Uh oh. Moms (and dads) everywhere are in a state of high anxiety, maybe even panic. Can I help to calm you down?

The new certainty is uncertainty.

Think of this article as Plan B. Print it out, and tape it to your wall in the event that:

1. Your child has started brick and mortar school, but in the event of worsening COVID-19 outbreaks, may end up back home accessing classes virtually or…

2. Your child has started school virtually, but you are beyond lost as to how to help him.

Plan B will give you time to think through all the necessary moves you need to make in order to stay sane these next few months or longer.

Every day, the news changes:

Classes will be held at the school.

Classes will be held at home, virtually.

Students will attend on alternating days. No, students will keep a regular schedule, five days a week.

Just in: school will be held virtually throughout the 2020-21 year. Or maybe not. I see you scratching your head and I feel your panic.

Every day, the news changes and your anxiety surges to the moon.

What is a mom to do? What is a mom with ADHD to do?

Before the COVID-19 disaster, getting our kids through the school year was tough enough, starting with, well…starting school:

  • Buying school supplies.
  • Finding that list of supplies needed (it was on the counter yesterday!).
  • Signing the 10,000 forms your son’s 2nd-grade teacher emailed you two weeks ago that’s due tomorrow.
  • Buying new school clothes.
  • Making doctor and dentist appointments and looking for your child’s health records to see what vaccines are due.
  • Signing up for after school activities.
  • Having a plan for childcare after school.

Then, the long school year begins, with tortuous homework sessions, quizzes and exams to study for, parent/teacher conferences, packing endless box lunches that land in the trash…

… getting your child to dance, soccer, gymnastics, tutors, the endodontist, swim meets, tennis, and…and, all while you’re holding down a full-time job. I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

Yes, this is hard on every mom. But let’s stop for a moment. Because if you’re a mom with ADHD, well, then multiply the stressful scenario above by a zillion.

Women with ADHD typically struggle with poor attention span, procrastination, distractibility, a sense of overwhelm, hypersensitivities, difficulty transitioning, and more, including something we clinicians call executive dysfunction. Healthy executive functioning is how one’s brain plans, organizes, prioritizes, and executes various tasks throughout the day. Many of those systems elude those of us with ADHD.

Think of that part of your brain as a conductor leading an orchestra. The conductor needs to keep all the various instruments working together seamlessly, in tune and in time with each other. If one instrument comes in too loud or too quickly, everyone else de-rails.  Just like your brain when you’re thrown off course. Like when COVID-19 continues to threaten us and forces us to come up with Plan B for the school year.

Those without ADHD can balance many daily functions without even thinking about them- they are often automatic. As automatic as blinking, believe it or not.

The woman with ADHD, however, often has to talk herself through each step.  For example: ‘I need to put water in the pot. Uh oh, do I have pasta in the pantry? Ok, whew. How much should go in the pot? How long do I cook it for? Where is the colander? Oh no, I forgot to buy tomato sauce at the market yesterday.’ And on and on it goes.

This is, of course, a simplified but realistic scenario we with ADHD face throughout the day.

Fast forward to school. My bulleted example above is for a typical school year. But what happens if there’s a dramatic change in plan- that your child will be home instead of in school? Uh oh. The conductor has fallen asleep at the podium.

As a mom with ADHD myself, my heart goes out to you. Luckily, my kids are now grown, so I don’t have to face this dilemma. But let’s play it out for the rest of you who need to start planning now for the possible scenarios above.

Since planning isn’t usually a strong suit for anyone with ADHD, child or adult (remember executive dysfunction?), what can you do to survive having your kids home from school this year?

Here are some ideas:

1. Brain Dump

Make a list of all the things you need to figure out to get through the year. Do not prioritize just yet- you need to gently build from the bottom up so you don’t get completely overwhelmed.

Your list may look like this:

  • Childcare (if school changes course and your kids are now home, learning virtually).
  • Options for you to work from home.
  • Financial backup plan if you can’t work.
  • Communicate with the school: what is the plan? Where will my child be learning? How will this look?
  • Reach out for support. Check in with friends who also have school-aged kids; what are they planning?
  • Materials needed for distance learning
  • Ideas for your child’s free time


2. Prioritize by Importance

Looking at your list, what is the most important thing to figure out if your child will indeed be staying home? Number each item by order of importance.

3. Prioritize by Urgency

Go through your list again and now number each item by urgency. What needs to be done right now?

4. Give Yourself and your Kids Some Slack

It’s utterly important to come to this within the framework of your having ADHD. That means not trying to keep up with your sister, your neighbor, your best friend, or your second cousin. You have a unique brain and you need to recognize that you will find ways to do things that may be different from others.

For example, take a step back! Don’t try to be supermom. This is a crisis the entire world is experiencing, and a lot of your energy must go into getting through it.

Change your expectations. Though you want your kids to do well academically and not fall behind, be realistic. The rules have been altered. If you feel the teachers are expecting too much of your child, who is no doubt feeling pretty anxious and uncertain as well, speak up. Make it work for you and your kids.

5. Simplify

I know that as a mom with ADHD, I never, and I mean never would have been able to homeschool my children. If that sounds like you, think of other options available. Perhaps you can hire a tutor to take this on. Or maybe your partner or another family member can step in. Join a small group of parents who have hired a teacher.

