Helping Children with ADHD Transition to a New School

By Dr. Mary Rooney, Ph.D.

Transitioning to a new school can be difficult for children with ADHD. Whether your child is starting at a new school because of a family move or because their old school wasn’t a good fit, they will need extra support from their parents, teachers, therapist and/or school counselor to make the adjustment as smooth as possible. If your child struggled academically or socially at their previous school, a new school may bring a welcome fresh start. A fresh start can make a big difference for children with ADHD, but it’s also important to keep your expectations realistic and remember that a new school won’t make your child’s ADHD symptoms go away. It may offer a more structured setting that makes ADHD symptoms easier to manage and provide a new group of peers that are better match for your child’s personality and interests. Here are some steps you can take to support your child through this transition: 

  1. Optimize your child’s ADHD treatment. Your child will have the best chance at success if their ADHD treatment is working effectively. If they take ADHD medication, schedule an appointment with their prescribing doctor to make sure the medication is working as well as possible. Medication dose adjustments are often needed as children grow older, and without these adjustments it’s possible that your child’s ADHD symptoms may become undertreated over time. On the behavioral front, work on tightening up and refreshing any behavior charts or reward systems that you have in place at home. Once school starts up, work with your child’s teacher and school counselor to have an effective behavior plan in place in the classroom. Learn more about creating classroom behavior plans and home behavior charts
  2. Schedule a meeting with your child’s teacher and school counselor as soon as possible. If it is possible to meet with your child’s new teacher before the start of the school year, schedule a meeting for yourself and your child. Otherwise aim to meet just after the school year begins. Depending on your child’s age, it can be helpful to involve them in a discussion with the teacher about the way their ADHD affects them in the classroom, what worked for them at their old school and what was difficult or did not work for them. You can also meet individually with your child’s teacher to discuss things in more detail without your child present. Have your child meet the school counselor as well and let your child know that this is someone they can go to if they are having a hard time in the classroom or with peers on the playground. 
  3. Advocate for your child. Developing a strong partnership with your child’s school – including school administrators, special education coordinators, teachers, and counselors – is key for facilitating a smooth transition to a new school. If you had strained relationships with teachers and administrators at your child’s previous school (a common situation for parents of children with ADHD), look at this as an opportunity for a fresh start. Approach the situation with as much optimism as possible. If your child has an IEP or 504 plan, work with the special education coordinator to get these plans reestablished. If your child hasn’t had a special education plan in the past, you may want to consider advocating for one now (this post on qualifying for an IEP or 504 plan with ADHD will help you get started). Request copies of your child’s records from the previous school so you’ll have them on hand for your upcoming meetings with the special education team.    
  4. Create opportunities for making new friends. For most children, their biggest worries are about fitting in and making new friends. While you can’t be there to support your child during the school day, there are things you can do to set them up for success outside of school. Start by enrolling your child in extracurricular activities as soon as possible. If there are non-school affiliated clubs or teams that draw children from the new school, consider signing up your child for one of these as well. Sometimes it’s easier to make friends when school social dynamics are taken out of the picture. Throughout the school year, plan to set up playdates with one or two classmates. These playdates can be brief (often a 30-minute playground meetup is all you need) and can go a long way toward building your child’s confidence and friendship skills.  
  5. Talk to your child and role play scenarios. Talk to your child about how they’re feeling about starting at a new school. Let them know that they can always talk to you about things they’re worried about or difficulties they might have once the school year begins. Help them strategize about dealing with tricky social situations, like who to sit with at lunch or how to join a group of children who are playing on the playground. Role playing these scenarios ahead of time can help your child feel more confident and remember the things you discussed. If you think your child could use even more guidance around specific social situations, ask the school counselor to step in and provide in-the-moment coaching and support when your child needs it most.  

Starting at a new school can be challenging and it make take weeks or months for your child to adjust. Be as patient and supportive as possible, and if you notice significant and persistent changes in your child’s behavior or mood, don’t hesitate to reach out to a therapist for help. Over time, your child will adjust to their new teacher and new friends, and you may just find that a new school is what they needed to succeed. 


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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This website does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The material on this site is provided for educational purposes only.

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