Picture this: an overflowing backpack by the door, newsletters long past their due date sticking out like warning flags, and half-finished homework crumpled at the bottom. You’ve avoided looking in there for weeks now.
Is this your chaotic backpack? No. It’s your child’s.
“I’m an adult,” you tell yourself. “I shouldn’t be overwhelmed by a kindergartener’s backpack!” — But you are.
Suddenly, this little bookbag triggers flashbacks to your own school years, and all the times you spent masking your overwhelm for fear of judgment.
How do you pull yourself from this shame spiral and get back on top of things? How can you feel empowered as a responsible adult who’s ‘totally not scared of homework and definitely in charge of their life?’
Don’t worry — we’ve got you covered.
Too long; didn’t read
- Sit your kids down in a designated homework spot as soon as they get home.
- Start on homework immediately.
- Review school announcements the day you receive them.
- Get everything ready the day before.
- Divide school duties with your partner or co-parent.
- Communicate often and openly with teachers.
How to stay on top of your kid’s schoolwork as a parent with ADHD
1. Go over schoolwork as soon as they get home: daily follow-up
As soon as your kiddo comes home from school, sit down at the table and go through their backpack and folders with them. This can be done while they eat a snack or decompress with a magazine, coloring, or device.
Just don’t let them leave! It’s harder to resume if you stop. (The dreaded task-switching problem with ADHD)
Things to review while they’re seated:
- Their work from the day
- Flyers and announcements from teachers
- Their homework
Get involved in what your child does every day. Ask questions, listen, and provide encouragement.
Talking point ideas
“What questions did you ask today?”
“What was a challenge you overcame?”
“What have you learned this week? How do you feel about it?”
Now consider your own experiences – is there anything similar you could share with them? This is a great time to really connect with your child.
💯 Bonus points: Continuing this habit as they get older may help initiate conversations with those tight-lipped teens you’re so desperate to know more about.
2. Prepare for tomorrow
Alleviate the morning madness by preparing everything the day before.
- Pack their lunch.
- Pack their backpack.
- Set it aside, ready to go.
What’s for lunch?
Keep lunches fast and easy by packing “ready foods”.
Ready foods can be things like:
- Granola bars
- Snack bags of chips, nuts, or cookies
- Fruit cups or dried fruit
- Pudding cups
On busy days, their lunch might be all “ready foods,” while other days will only include one. Either way, your kids are fed!
3. Create a “launch pad”
In her book, “The Queen of Distraction”, Terry Matlen, MSW, advises parents to create a “launch pad” for their kids. This is a designated space — cubby, coat rack, corner of the dining room — to store everything needed for the next day: shoes, jacket, backpack, etc.
Matlen suggests taking a picture of what the launch pad should look like and taping it there as a reminder.
After the daily follow-up is done, homework is completed, and lunch is packed, take one more minute to prep the launch pad. Tomorrow You will thank Today You.
4. Divide and conquer (share the work)
Keeping track of everyday life is overwhelming. Add in school and extracurricular activities, and it can feel like too much. Cut down on your obligations by dividing them with a partner or co-parent.
Tasks that can be divided:
- Morning routines (breakfast, getting dressed, brushing teeth…)
- Packing lunches
- Prep the launch pad
- School drop-off and pick-up
- Homework help
- Receiving and responding to emails
- Tracking and attending parent teacher conferences
Having trouble deciding how to divide responsibilities?
Write instructions for your day as if someone else were doing it for you. With the tasks laid out, look for responsibilities that already align with your schedules and allocate them.
Does dad usually wake up first? He makes breakfast.
Is mom already in charge of pickup? She can handle the after-school tasks; i.e. homework, lunch prep, and organizing the launch pad for tomorrow.
Is one partner on the computer during the day? They can manage emails.
No one can do it all
It doesn’t matter if you have no idea when the next school fundraiser is or what the spirit week theme is, as long as somebody does - and that doesn’t have to be you.
5. Connect with their teacher
If you’re overwhelmed and unsure where to start, email the teacher and say just that. Chances are, you aren’t the only parent feeling that way.
Ask about what they’re doing in class, announcements you may have missed, etc. This gives you an idea of which papers you can throw out, and where to start going forward. If you or the teacher feel the discussion needs to go deeper, schedule a meeting.
Keep it up
Throughout the year, stay in contact with the teacher. When you have questions about homework, or need tips on helping your child with studying, email the teacher.
So what if you feel like you’re pestering them? You are your child’s number one resource, and if emailing the teacher clarifies expectations to help you be a better parent to your child? Email them.
Being a parent is hard enough, but parenting with ADHD adds an extra dose of difficulties. Keeping up with a busy ADHD household and life’s requirements can sometimes feel impossible – especially with forgetfulness and time blindness thrown in the mix. Remind yourself - and often - that you are not a bad parent because of the challenges you face.
Your desire and capability are no less than that of non-ADHD parents. With the proper tools and support in place, you don’t have to struggle to be the parent you want to be.