Maybe you need help with just parts of this, say, organizing your child’s workspace.

Assess what your strengths and weaknesses are and consider them both strongly, as you start thinking of solutions.

Make your child’s “classroom” as clutter-free as possible. Ok, that’s not easy for us to do for ourselves, let alone our child, so enlist the help of a more organized adult who can take this on. A professional organizer can fit the bill. You can find one at the National Association of Productivity and Organizing. 

Simplify the rest of your day as well. That could mean, for example, easy, fast dinners, even delivered ones, if that’s within your budget.

6. Be Flexible

In my opinion, it’s far more important to keep you and your family happy, healthy, and sane. In this time of stress and uncertainty, it’s imperative to allow yourself some flexibility.

  • Give your child mental health days off now and then. Sitting in front of a computer all day is far harder (for most) than the stimulation and attention a child gets in a regular classroom.
  • Give your child mental health days off now and then. Sitting in front of a computer all day is far harder (for most) than the stimulation and attention a child gets in a regular classroom.
  • Give your child mental health days off now and then. Sitting in front of a computer all day is far harder (for most) than the stimulation and attention a child gets in a regular classroom.

Note: that’s not a pass to let things slide; you need to come up with systems so that your child can be as successful as possible.

  • Don’t expect perfection from your children or yourself. These are difficult times that require flexibility. Hint: share this plan with the teachers!

7. Keep a Schedule and Structure Your Day

One of the best things you can do for yourself to manage your day is to structure it. This is not something adults (or kids) with ADHD do naturally. It takes a bit of thinking and planning.

Visual cues are extremely helpful for the ADHD brain. Write out a schedule for each day (or use a planner), broken down into half-hour increments. You can probably find templates online for your favorite word processing program.

Jot in the planner (or daily sheet) your child’s classroom times, homework schedule, etc., and don’t forget to add in breaks. Kids with ADHD, especially, need more breaks than others. Use that time to take a break, yourself.

Some find it even better to post the schedule on a wall that is easily seen by your child (and you, if your child is young or otherwise needs extra help).

There are also apps that can work, which are great if they also have reminders, so you know when you need to wind down or when work needs to be finished. 

It’s important to set up a place for your child to work comfortably and optimally. On the dining room table? Or a spot that has fewer distractions, like the corner of her bedroom? You may have to try a variety of locations to see which works best. And make sure you have all the supplies needed, organized (as best you can- hey- you have ADHD; I get it).

8. Self- care

Women with ADHD in general, are more stressed-out than most. It’s not only important; it’s imperative that you take care of yourself. There are current limitations, i.e. the need for social distancing, wearing masks, and weather changes that make it difficult if not impossible to exercise outdoors or at least to get some fresh air regularly.

For me, Yoga and jogging have helped me manage my stress and ADHD symptoms. Since my Yoga studio is currently closed, I take classes online. I don’t run outside in the winter months, so I’ll have to face the dreaded treadmill in my dusty basement since I don’t feel safe yet to hit the gym.

This is the time where we are all too exhausted to even think about exercising, but it couldn’t be more important. Dancing with the kids, playing interactive, physical/sports-themed video games…even drawing a hopscotch board on the basement floor…will help with lethargy, anxiety, and depression.

Eating healthfully is also a challenge. Who feels like cooking after a full day of schooling, especially if you’re also working? This is the time to pull out all the stops. If you can afford to, subscribe to some meal delivery plans. Or come up with the simplest of meals yourself. Again, planning ahead is the key so that you’re not stuck every day at 5 pm wondering what you’ll be eating for dinner.

Time away from kids is essential. Have your spouse/partner/responsible family member, i.e. your teenager, take over watching the younger kids while you get out for a bit.

9. Get treatment

Can I lecture you for just a minute? As a mental health clinician, I know that women with ADHD need extra help, extra support. If you’ve been diagnosed and are not getting appropriate treatment, I can almost guarantee that all of my suggestions above will either be ineffective, too difficult, or unobtainable.

Treatment for ADHD often includes counseling, medication, and ADHD coaching. Please don’t say you don’t have time- this is the key to success and if you’re not managing your symptoms optimally, it will affect everyone: you and your entire family.

Ask your primary care physician for a referral to an ADHD specialist. More than likely, he/she will have no clue, so check out the online professional directories at www.ADD.org and www.CHADD.org. Another excellent one is at www.ADDitudeMag.com.

10. Does Your Child Have ADHD?

Lastly, ADHD is highly genetic, so you may have a child or two who also have ADHD. This changes the whole picture because if they aren’t getting appropriate treatment, getting through a school year, especially one that is so confusing, can be extremely difficult. Many children with ADHD can get special help from the school. For more information on that, check out this article.

Final Word

We are programmed to focus on the needs of our children, for obvious reasons. But it’s incredibly important to focus on your needs as well. Because if you’re not living optimally, then all your best laid out plans are for naught. Hopefully, these suggestions will help you and your child get through these very challenging times during the school year.

Like this article?

Read more at my blog!  And please leave a comment, below. Share your thoughts, resources, hacks, etc.!

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