Are you winning the homework battle? Is the distraction of Fortnite keeping YOU up at night, wondering how you can help your child finish their homework? These five steps culled from some of our favorite experts in the field of ADHD can help you keep homework on track.
- Carve out a specific time for your child to complete their homework that works with their schedule and temperament.
The perfect time to do homework (other than “The first time you’re asked, sweetie”) varies by child and schedule. If your child attends aftercare or participates in after-school sports, you might find the right time is after your evening meal. If your child bounds off the bus shortly after school is out, you and your child might prefer to get it out of the way after a snack or short physical activity to unload from school. Whatever time you choose, try for consistency, and give them a heads up: “Kids with ADHD don’t easily shift from one activity to the other, especially from fun time to work time,” explains Vicki Siegel, an ADHD and LD coach. “You might say, ‘You can play for 15 more minutes, then come in for homework.’”
- Create a comfortable environment that encourages focus.
The last thing your child needs when they start homework is any additional stress, so work with your child to help them find a place in the house that is free from other distractions and that makes them feel comfortable. Children with ADHD often benefit from multiple homework zones so that they can move around, or even a portable homework station that enables them to make any (distraction-free) space a homework space, giving them more freedom of both movement and choice.Your child might benefit from sensory input like a Senseez pillow, sitting with the family pet or music. If your child is ADHD-Hyperactive or Combined Type, they will likely need a fidget toy to assist them in focusing. And finally, proximity to the homework helper for help and positive reinforcement is key to any homework zone.
- Break down the tasks and the time into smaller segments.
Children with ADHD are often overwhelmed by starting tasks, so break down homework into sizeable chunks and set the Time Timer to keep track of how much time is remaining before break and how much time remains on their break. Education expert Ann Dolin, M. Ed., suggests visually breaking down homework for younger children--even folding the worksheet in half so that they can focus on a smaller portion of work.
ADHD expert Mary Ann Mulcahey, Ph.D. says that younger children might only be able to sustain attention for five to twenty minutes with a short timed break (of 3-5 minutes) before returning to their work.
- Discuss rewards in advance.
Children with ADHD struggle with willpower and motivation to do work with little immediate reward or interest, according to Russell Barkley, Ph.D. That’s why immediate rewards for homework can help to motivate them to complete it. To maximize motivation, discuss rewards ahead of time with your child, which can help maintain their interest and ensure they aren’t disappointed. If the reward is play time, physical activity is a better choice for most kids than video games, but video games are OK as long as your is not hyperfocused on unlocking or advancing to the next level. Also consider longer term rewards for the end of each quarter to allow for a larger celebration of all of their hard work (and yours!).
- Help them keep track of their assignments (and their textbooks).
Chronic disorganization is one of the criteria for a diagnosis of ADHD, so it’s no surprise that for most children with ADHD, all of the workbooks, textbooks, loose leaf paper, binders are a LOT to keep track of. Work on a system for managing all of their paperwork that comes home, including a homework folder or binder, and review their assignments with them (referring to your online parent portal if you have one), providing coaching and encouragement.
Remember, they’re still kids. They are learning responsibilities, which means they don’t have them all nailed down yet, and your encouragement and example go a long way. Also, there is no harm in finding extra copies of textbooks on eBay and keeping a copy at home. A child with ADHD can be hard on himself, and having backup textbooks (or parent friends with scanners who can scan in the worksheet) are just a few emergency valves for keeping the focus on what it’s really all about: Learning!