Concern around COVID-19 and the social restrictions that have been put in place to reduce the spread of the virus can impact on mental health and well-being. The constant news headlines, uncertainty around the virus and its future impact, and the need to constantly adapt to the ever-changing physical distancing requirements can be stressful to navigate, especially for children with ADHD and their families.

How could COVID-19 affect children with ADHD?

The first thing to say is that it’s totally natural for children to feel a range of emotions during periods of uncertainty and change. These emotions might vary from feeling angry, sad, worried, and frustrated. At times they may feel quite relaxed and calm.

Encourage your children to be accepting of their feelings and to be kind to themselves during this time.

Some children with ADHD may experience especially high levels of apprehension or worry about COVID-19. They might be more withdrawn or clingy, more emotionally reactive or have more trouble with daily tasks like getting ready for the day, having trouble sleeping or eating regular meals.

Some children might enjoy spending more time at home, while others may find the changes to their home routine overwhelming and difficult to adapt to.

The changes around education delivery, along with the distractions associated with being at home, may also negatively affect their ability to engage in and complete their school work to their usual standard.

How to support the mental health and well-being of your child with ADHD during COVID-19

The good news is that there are several things that you can try to support your child’s mental health and wellbeing during this period of change and uncertainty:

Continue Giving Your Child Their ADHD medication

Continue giving your child their ADHD medication as prescribed by their treating paediatrician, psychiatrist or physician. Stopping their medication or decreasing their dose may result in them experiencing increased impulsivity and over-activity.
In turn, this may lead to tension or put them at risk of participating in stimulation seeking or risk taking behaviour. It may also interfere with their ability to self-regulate, to achieve success and to feel good about themselves. Additionally, avoid increasing your child’s ADHD medication dose or adding additional ADHD medication doses (beyond those prescribed) without first speaking with their treating paediatrician, psychiatrist or physician.

Help Your Child To Maintain A Regular Daily Routine

Maintaining consistency and structure, making plans that assist children to visualise the future and allowing for some flexibility and free time, can help them to feel calm and safe. For example, try to get your child to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day and to follow a structured daily living and/or study routine. Ensure they eat a healthy diet as part of their routine and maintain their fluid intake throughout the day.

Foster Positive Behaviour

Foster positive behaviour and promote a sense of physical and emotional safety by creating and maintaining a healthy relationship with your child. Try to intervene before challenges arise and avoid punishing your child for behaviour that is a symptom of their ADHD. Consider adjusting the demands you place on your child or whether you need to put in place additional supportive scaffolding to help your child achieve success during these challenging times. Spend quality one-on-one time together where you can give them your full attention and maintain two-way open communication. When making requests use clear language, provide lots of praise and role model your expectations. Where possible, involve your child in rule setting and use gentle explicit teaching methods.

Help your child to process their worries or anxiety

Try to help them process their feelings by listening to their concerns, validating their feelings, providing some reassurance and encouraging solution-focused thinking. When talking to your child about COVID-19 ask them open-ended questions to assess their level of knowledge and concerns. Be open and honest in your responses and provide age-appropriate information in a positive, yet realistic manner, using a calm and reassuring tone of voice and language and examples that they will understand. Reassure them that the strategies in place such hand washing, school closures and social distancing are to protect the most vulnerable members of our community and that one-day thing will get back to normal. You can also help your child gain a sense of control by teaching them how to effectively wash their hands before they eat and after touching their face or blowing their nose.

Take care of you!

It is important to take care of your own mental health and well-being during challenging times. Try to get enough rest, practise self-care and stay connected to friends and family. Drop any overly high expectations and allow yourself to do the best you can. Consider contacting an ADHD support organisation or joining an online ADHD parent support group if needed.

Act Before Your Child Becomes Bored

Try to identify your child’s at risk times and to intervene before they become bored by joining and engaging them in activities that they enjoy. These could include artwork, messy play, imaginary play, time outside, reading, dancing, listening to music or one of their hobbies. Set up activity stations (e.g., book area, drawing area, physical activity area) and have your child rotate between them. See below for some fun ideas to entertain your child at home.

