Last Modified: February 16, 2023 | Published: January 19, 2023
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) doesn’t define your child, but it can impact their daily life. ADHD can impact a 7-year-old’s attention span, organization, task completion, memory, and their mental health.
The good news is parent and teacher compassion and in the moment intervention can make a big difference. Seven years old is a pivotal age because kids in kindergarten experience play based learning. As our children move to first and second grade, the academic demands increase. We ask our kids to sit more. We ask them to focus more. Here’s how to support your first or second grader’s strengths and set them up for success.
5 strategies for supporting your ADHD child in the classroom setting
1. Create a structured environment
Many kids with ADHD live in the moment and have trouble with time-blindness. This means they have trouble predicting and structuring their own time. For this reason, elementary aged children with ADHD often benefit from a structured and predictable routine. This can help them feel more in control and better able to focus on their work. Creating structure when you can will help a child’s frustration level and allow them to manage stressful situations.
Some teachers are organized. They have a predictable structure and routine in their classrooms. These teachers tend to work better with ADHD kids. Timers help with this structure too, letting a child know how much time is left for a given task and when they will be asked to transition to something new.
Here are several ways you can consider helping your child understand what to expect each day. These ideas work in the classroom and also at home. Visual schedules work well. Lists, on-desk reminders, and self-evaluation forms can help your child. Using a schedule and reminders or evaluation forms helps with working memory challenges. Often ADHD kids drift off task and forget what they are working on. Having a schedule taped on the desk means their teacher just needs to touch them gently on the shoulder and point to the task at hand.
The evaluation form reminds your child of 1-3 goals. One goal might be to finish math work. This allows them to check off the goal and circle a smiley face, neutral face or sad face to state how the task went for them. Charting your child’s progress can make small improvements evident and give them goals to work towards.
2. Encourage physical activity
Many children with ADHD have a high level of energy. They may need regular opportunities to move and release that energy. Incorporating physical activity breaks into the school day can help. Your child will focus better when it’s time to work. Especially in early elementary school, our children need these breaks.
Physical activity can help to manage impulsive and hyperactive behavior. It can curb restlessness and aid in smooth transitions.Having 2 recess breaks during the day is preferable to one, even if that means two 20 minute segments on the playground instead of one 40 minute segment. Building movement into a 7-year-old’s day is a great way to keep a child moving and expending energy. Passing out papers, cleaning the white board, taking the lunch count to the office are great ways to do this.
A sensory room with a small trampoline and climbing wall are great for an energy break and are more and more common in elementary schools these days. Having a corner of the classroom that allows for movement can help. Some kids do well sitting on a yoga ball, having a kick band around chair legs or using a wiggle cushion to add movement to seatwork. Also remember to get your child some physical exercise before and after school if you can!
Increased physical activity may also help your child sleep better. When children get good sleep their concentration level and focus skills improve. For this reason, exercise may have many benefits for your child.
3. Use positive reinforcement
First or Second grade children with ADHD may struggle with impulse control and tend to get in trouble a lot. This can be really hard on their self-esteem. We also know from the research that cues of reward change behavior in ADHD kids, not threats of punishment. They will benefit from positive reinforcement to encourage good behavior. Consider using a reward system or other forms of positive reinforcement to help your child stay on track.
Earning points or stickers can create great pride in your child and foster a warm relationship with adults. Your child will perceive that others like and value them at school. It is important for children to feel safe at school, know the teacher likes them and have warm relationships with classmates. These things go a long way in the success of an ADHD child. These successes in early elementary school impact a child’s attitude as they get older.
Above all, children need to feel respected, understood, and compassion from others. With ADHD this can be harder because of perceived misbehavior. When adults understand the brain difference that is ADHD they have more compassion for kids.
Research shows us that for many kids with ADHD, mental health declines. Kids who receive these supports are more likely to maintain positive self-esteem. They will have lower rates of anxiety and depression.
4. Make accommodations
Children with ADHD may need extra support in the classroom to help them stay focused and on track. This may include things like extra time to complete assignments if your child has slow processing. The use of assistive technology like a calculator, spell check or dictation software can help with writing or math. The use of a quiet space for focused work is great for minimizing distractions.
We need to remember to use what Russell Barkley calls point of performance interventions. This means to help your child in the moment they need it. If a child is dysregulated or off task a brief 2 minute check in with her teacher- How’s it going? What are you working on? How can we keep our body safe? This is called the 2-minute manager and needs to happen in the moment. Barkley also introduces the idea of cue words to help with self-regulation. Turtle technique is a fun cue word the teacher can use with your child. They whisper turtle to signal pull hands and legs in, look around and check how I’m doing with my activity level.
If you are wondering how to get accommodations implemented in your child’s classroom, check out our Cadey Course.
5. Work towards self-advocacy
As our first and second graders get older, it’s important to encourage them to be their own advocates and to speak up when they need extra support. When they are in elementary school, parents must be the manager for their child’s education. If this happens, they will be more independent when they are older.
Parents must educate the teachers and school team on their child. They can also be an active participant in creating interventions that work. As children grow and learn what works for them they will get better at communicating their needs. At that time, a middle or high school child with ADHD becomes their own advocate.
Parents help create a positive and successful learning environment for their child. Implementing strategies and being supportive and understanding will make a difference. Parent education is the first line of treatment. When parents dig in, kids get better.
In just minutes a day, learn about the causes, symptoms and treatments for ADHD. Point of performance intervention while your child is still young can make a world of difference. Psychotherapy is not effective for treating ADHD in your child. Parent and teacher strategies are effective. Learn from Cadey how to help your child today.
Barkley, R.(2020) Taking Charge of ADHD: The Complete Authoritative Guide for Parents
August 20 The ADHD Report
Phuc Nguyen and Stephen Hinshaw
Hargitai, L. D., Livingston, L. A., Waldren, L. H., Robinson, R., Jarrold, C., & Shah, P. (2023). Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder traits are a more important predictor of internalising problems than autistic traits. Scientific Reports, 13(1), 1-7.
ADHD in Children and Adolescents: Advances in Diagnosis, Treatment and Management
Russell Barkley PhD, 2021
CBT Strategies for Kids and Adolescents: Supporting Students with ADHD and Anxiety
David Pratt, PhD, MSW 2020