5 Tips for a Successful Start to the School Year for Students with ADHD

By Dr. Mary Rooney, Ph.D.

For students with ADHD, summer is a much-needed break from the structure and pressure of the school year. As summer winds down, feelings of dread about the upcoming start to the school year can begin to creep in for students and their parents . Many students with ADHD struggle with the adjustment to new classrooms, classmates, and teachers at the beginning of each school year, and unfortunately, a tough start can be hard to bounce back from.  

A successful start to the school year for students with ADHD requires some advance planning on the part of parents and teachers and a toolbox full of strategies that will help the student stay on task, engaged, and motivated. The greatest school success happens when parents and teachers communicate frequently and use similar strategies at school and at home. Here are five tips for helping your child or student with ADHD have a successful start to their school year.  

  1. Schedule a parent-teacher meeting as soon as possible. When a student has ADHD, open communication and collaboration between parents and teachers are both essential for school success. Early in the school year (or just before the start of the school year), schedule a parent-teacher meeting to share important details about the student and discuss strategies that may be helpful at school and at home. Parents: read up on how to talk with your child’s teacher about ADHD
  2. Create a daily schedule. During the school day, teachers and students follow a consistent schedule that provides structure and predictability in the classroom. Children with ADHD rely on this structure to help organize their thoughts and manage their behavior. Parents, you can create similar structure and consistency at home by following a before and after school schedule and evening routine. Post the schedule in a location where you can see and review it with your child every day. To make the back-to-school transition as smooth as possible, start following the morning and evening routines about two weeks before the first day of school.  
  3. Break large tasks down into smaller chunks. Tasks and assignments that are long or involve multiple steps can easily overwhelm a child with ADHD. When teachers and parents help break down long assignments and tasks down into smaller chunks, children with ADHD can get started more quickly and stay on task until the work is done. 
  4. Praise good behavior. Children with ADHD rely on feedback from parents and teachers to manage their behavior. When you praise a child with ADHD for doing something well, you’re making it much more likely that they will demonstrate that same behavior again the next day. So, keep an eye out for positive behavior, and give praise like, “Great job getting started right away!” as often as possible. 
  5. Minimize distractions. When children with ADHD are struggling to get things done quickly and accurately, distractions are often part of the problem. Think about the most challenging times of the day for your child or student with ADHD, the activities they are doing during those times, and the distractions that may be getting in the way. In addition, have a conversation with your child or student about things that they think are distracting at that time. You may be surprised to find that it’s often not the obvious distractions that bother them the most. While it’s not possible to eliminate all distractions, keeping them to a minimum can make a big difference.    

Saying goodbye to summer is never easy, but with a bit of planning and a collaborative parent-teacher relationship, it is possible to lay the foundation for a very successful school year. 


Mary Rooney, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco. Dr Rooney is a researcher and clinician specializing in the evaluation and treatment of ADHD and co-occurring behavioral, anxiety, and mood disorders. A strong advocate for those with attention and behavior problems, Dr. Rooney is committed to developing and providing comprehensive, cutting edge treatments tailored to meet the unique needs of each child and adolescent. Dr. Rooney's clinical interventions and research avenues emphasize working closely with parents and teachers to create supportive, structured home and school environments that enable children and adolescents to reach their full potential. In addition, Dr. Rooney serves as a consultant and ADHD expert to Huntington Learning Centers.


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