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daily schedule and adhd distance learning: setting yourself up for success

March 23, 2020

Daily Schedule for ADHD Families: Remote Learning in The Time of Coronavirus

Use this expert advice and daily schedule from Dr. Sharon Saline to keep your child happily learning and achieving during prolonged school closures.


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By Dr. Sharon Saline

ADHD Distance Learning: Setting Up for Success

The coronavirus outbreak is changing our lives by the moment, but one constant is true: You’re unsure how to manage several weeks of closed schools and social isolation with your children, who happen to have ADHD.

The big questions are: What can you do to set up a family plan that fosters more cooperation and less arguing during this unsettled time of COVID-19? How can you devise a plan that you can actually follow and your kids will buy into? We know that kids with ADHD benefit from structure, but what can you realistically pull off? Here is some helpful advice to get you started.

Carve Out Chunks of Time

Break the day into chunks that include periods for learning, chores, activities, your own work-from-home responsibilities, and personal breaks from each other. Instead of using punishments or threats to force your kids to cooperate, focus on using earned privileges because incentives motivate kids with ADHD best.

Focus on Big Goals and Forget the Small Stuff

Before you start learning at home, think about what you want for each day and what will help you stay as calm as possible. If you are dysregulated, then your kids will be too. Consider what they have to get done for school and chores, what assists them in working on those tasks and how many breaks they’ll need.

Don’t Fudge Wake Up and Bed Times

Pick specific times for waking up, getting started on studying and going to bed.

[Use This Sample Schedule For A Reliable Family Routine]

Set New Screen Time Limits

Decide how much ‘fun’ screen time they can have each day as a given and what they can earn through cooperation. It’s reasonable to allow your child more time than your usual limits on screens right now, especially if it means they can interact with their friends online.However, make sure to explain to your kids that this is an exception not the new normal.

Collaborate with Your Child

Make a time to talk with your kids about their ideas for organizing their days. Brainstorm together how to co-create a structure that makes sense for everyone. When kids, especially those with ADHD, are included in the process of figuring things out, they are far more likely to cooperate.

Spell Out the Incentives

You’ll need to make two lists: one with smaller ‘like-to-do’ items such as playing with the dog, hearing a story, practicing yoga or movement, or getting a snack and another list of bigger incentives such as extra screen time (surfing the net, gaming or social media); doing a favorite activity with you such as cooking or art projects; playing catch or making music; or even watching a TV show or movie. You’ll need to apply these incentives to the ‘have-to-do’ list that includes tasks like studying, doing chores, and helping out with siblings or household work.

Put the Schedule and Incentives in Writing

Now lay out a sample weekly schedule based on the tips below. Each day should have designated blocks of time geared toward school and learning, household chores, and various fun activities. Once you’ve got a draft, post it around the house and plan to meet again in 4 days to check in and make necessary adjustments.

[Learning at Home: Sample Schedule & Resources for Elementary School Students with ADHD]

Daily Schedule for School and Learning

  1. Plan to scaffold: Set up work periods using incentives that matter to your child or teen,timed breaks with appropriate activities, and earned rewards when the period is over or
    the task is completed. Plan to work alongside your child in what I call Family Work Time.
    You’ll do some of your stuff while they are doing theirs. Plus you’ll be there to help them
    stay on task or answer any possible questions. This sends a message that everyone is
    taking this plan seriously and it’s time to settle down.
  2. Block out realistic work periods: Ask your son or daughter how long they think they can concentrate before needing a break. Depending on their level of interest and the challenge of the work, this period can last 5 to 20 minus for elementary school kids. For middle and high school students, it varies between 15 and 45 minutes. Together, decide on the length of their study periods and how many they will need per hour and per day.
  3. Set benchmarks: Choose incentives for reaching benchmarks, expecting that after an hour your child will need a longer break. This is the opportunity for those ‘want-to-dos’ like YouTube, social media, gaming, reading, listening to music or exercise. Meanwhile, create 5-minute break times between study periods with a clear list of acceptable activities such as movement, bathroom, snacks, petting the dog, etc.

adhd daily schedule remote learning student sitting at home desk

Daily Schedule for Home Chores

  1. Talk about team effort: This is a time when everybody needs to chip in. Talk to your kids about coming together for the collective well-being of the family and the reality of having to do more chores because the house will get dirtier than usual since everybody’s around.
  2. Choose chores they can tackle: Keep chores for your kids simple and manageable. If they weren’t doing them before, this isn’t the time to add something new. Instead, link the completion of their chores to some of the incentives as well. Talk about how many reminders they need and in what form. Prepare to supervise them if necessary and notice when they do what they are asked with positivity.

