How I’ve changed my expectations around my child’s focus

When my older son was diagnosed with ADD last year in sixth grade, it wasn’t a total surprise. He’d been struggling with focus for a few years. But this year, he was on a steady path, making progress with his attention challenges. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and turned everything around.

Since kindergarten, my son has either been homeschooled or gone to online public school. Early on, I was able to adjust the curriculum for him. But by third grade, I noticed he was having focus problems. He struggled with math and reading.

Last summer, after fifth grade, I realized my son needed more support, especially with middle school on the horizon. (It starts in seventh grade for us.) He was evaluated for ADHD and got a 504 plan.

His math and reading improved. By winter, my son was planning to take two of his six classes at the public school in the fall. It would be his first time learning in a classroom, and he was looking forward to it. I had no reason to think his progress wouldn’t keep chugging along.

Then the novel coronavirus threw us — and the entire world — for a rather large loop.

One after the other, things were canceled or closed: field trips, swim, cooking classes, spring soccer, and eventually our entire school district. Suddenly, we were spending all day, every day, at home.

The impact was immediate. My son had less stamina for schoolwork. He was forgetting math facts that I thought he had down. He would seem to listen to instructions for an assignment, but later it was clear he hadn’t understood most of what I’d said. I didn’t anticipate this happening at all.

In the beginning, the wheels in my brain went ’round and ’round, predicting worst-case scenarios for next year. (Although to be fair, isn’t that a parent’s job sometimes?) His path to middle school felt crooked again.

But once the dust settled — as much as it could settle — I got logical. My family was used to homeschooling. Without the rotation of other activities, the kids would have more time for schoolwork. Hey, maybe they’ll even get ahead a little. Isn’t this the perfect environment for focus? No distractions! It never occurred to me that setbacks were even a possibility.

What was I thinking?

Of course there will be distractions. We’re in a pandemic! And kids get stressed, too. It’s not going to be easier for my son to focus on his work. It’s going to be even harder.

Why would I add to the strain by trying to overachieve? In fact, the natural breaks we had from going out to activities and classes probably helped support his focus.

So, I’m sticking to the basics: reading, writing, and arithmetic. Plus extra time on personal favorites (for my older son, that’s art, while his younger brother adores science). I’ve taken a step back and made a serious, conscious effort to bite off just the right amount to chew, for all of us. And if my son has more difficult days than usual, he isn’t doomed for life.

The result? I’m less wound up, and it trickles down to my son. Our days are going smoother and I feel like we’re heading back to our baseline. Recently, he completed two subjects on his morning schedule (which is right above his desk) without reminders. My usually reserved self gave him loads of high-fives.

I had to change my expectations, again. It won’t be the last time. And that’s OK.