What are some tips and tricks for classroom management of ADHD?
Within the classroom, there are things that you all can do or adjust that are generally positive for everybody, but really can be lifesavers for kids where we've got concerns about ADHD.
- Picture schedules
- High structure and routine
- Tactile objects readily available
Globally, we know that kids with ADHD benefit considerably from picture schedules. We're going to do this, and then this, and then this. Since I can go back and reference it, I can check myself and say, "Oh, geez, yeah, I did forget, but now I know where to catch up and go from there." They do very well with high structure and routine. The more that things are consistent and the more predictable they are, the greater capacity that kids have to be able to think, "Oh, that's the thing we always do next" and it comes back to a place of muscle memory. One of the other things that everybody does well with is tactile objects being readily available. Try as I might, I know that I have talked enough with my hands that my fidget has popped up today. I don't have ADHD, but it is still something that if I need to think and be able to process out loud, then sometimes, it's helpful to have something to do with your hands. That may mean having Play-Doh, Ziploc bags filled with cheap hair gel and then superglued closed (so they're like squishy and tactile), stress balls, or some other item be that really does help kids get some of that nervous energy out in order to be able to focus.
- Balance balls
- Consistent, immediate rewards
- Brief instructions
- Repeat it back to me
- Backpack checks
In regards to individual interventions, we're talking kid-specific. Balance balls are amazing. They do make balance balls for classrooms at this point that have little tiny legs on them, and that will cause kids enough difficulty to work with their core to stay upright. Similar to the fidgets, they're going to work harder to pay attention and focus. Consistent, immediate rewards are very important. We're going to talk about that in a minute. Another individual intervention is giving very brief instructions. Stick with one-step instructions, not two or three. Do backpack checks. If you want it to go home, your best bet is to make sure it made it in the backpack and to zip the backpack closed. I've seen it happen a lot where the child made it to the bus with it and then it was gone. Another helpful intervention is to repeat it back to me. If you give a two-step direction, then say to the child, "All right, repeat it back to me." This helps kids get that muscle memory of being able to say what they're going to do and so now it has become an internal dialogue.
- Track behavior frequently throughout the day
- Is behavior most difficult in the morning/afternoon, during transitions?
- Increase structure around difficult time
- Give children “jobs” during times of high stress
- Visual timers
- Making repair
- Setting children up to be successful
Figure 2. Bubblegum machine.
The bubblegum machine seen in figure 2 is something I created on Word years ago and use all the time. I fill it with the itty bitty tiny stickers, and I'll say, "Okay, once it's full all the way to the top, then we'll talk about a reward." The big reward gets delayed, but the immediate rewards come all the time. Any time that something positive happens or I catch a child paying attention or being on task for two minutes, I'm just going to walk by and stick one of those stickers in there. This gives the child an immediate and constant reward for positive behavior. We want to track behavior frequently so we can identify when the child's behavior best, when it's worst, and what the child is struggling with. We know that if kids are in a place of high stress they're going to do better with structure, so let's give them jobs and set up an expectation and a routine. Give them something to do instead of all of that anxiety building up.
We want to set kids up strategically to be successful. If we know this is going to be hard, we want to give them more time. If we know that they're good at this, then in a time they're struggling, we want to pull that out and give them something they can be successful at. We want to be constantly going back to help them feel this sensation of success. When they're not successful, we want to bolster this place of making a repair. So if something didn't go right, if we broke something or if it got messed up, that we're going to make active attempts at repair and take responsibility for our choices. This goes back again to that place of muscle memory of helping kids get into that habit of "I'm sorry" is an action, not a set of words.
This Ask the Expert is an edited excerpt from the course, ADHD 101: Bringing Focus to the Confusion, by Alison Peak, LCSW.