Tips for Managing COVID-19 School Closure Days for Kids with ADHD

By Dr. Mary Rooney, Ph.D.

School closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic are upending the lives of families across the U.S. Children with ADHD and their families face additional challenges since abrupt changes in routine make it harder for kids with ADHD to focus and regulate their emotions and behavior. Planned school closures lasting two weeks or more won’t simply look like extended weekends or snow days for kids or their parents.  

Most (if not all) of the activities that provide important structure on weekends for kids with ADHD are being cancelled. Social distancing measures will mean that typical snow day neighborhood playdates and visits to the park won’t be an option. On top of this, many parents will still have work responsibilities, either via telework or in person, on days when schools are closed.  

The coming weeks will not be easy, especially when you have a child with ADHD. Following these six tips will help things go as smoothly as possible when the kids are at home: 

  1. Do not change your child’s weekday medication schedule. If your child takes ADHD medication, continue their usual school-day medication routine even when school is cancelled (unless their doctor recommends otherwise)ADHD symptom management is very important at this time, and your child will be much better equipped to cope with the disruptions brought on by COVID-19 if they have medication on board to help to keep their ADHD symptoms in check.  
  1. Have consistent wake-up times and bedtimes. Even if kids are not going to school during the week, they still need enough sleep each night based on the sleep guidelines endorsed by the American Academy of PediatricsKids with ADHD are more likely to have sleep problems, and poor sleep makes ADHD symptoms much worse. So, maintain a consistent sleep schedule with wake-times and bedtimes that are the same each day.  

If you choose to shift these times away from your family’s usual school-day routine by letting your child sleep later in the morning and/or go to bed later in the evening, remember that you may struggle to get them back on their regular sleep schedule when school starts up again in a few weeks. Decide if the benefit of having later wake-times and bedtimes now is worth the cost of a sleep struggle later on when they return to school.  

  1. Establish and maintain a consistent schedule throughout the day. As much as possible, create a consistent routine and stick with it. Start by scheduling lunch and snacks and build the rest of the routine around these activities. Post the schedule in a place where it is visible to the whole family. 
  1. Schedule learning activities for the morning. Some schools will be using virtual classrooms or e-Learning tools to keep kids engaged in school while the buildings are closed. There are many different virtual learning models available. Some are very structured, requiring kids to log in at the same time each day and complete scheduled classroom or group activities. Others are unstructured, giving kids daily assignments to complete on their own (with teachers available to help via phone calls or chats at certain times of the day). Other schools are opting out of virtual learning and are cancelling school altogether. 

Regardless of your child’s school’s plan, every student should complete some academic work every day to avoid academic backsliding. Getting kids with ADHD to stay focused and on-task when completing academic assignments at home is a challenge (I’ll share more strategies related to this in a separate post), but you can maximize your child’s ability to focus and stay on task by scheduling academic time first thing in the morning.  

  1. Avoid exceeding the American Academy of Pediatrics screen time limitsThe American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than one hour of screen time per day for children over the age of two. Since many school assignments and activities will be occurring online while schools are closed, I recommend planning for no more than one hour of screen time per day not including the time spent online for school-related activities.  

It will be very tempting to allow your child to spend more than one hour on their screens, but the negative impact of extended screen time on behavior, focus, and sleep for kids with ADHD is very real. Extended screen time every day for up to two weeks (or more) can ultimately take a toll on your child and your family. Set appropriate screen time limits on Day 1 to avoid conflicts and limit testing down the line.  

  1. Make sure your child gets at least one hour of physical activity every day. One of the biggest problems with excessive screen time is that it reduces physical activity. All kids, and especially kids with ADHD, need daily physical activity to help them regulate their emotions, behavior, attention, and sleep. Make sure your child is getting at least one hour of physical activity each day – and build this into your daily routine.  

Whenever possible, encourage your child (and yourself) to be physically active outside. Schedule walks or bike rides. If you have a backyard, use it. On rainy days, kids can play Nerf basketball insideand siblings can wrestle or have races up and down the hall. The trick is to allow them more freedom to be physically active inside by lifting some of the usual rules you may have (like no running in the house) by creating time slots when these activities are allowed and encouraged and monitoring your children to make sure they are still playing safely at these times.  

Dealing with school closures and social distancing will be a challenge for everyone, and no one has all of the answers in this unprecedented situation. Every family will have to learn what works best for them through some trial and error. Starting with these six strategies will help set your child and your family up for success and will help you make the most of your time together in the weeks to come.


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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