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Balancing Back-to-School: Strategies for Families with ADHD and Anxiety

Yesterday, woke up at 10:30 pm in my youngest son's bed. I'd done it again: I'd fallen asleep snuggling and rubbing his back until he fell asleep…

Falling asleep for kids with ADHD or anxiety is akin to climbing Mount Everest each night.

It's progressed to more lengthy snuggle sessions for the last week or so and I had to remind myself that:

Yes, it's that time of year again.

It's that time of year, when our spidey senses start to tingle, we start to feel it and smell it in the air…

It's officially ‘back to school’ season.

…DUN DUN DUUUN…

(think Igor Stravinsky's track from the Young Frankenstein movie)


Many of us parents can't wait to get back to some sense of predictable routine. Following summer's adventures and vacations, it's our time to reconnect with our careers and colleagues, enjoy a little more structure and set goals for the rest of the year.

But…

This is often the time of year that our little ones with ADHD and anxiety struggle the most.

Change.

The only thing that is truly predictable in our daily lives.

Our job as parents is to help our kids navigate all this change, even when we, ourselves, still struggle with it too.

So, I'd thought I'd share a few of my worries and tips to navigate some of the stresses that may begin to present over the next few weeks:



Quick Tip:

Establish a detailed visual morning routine chart. This can be a game-changer for transforming hectic mornings into smooth sailings. Here's how:


1. Prep the Night Before: Involve your child in laying out clothes, packing bags, and ensuring all the essentials are ready to go. This prevents last-minute scrambles for missing shoes or homework.


2. Map Out the Steps: Together, list every step of the morning routine – from waking up to walking out the door. Break these down into bite-sized tasks. For example: brush teeth, get dressed, eat breakfast, pack lunch, and gather school materials.


3. Add Visuals: Incorporate visuals or icons next to each task on the chart. These can be simple drawings, stickers, or even printed images. Visual cues are incredibly helpful for kids with ADHD & Anxiety, providing clarity and reducing the need for constant reminders.


4. Set Time Limits: Assign estimated times for each task. This helps your child gauge the pace and ensures they allocate enough time for everything. Plus, it's a sneaky way to develop time management skills!


5. Check it Off: As your child completes each task, they can check it off or add a sticker next to it. For older kids, just even the visibility of this list will make all the difference. The act of marking their progress provides a sense of accomplishment and motivates them to move forward.


6. Celebrate Success: Once the morning routine is completed, celebrate the victory! It can be a high-five, a special breakfast treat, or a few minutes of free time before heading out.



Balancing blood sugar levels is paramount for kids with ADHD & anxiety. The good news is that this is easier than you think! Always ensure each meal and snack contains a protein and/or a healthy fat.


Quick Tip:

Involve your child in the meal planning process. Sit down together and brainstorm a list of foods they enjoy that are also beneficial for cognitive function (include protein and/or a healthy fat at every meal and snack). Empowering your child to make mindful choices will not only help them stay focused but also provide them with a sense of autonomy.


BUT - Even when we send them with a beautifully balanced lunch, there are no guarantees that it will actually be eaten!


SO, my best advice is to make breakfast as robust and nutritious as possible. Here are a few of my favourite breakfast ideas:

1. A Brain-Boosting Breakfast Smoothie: Blend together antioxidant-rich berries, protein-packed Greek yogurt (or non-dairy alternative), a handful of spinach for essential vitamins,, a scoop of vanilla or chocolate protein powder and a sprinkle of chia seeds packed with omega-3 fatty acids. Feel free to add any other fruit or your child may love!


2. Breakfast Pizza: Grease a small pan with coconut oil, add chopped veggies of choice (peppers, tomatoes, onion, zucchini, etc.) and saute. Crack 1 or 2 eggs (depending on size of tortilla) and let set. Sprinkle cheese (dairy or non-diary) on top. Press a whole-wheat or gluten-free tortilla on top. Let set for a few minutes and then flip. Let the tortilla brown a minute or so and presto! Cut into triangles and you're set!

3. Blueberry Almond Oatmeal Cups:

Check out the full recipe post here. Basically this recipe combines oats, sliced almonds, fresh or frozen blueberries, maple syrup, apple sauce, almond butter and cinnamon into an incredible, easily freezable cup that is ready for your busy morning routine.




