Learning for children with ADHD can seem impossible, even before considering the repercussions from COVID-19. Healthy executive functioning helps children to stay organized, plan ahead, and transition to changing environments smoothly. 2020 has been a year of continued change and transition, ultimately aiming for acceptance. What used to be considered a student’s place for a mental break to play and enjoy activities is now where they must also attend school. This could cause confusion, as the brain isn’t separating work from play. Some might ask, is it work from home, or live at work? Especially while considering an ADHD brain, we must work to help differentiate the two, thus, providing engagement for children in school. While parents are faced with the task of taking place of their child’s teacher, use the below tips to help improve your child’s executive functioning and engage their ADHD brain.
According to ADDitude Magazine, at home learning will become successful when attention is paid to three areas: practicing mindfulness, readying the home environment for distance learning, and encouraging independence and accountability.
The powerhouse of our executive functioning lies in the frontal lobe. When we are attuned to our emotions and can avoid allowing stressors to dominate our thoughts, we are able to better regulate the frontal lobe. What is the most powerful way to do this? Practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness helps to self-regulate while getting emotions in check and understand things we are feeling. When we are stressed we become unregulated, thus, disengaging our frontal lobe. COVID is creating a new reality for children who are unable to educate themselves in ways their brain knows how- deregulating the frontal lobe. In turn, this forces children’s brain to enter flight or fight mode. “We see this in action when children struggle to listen or focus. When it looks like they are ignoring our directions or actively resisting, chances are that they’re actually not in the correct “headspace” to comply. In other words, they are dysregulated and cognitively in fight, flight, or freeze mode” (ADDitude, 2020). Mindfulness trains your body to self-regulate, promote focus, and understand what is going on in the here and now. Mindfulness exercises come in many forms, including: focus on sensations, breathing exercises, mindful eating, meditation, etc. Mindfulness should be practiced when your child is in a regulated state of mind and can comply to the practices.
Children perform well in environments that promote success. If their area of learning is the same physical environment in which they play with their siblings, watch TV after a long day, or play fetch with their dog, they are likely to forego the mental capacity to function educationally. Your child’s physical location will affect their productivity level, especially if sensory needs must be considered. Keep your home organized, leaving space set aside to be your child’s at-home classroom. Still, certain unmet biological or sensory needs can take away from your child’s focus; these include: adequate rest, hydration, exercise, playtime, bonding, and sensory stimulation. Cater to your child’s needs by creating structure and a regular routine. Help to remove distractions by providing pleasing lighting, removing background noise, respecting smell sensitivity, and ensuring comfort in their study space.
In many parents’ attempt to drive their children toward success, they often will tell their children what needs to be done- “But this only keeps their executive functioning skills subdued when they are most needed. To strengthen executive functioning in children, ask them guided questions rather than commanding or directing them” (ADDitude Magazine, 2020). Guided questions will help children to act proactively, and they’ll feel as if they figured it out on their own. Commands are likely to agitate children, shifting their brains to fight-or-flight. Ask guided questions to determine the best morning and night routine, time for homework, the best types of breaks, etc. For example, instead of, “you will not do your school work in your pajamas today,” say “which of these three school outfits would you like to wear?” Instead of, “stop your play time, and get back to your school work”, say, “it is time for one more lesson today, once you finish this last game.”
Though this year’s back to school looks entirely different, it does not have to affect your child’s executive functioning. Use the mentioned approaches to help activate your child’s ADHD brain for a positive learning experience and more comfortable transition.
We will be helping you in doing this in the coming weeks. Please check our website to see resources to create your home the best learning environment!
Refer to the below link to read ADDitude magazine’s tips on activating the ADHD brain!
Link to Article by Elizabeth A Sautter, MA, CCC, Rebecca Branstetter, PhD