Getting Ready for First Grade When Your Child Has ADHD

Health Writer

Your child is getting ready to enter first grade. It's an exciting time But for parents of children with ADHD, this can also be a confusing time. Will my child keep up with the class? Will he adapt to sitting still for long periods of time? What can the teacher and school do to help make this transition easier?

Some common concerns for children with ADHD in first grade also include:

  • Begins task but has trouble sticking to it and finishing in a timely manner

  • Becomes distracted easily

  • Is easily bored with tasks that require sustained attention or effort

  • Might hurry through tasks and end up with messy or incomplete work

  • Loses items, including pencils, papers, books, backpack and lunchbox on a regular basis

  • Fidgety, has the need to get up and move around even when the rest of the class remains seated

  • Difficulty sharing and taking turns

  • Behavioral problems during transition periods, such as changing subjects or activities and going from lunch to classroom

Even if your child has attended preschool and kindergarten, first grade is different.

During kindergarten, your child was introduced to academic topics and expected to know letters, numbers and possibly some sight words. Some of this learning was done formally but much was done in combination with play.

During first grade, your child is expected to not only learn basic reading, math and science, he is expected to do so in a more formal learning environment. Getting up and walking around the classroom during teaching times is no longer acceptable. While help is available, teachers expect students to start taking personal responsibility for their belongings and be able to work in their seat.

Working with the school

If your child has already been diagnosed with ADHD, it isn’t too soon to have your child evaluated for accommodations in the classroom. Start with writing a letter to the principal of the school requesting an assessment. If your child is approved, the teacher and the school can implement strategies to help your child stay on track, such as:

  • Seating in the front of the class

  • Extra time to complete work and tests

  • Visual prompts for behavior, such as pictures of appropriate behavior taped to desk

  • Visual schedule to follow through the day

  • Using timers to help track how long he is expected to stay on task

  • Positive reinforcement of desired behaviors

In addition, you can request that recess never be taken away as a discipline method or used as a time to finish incomplete work. Children with ADHD often need the physical break of recess and the exercise can help your child focus better throughout the afternoon.

What you can do at home

There are some lifestyle changes you can make at home that can help prepare your child for school and improve his behavior and learning.

Regular exercise is proven to improve attention and reduce hyperactivity. Even just 20 minutes of exercise each day can help symptoms throughout the day. Further, Dr. John Ratey finds that exercise in the morning improved learning and behavior through the school day. While mornings are often rushed, try to find ways your child can exercise each morning before going to school.

Make sure your child gets a good night’s sleep. All children need to get plenty of sleep. However, ADHD symptoms can be exacerbated when your child is tired. Hyperactivity and inattention both can increase because of lack of sleep.

For more information:

ADHD Action Plan for Parents

10 Ways ADHD Shows Up in School

Live Discussion: Treating ADHD at Home and School

Back to School with ADHD: Interview with Dr. Patricia Quinn


Easing ADHD without Meds: American Psychological Association

Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of Idiot's Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot's Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love and Essential Guide to Asperger's Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.