Quick Tip:

Establishing a calming bedtime routine is like creating a lullaby for their busy minds. Here's how you can create a serene atmosphere that transforms bedtime from a battlefield into a peaceful transition:


1. Help your child adjust to earlier bedtimes a week or two before the new school year starts, just to help them ease into new routines. Set a consistent bedtime for your child and stick with it every night. Getting enough sleep is critical for kids to stay healthy and be successful in school. Not getting enough sleep is linked with lower academic achievement, as well as higher rates of absenteeism and tardiness.


2. Have your child turn off electronic devices well before bedtime. Try to have the home as quiet and calm as possible when younger children are trying to fall asleep.The blue light emitted by screens can interfere with the production of melatonin, the sleep-inducing hormone.


3. Pre-Bedtime Wind Down: Start winding down at least an hour before bedtime. Engage in activities that signal to the body that it's time to relax. This could be reading a calming book, drawing, or practicing simple stretches.


4. Soothing Rituals: Incorporate soothing rituals like warm baths or showers. The temperature change helps signal the body that it's time to unwind. Add a few drops of lavender oil or epsom salts to help your child's muscles and brain prepare for rest.


5. Deep Breathing Exercises: My boys HATE when I talk to them about breathing. And to be honest, I struggle with doing prescribed breathing exercises too. Box breathing doesn't work for me because holding my breath makes me more anxious. My go-to breathwork hack is to just simply:

Take 3, slow, deep breaths


Do it yourself.


Model it in front of your kids. Studies show that our kids mimic our habits and behaviours without even realizing it.


Even if your child is resistant, just take those 3 deep breaths in front of them, no matter what behaviour they are exhibiting. Trust science and trust your heart.


6. Dim the Lights Gradually: Dim the lights in their bedroom gradually as bedtime approaches. This signals to the brain that it's time to wind down and encourages the production of melatonin.


7. Create a Comforting Environment: Make sure their bedroom is conducive to sleep. This means a comfortable mattress and pillows, appropriate room temperature, and minimal noise. Reduce as much light as possible.


8. Calming Snacks Before Bed: For those kids who need a little more sustenance before bed: calming snacks can be a healthy addition to your child's bedtime routine and help them sleep through the night. They can contain nutrients that promote relaxation and better sleep. Here are some suggestions:

  • Warm Herbal Tea: Chamomile tea is known for its calming properties. Opt for a caffeine-free herbal blend that your child enjoys. You could even make it a ritual to enjoy a cup of tea together before bed.

  • Banana and Nut Butter: Bananas contain tryptophan, an amino acid that can help induce sleep. Pair a banana with a dollop of nut butter for added protein and healthy fats.

  • Greek Yogurt Parfait: Greek yogurt is a source of protein and calcium, which are essential for sleep. Create a parfait with a small amount of honey, some berries, and a sprinkle of nuts or seeds. Use a coconut or a goat or sheep option for sensitive tummies.

My Favourite Bedtime Calming Supplements:

Or

(Don't use these two supplements together)

  • I'm Nutrients - Calm Mind - This is quite possibly the most amazing kids sleep and overall well-being supplement on the planet. Click the link and learn more about all the ingredients and benefits. Please always follow recommended dosages.


One last little note from my teacher's perspective:

1. Tell your child that teachers know that students are nervous about

the first day of school.


Remind them that teachers will make an extra effort to make sure everyone feels as comfortable as possible. If your child seems nervous, ask them what they are worried about and help them problem-solve ways to master the new situation.


2. Remind your child that teachers are nervous too!


We are all in the same boat, same struggles, same challenges, just navigating and figuring things out as we go. Encourage them to view the situation from different perspectives to help ease some of their worries and anxiety.


 

Curious about nutrition for your family?


If you’re looking for support with your family’s health goals regarding mental health, ADHD or fostering a healthy relationship with food, feel free to book in a FREE discovery call so we can chat to see if Holistic Nutrition is a good fit for your family!



Amy Jones

BA Hons., B Ed., RHN, CNE, OCT

Metabolic Balance® Coach

Intuitive Eating Counsellor Candidate

Care-Informed & Health At Every Size® (HAES®) Nutritionist

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