Daily Schedule for Activities

  1. Prioritize social time: The advice is clear: stay home and avoid playdates. But kids aren’t used to being alone and you may feel that complete avoidance is not possible. If your child is really struggling with social isolation, arrange for FaceTime sessions or interactive gaming sessions with friends. Focus on being outdoors as a family and making the most of this time without outside obligations.
  2. Create a menu of non-screen choices: I suggest board games, puzzles, cooking, fun art or science projects, scrapbooking, cards, creating movies, music or books, caring for pets, walking, hiking, yoga, Wii, or biking. Create a garden or make some planters, redecorate a bedroom, or organize your playroom.
  3. Game-ify mundane things: Let each child pick a family movie for two nights a week and pretend you are going to the movie theatre. Make popcorn or other treats. Set it up like an event. Make lunch as a picnic in your living room instead of at the kitchen table. Have breakfast for dinner. Play dance music while doing the dishes.
  4. Nurture their interests: This is a great opportunity to cultivate those non-school activities that no one ever seems to have enough time to pursue.
  5. Know that down time is healthy: Everybody needs and wants time to do whatever they want. Save some screen time allocations for this and let folks chill.

Daily Schedule for Managing Your Own Work

  1. Budget quiet into the schedule: If you are working from home, decide when you want privacy and allow your kids to have some of their screen time then. This keeps them occupied when you need to work.
  2. Take shifts, if possible: If you have a partner or a family member who lives with you, try to tag team your work and child coverage. Plan on relieving each other and make arrangements to check in with each other when your kids are asleep.

Whatever routines you create during this unusual time will need tweaking as you go, but that doesn’t mean the plan isn’t working. If your son or daughter isn’t cooperating, work with their desire to avoid conflict and see their struggles as part of their frustration about how life has changed. Expect inevitable meltdowns and make an arrangement for structured time apart to cool off before pivoting to another activity.

Remember that kids are struggling right now and may neither fully understand the severity of the situation nor be able to articulate how they feel. Share relevant facts without scaring them and be careful of what you are saying on the phone to friends and family that’s within earshot of your youngster.

[Read This Now: How To Explain Coronavirus to an Anxious Child]

Sharon Saline, Psy.D., a licensed clinical psychologist with more than 30 years’ experience, is a top expert on ADHD, anxiety, learning differences and mental health challenges and their impact on school and family dynamics.

Her unique perspective, a sibling of a child who wrestled with untreated ADHD, combined with decades of academic excellence and clinical experience, assists her in guiding families as they navigate from the confusing maze of diagnoses and conflict to successful interventions and connections. Dr. Saline funnels this expertise into her new book, What Your ADHD Child Wishes You Knew: Working Together to Empower Kids for Success in School and Life. Heralded as an invaluable resource, her book is the recipient of two highly-acclaimed awards: Best Book Awards winner by American Book Fest and the Gold Medal from Moms Choice Awards. Dr. Saline is a regular contributor to Psychology Today and a member of ADDitude Magazine’s ADHD Specialist Panel.

As an internationally sought-after lecturer and workshop facilitator, she combines psychology with her love of theatre to animatedly present on a variety of topics such as understanding ADHD, executive functioning, teen brains and different learners. A magna cum laude graduate of Brown University, she received her master’s degree in psychology from New College of California and her doctorate in psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology at Alliant University. Dr. Saline’s is a regular contributor to ADDitude magazine and psychology today, a part-time lecturer at the Smith School for Social Work and lives with her family in Northampton, MA.

  • Read more from Dr. Sharon Saline here.
  • This article was originally published by ADDitutde Magazine and can be found here.
  • Find more resources and tools for successful remote learning here.

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