Daily Report Cards
Constant feedback for your child and frequent communication between you and her teacher are necessary components in keeping your child on track, and can make an enormous difference in how quickly positive results are seen. Both of these aims can be accomplished through daily report cards filled out by teachers and/or a journal for teachers’ and parents’ comments that your child keeps in her school backpack. A daily report card is especially effective because it identifies daily goals for your child, lets her see almost immediately how effectively she has met them, and motivates her to try harder to meet her goals as she receives agreed-on rewards for good reports. You and your child’s teacher may find that it is best for you to provide some of these rewards at home because providing them in class takes up valuable class time, and some of the most effective rewards (such as telephone or television time) or negative consequences (such as restriction of privileges) may not be possible at school. Your willingness to respond appropriately at home can ease the teacher’s workload and increase his willingness to work more closely with your child. Home-based reinforcements also highlight for your child the link between behavior at school and at home.
To develop this type of report card, you and your child’s teachers first need to select the areas for improvement. A limited number of targeted behavioral or academic goals should be described as specifically as possible—in ways that are countable or measurable (“completes at least 80% of her worksheet during third period” not “stays on task”). These goals can then be translated into items to be checked off on the daily report that your child brings home from school. Before using the report card system, arrange for a meeting including you, your child, and her teacher at which the process will be explained to your child, with a home-based reward system also set up to motivate her. At regular parent-teacher meetings throughout the school year, you can use the accumulated report cards to monitor your child’s progress in accomplishing each task and modify items on the card when necessary. For more information about setting up a daily school-home report card, check the Comprehensive Treatment for Attention Deficit Disorder (CTADD) Web site. You can adapt this form to suit your child’s targeted behaviors and the number of teachers she has. Again, the more precise and quantitative teachers can be when giving feedback, the more effectively these daily reports can be used to improve your child’s education program.
Your child’s teachers can record more detailed observations or requests in a journal that your child carries with her between home and school. You can also use the journal to inform a teacher of the behavior modification reward or cost your child received for her school performance. Daily report cards and a shared journal are efficient ways to keep in touch without having to constantly schedule meetings. They can also help your child keep her goals in mind and include her more in her own education program.
Ideally, this system of continuous communication will foster a positive working relationship between you and the teacher that can help your child achieve her goals. You may find, however, that you disagree with the teacher’s approach or feel in conflict in some other way. If you have tried and failed to work productively as a team, consider asking your partner, the school principal or counselor, or even your child’s pediatrician or therapist to mediate.
Some local parent advocacy groups provide staff members to accompany parents to the school and help advocate for services. Your child’s pediatrician or therapist may be able to help you locate this type of support. However, you will need to weigh the potential benefits of these types of actions against the possibility that the teacher may begin to see you as an adversary rather than a teammate—a position that will diminish your ability to advocate for your child. To help avoid such conflicts before they happen, be sure to express support for the teacher and help him in any way you can. If you are pleased with some aspects of his work, tell him and his principal. Your positive attention to the teacher will usually translate into positive attention to your child.
“I can’t wait for summer to come!” writes the mother of a seventh-grader. “Suddenly the gloom lifts, the arguing stops, we relax, and we remember how much fun our family can have together.” Dealing with issues around homework can be one of the most stressful and time-consuming elements of parenting in the family of a child with ADHD. Successfully dealing with homework production involves developing skills in time management, organization, and study habits; using behavior management techniques; and understanding your child’s limits and frustration tolerance.
In addition to implementing behavioral training techniques that can help your child function successfully at school, your child’s teacher is an essential resource in successfully managing medication issues—providing information that can help your child’s treatment team decide whether to initiate medication, adjust the dosage, and so on.
Your child’s pediatrician should be in close contact with your child’s teacher, calling him before each follow-up visit or reviewing the teacher’s current written narrative or rating scales that reflect your child’s academic, behavioral, and social functioning at school. Teachers need to be aware of what medications can and cannot be expected to do, as well as the possible adverse effects of any given medication. Your child’s pediatrician may be able to provide his teacher with handouts explaining approaches to medication management as well as positive effects and side effects.
As a parent, you can play a key case management role by encouraging this communication between your child’s teacher and physician to make sure that they each get the information they need.
In most states, medications must be administered to students by a licensed medical provider, most often the school nurse—particularly because stimulant medications are legally considered controlled substances. Because many of the stimulant medications have “street value,” it is usually not appropriate (or legal) for your child or adolescent to take them to school or to self-administer them, even if a particular school may be lenient in its policies.
If medications are to be taken during the school day, make sure that you have filled out the appropriate consent forms for medication administration and that school personnel are informed immediately about any changes in dose or in the timing of doses. Keep in mind that several longer-acting medications are available and eliminate the need to take medications during the school day, allowing your child to avoid the problems of embarrassment and compliance issues associated with the administration of medication at school.
A Personal Coach/Trainer
If parents and teachers can be said to share one goal regarding children with ADHD, it is to help them learn to manage their own behavior and academic life so that they can enjoy an independent, happy adulthood. At first, most children with ADHD require a great deal of external monitoring because they are unable to provide it themselves. Gradually, with support and encouragement, they will begin to internalize this role.
The concept of “coaching” has been developed over the past several years. The technique involves identifying a single person to serve as the child’s daily monitor—briefly chatting with her each day, asking her what her most important tasks are for that day and how she plans to accomplish them, and praising her for working toward her goals. While parents have such conversations with their children as a matter of routine, a nonparent—a school employee, neighbor, friend’s parent, responsible classmate, or even a hired college student or retired person—can sometimes have a greater impact simply because of their outsider status.
The daily conversation between your child and her coach is brief and can take place by telephone. It might take place in the morning before the school day begins, in the evening before the child starts her homework, or at any other time that the child feels is most appropriate. Its effectiveness seems to spring from its combination of practical assistance with emotional support as well as the consistency and reliability of its presence in the child’s life. While this brief, daily form of coaching does not replace the role of a parent, psychologist, pediatrician, or medication, it may make a substantive difference in a child’s functioning at school. It can also take some of the tension out of day-to-day parent-child interactions when a more neutral party is helping to facilitate charged issues like homework flow.
When meeting with your child’s teacher, consider ask-ing him to recommend someone at school—a counselor, office clerk, or even a responsible student—who might be willing to act as coach for your child.
Support at Home
There is no denying that children with ADHD can make teaching, learning, and even playing more difficult at times. There is also no question that children with ADHD often have a special type of intensity, energy, and enthusiasm that can enhance everyone’s daily experience. As you support your child through her academic career, make a point of focusing on these positive qualities, and asking others to do so as well. Your child has much to contribute to her classroom and her school. Do what you can to help improve her chance for success in this challenging but potentially rewarding environment.
By the time they enter college, many students with ADHD have grown accustomed to seeking outside support, when necessary, such as special tutoring, coaching, altered testing conditions, or study environments, and tailoring their medication schedule to the demands of each semester’s academic schedule. As these students demonstrate, the presence of ADHD does not spell the end of academic success, but will likely require careful planning in a well-informed and positive way.