It’s back-to-school time, and as the father and brother of teachers, I get to hear firsthand the joys and struggles educators face in the classroom. One challenge is managing hyperactive and impulsive behavior in the 10% of students that have ADHD. Here are 5 tips that will help you keep your sanity and make your students with ADHD (and their parents) eternally grateful.
1. Let them move
Research is in! Kids with ADHD perform better and learn more if they can wiggle while they work. Help them find less disruptive ways to do just that! A fidget pal — like an eraser or a small stress ball — can be helpful, but some kids will need more. Allowing students to sit on exercise balls has been helpful for some. Consider allowing students to stand at desks in the back of the room or have a walking and listening track if you find you have a kid that has to move. Incorporate stand up and stretch breaks into instruction.
2. Encourage PE and recess
Kids who get recess do better on standardized tests than those who don’t. If you restrict these high-movement times, then be prepared to face the repercussions. The need for the ADHD brain to move is cumulative — that is, it builds over the day. PE and recess allow a pop-off valve for that energy. Restriction from these activities due to behavioral issues or unfinished work is counter-productive.
3. Preferential seating
Some kids with ADHD get distracted visually and need to be in the front. For the ones more distracted by sound, consider letting them sit in the back of the class — these are the kids that are always looking behind them when you place them in the front closer to you so that they can listen better! Separating a child from his/her peers in a chair away from the action can lead to stigmatization and give a subconscious green light for bullying that child. Any changes in seating should be done privately and never in front of the other students or out of frustration. One thought is to move everyone around — that way no one is singled out, and the wiggle worm just happens to land in the seat you want him/her in! Don’t hesitate to rearrange if it doesn’t help.
4. Catch them being good and be specific on the negative behaviors
Kids with ADHD hear a lot of negative messages. When they have success controlling their behavior or completing their work, make sure to notice, and be easy on the frowny faces! Equal is not always fair. Most of God’s children, including the grown-up kind, will work more for encouragement and praise than for correction and discipline. When there are behavioral problems that need to be addressed, BE SPECIFIC. “He was blurting out answers and out of his seat a great deal today” is much more helpful than “Terrible day!” Consider identifying three problem behaviors and giving a daily grade of 1-5, with 1-2 being problematic, 3 being average and 4-5 being great! Parents can then see how their child is doing in the classroom and reinforce or discipline as indicated.
5. Never mention medication in the classroom
Asking a child about medication in the classroom or in front of a peer is a serious violation of privacy. Most teachers reading this will certainly agree! But from what kids say, it happens all too frequently, and it is devastating for them and often leads to problems with medication non-compliance. It’s much better to say, “You seem distracted today” or “You’re active today” than to ask about medication. If there needs to be a conversation about medication, remember to do it in private. Finally, please share concerns about medication side effects or lack of effectiveness of medication with the parent (or physician with parental approval). You are with the child eight hours a day, five days a week for nine months (as you no doubt know!), and your professional opinion counts!