mood does nothing to improve the day. Sometimes we just have to let some assignments go until the following day and bust out the ice cream.

Remote learning with a child with ADHD is not easy, but it can also be an opportunity to learn new skills and better understand our children. When we let go of perfection and instead embrace the child, coming alongside them, remote learning gets a little bit better for both parent and child.

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