Fun ideas to entertain your children at home

  • Create a scavenger hunt
  • Play balloon volleyball
  • Have a dance party
  • Build a fort or cubby
  • Create an art project
  • Race to complete jigsaws
  • Bake cookies, cakes, or homemade pizzas
  • Play Twister, cards or board games
  • Take a virtual tour of an art gallery or zoo
  • Keep a ‘What am I grateful for today’ record
fun ideas to entertain your children at home

Reach Out If You Your Child is Struggling

Contact your child’s treating paediatrician, psychiatrist or psychologist if your child appears to be struggling with anxiety or low mood or their ADHD symptoms are escalating. Paediatricians, psychiatrists and psychologists are currently able to offer appointments using Telehealth through online video technology and Medicare rebates remain available for all medical and psychiatric appointments. Medicare will also contribute to the cost of up to ten psychology appointments a year if you obtain a Better Access to Mental Health Care Plan for your child from your GP. Working with an ADHD coach or another professional on developing your child’s emotional regulation strategies and ways to maintain their well-being may also be beneficial.

Ensure They Get Enough Sleep

Not getting enough sleep makes everything worse and can increase anxiety and lower mood, and can make it harder for your child to regulate their emotions. Having a set sleep-wake schedule can help to regulate your child’s sleep and ensuring they have a regular daytime routine and get plenty of sunlight will help to regulate their sleep-wake rhythm.

Encourage Regular Exercise

Children need regular exercise. Some ideas include taking you child for a walk or a bike ride whilst maintaining a social distance of 1.5 meters, following exercise videos that are made for children such as those available on You-Tube, setting up hopscotch or an outside obstacle course, or getting them to jump rope, play catch or kick the ball in the back garden.

Incorporate Stress-Relieving Activities Into Their Day

These could include relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, guided imagery, progressive muscle relaxation (alternately tensing and releasing muscles) or mindful colouring in.

Limit Media Exposure

Excess media exposure to stressful events can have a negative impact on everyone’s mental health so try to limit your child’s news and social media exposure by setting rules for a set amount of iPad or TV time per day.

Stay Connected With Friends And Family On A Daily Basis

If possible, on a daily basis use technology such as FaceTime, Skype, Zoom, Messenger or WhatsApp to facilitate playdates with friends or to connect your child with family members who live in another household. Being able to see their friends and family while they play takes the pressure off them having to make conversation, while having their grandparents read to them in the evenings may provide you with some treasured downtime. See below for more ways to help your children stay connected during lockdown.

Ideas to help your child stay connected with friends during lockdown.

  • Watch a virtual movie with friends via Netflix Party
  • Write to a pen pal
  • Eat lunch with a friend virtually
  • Draw a quarantine rainbow
  • Play their favourite game online with 2-4 friends such as Uno, Pokemon Go, and Monopoly and Yahtzee via the Pogo app
  • Draw pictures, take photos or a video for a friend or family member
stay connected through COVID-19

If your child tests positive to COVID-19

If your child tests positive for the COVID-19 virus or develops a mild case of COVID-19 they can continue taking their ADHD medication. However, if they develop severe symptoms including breathing difficulties please seek medication advice from their treating paediatrician, physician or psychiatrist.

Temporary Distance Education

We are at the beginning of understanding how distance learning is going to look. We have included some initial pointers below but will provide further guidance as time progresses.

For most children, home is their place of peace and safety while school is where they go to formally learn. It is important to protect and maintain your child’s safe space and to prioritise their physical and mental wellbeing over their academic achievement.

Temporary home-schooling is really crisis home-schooling and should not be confused with traditional home-schooling which is a choice. Much of the routine, learning structure, support and reward for the effort that school offers children with ADHD may not transpire effectively over to temporary home-schooling in the first instance.

Teachers will need time to adjust their teaching style in order to meet each child’s individual developmental stage, attention and processing capacity, learning style and personality.

Children with ADHD may struggle to successfully self-organise their school work and may struggle to complete tasks independently.

Therefore, try to set realistic expectations of your child and if in doubt, presume ‘they would if they could’ and choose your relationship with your child above anything else. Keep the communication lines open with your child’s teacher and gently advocate for your child’s needs.

More resources for helping our child through COVID-19

Access more resources to help your child learn at home during a time of crisis. If your child is really struggling contact your child’s teacher, school welfare officer or vice-principal. You can also discuss this with any professional your child is currently engaged with.

Download a bonus resource guide developed alongside the recent Mindfully Me episode of Play School containing more mindfulness tips and activities for children.

Download the guide

Download the free “Learning at home during a time of crisis COVID-19” guide by the Australian Coalition for Inclusive Education.

Download the guide
Temporary Distance Education