The return to school is also the return of homework. For some parents of children with ADHD, this is the most dreaded part of the day. Pleading, arguing, crying, struggling – many parents recognize these as the signs of the daily grind once school is in session.
There are things that you can do, however, to make the homework war a bit easier.
The main thing for parents to remember is that while all children require consistency and a regular routine, children with ADHD demand it even more. A regular routine helps concentration and can eliminate distraction. It helps the child remember what to do and when to do it every day if they know that it will be the same every day.
One key to getting homework done with less stress is finding the best time to do it. This varies depending on the child. Medication can be a factor in this determination as well.
If your child takes medication, it may be best to sit down and do homework immediately upon arrival home from school. Many parents find that once the medication wears off, or begins to wear off, homework becomes a bigger struggle. They also find that flowing straight from classroom learning to homework is easier because they’re already in the groove from school – of course, this works best if the child is a car rider or walker rather than a bus rider.
But you may find that, for your child, it works best to give them some downtime to play, rest, have a snack, or even have dinner and shower before tackling homework. For some children, that break between school and homework, to burn off some energy or just take a breather, helps them to sit down with focus and determination to finish their homework.
If you’re not sure which works best for your child (and this may change from year to year, as well), try both ways as well as any others you can think of. While it may seem counter to the idea of consistency and regular routine, take a week for each method and see which week seems to be calmer and more efficient. Once you figure it out, stick with the one that worked best. Do not change it unless absolutely necessary.
Marion County elementary schools finish their school day around 2PM. This allows plenty of time to figure out the best time for your child to do homework, and still be able to play outside to burn off excess energy. Marion County Title I schools also offer free tutoring to students that need it, and this can also be beneficial to a student that struggles with getting homework done.
Distractions – Sound vs. Silence
Many parents, knowing how easily their child with ADHD can be distracted, believe that the best way to eliminate distraction is to keep the house utterly silent while their child completes homework. For some children, this works. For many, it only makes things worse. The silence itself can be a distraction that leads to problems.
The question then becomes: what to do to eliminate the silence but not create another distraction? TV is a bad idea, obviously. The child will want to turn on something that interests them which they will then be trying to watch, and even if what is on doesn’t interest them normally, it will in this moment.
Music is often a great option for this. Music with lyrics is not ideal, as the child will focus on the words, possibly even singing along with the music. Music without lyrics can be perfect, however.
Many experts recommend classical music for this. While this is certainly a good option, some parents may find that classical music puts the child to sleep, or at least makes them drowsy enough that doing homework becomes difficult.
If you find this happens, find instead other music that doesn’t have lyrics. There are a wealth of choices out there. One option is Paul Van Dyk – some of his music does contain words, but most does not. It is fast tempo, upbeat music that can be turned down low or cranked up loud depending on what works best for your child.
While organizational skills are important for all children (and adults, for that matter), they are critical for a child with ADHD.
The first step to organizing your child for homework is giving them a permanent place to study. A desk with all the needed supplies is ideal, but if that’s not possible, simply choose a location in the home that they can always sit to do their homework – dining room table, kitchen counter, living room floor. Location is not as important as the fact that this needs to be the place they can go to every time they do their homework.
Next, make sure you are prepared with everything needed to complete homework: pens, pencils, paper, rulers, crayons, markers, etc. Have back ups of each item so that if one is lost, broken, or otherwise unusable, homework can still be completed.
Have a specific plan for what to do with incomplete and complete homework. One idea is two trays: one for homework that needs to be done and one for homework that is done. Your child can grab assignments from the “undone” tray as they complete assignments, and by placing finished work in the “done” tray, they not only see their progress, but eliminate the possiblity of misplacing assignments. At a minimum, your child needs to put all finished homework, textbooks, etc. back into their backpack when they are finished with homework.
As kids get older and into higher grades, they begin having more homework to track and assignments that take more than one evening – science projects, book reports, etc. A calendar can be an excellent tool to assist with this – a computerized calendar that provides reminders is even better. Consider creating a Gmail account for your child so that he/she can take advantage of the calendar. This calendar is excellent, as it allows your child to list assignments, and set reminders to be emailed to them, or even sent to their phone as a pop up or text, if they have a phone with the capability. Another great feature is that if you have a Gmail account, your child can set the calendar to be shared with you so that you can also track their homework.
Another key to organization is planning. Kids with ADHD often have trouble with figuring out how long an assignment should take. For example, your son might read a sci fi novel he loves in a day because he’s enjoying it so much. So when it’s time to read “To Kill A Mockingbird” and write a book report, he may think a day, or two, is enough time. You can help with this by working with your child to plan assignments. Encourage your child to allow extra time as well. If you know it will take her a week to read that book and write the report, work with her to get her to come to that conclusion, and then urge her to add an extra one to three days. This allows extra time in case she reads slower than normal or something else comes up, and also can add to a feeling of confidence when she finishes the assignment before the deadline set.
Most parents direct the kids to do homework rather simply: go do your homework. But this is also, strangely, rather vague. To a child with ADHD, “go do your homework” is too broad for them. You need to be very specific with your child.
It’s fine to start with a broad “time to do homework” statement. But then drill it down. “Let’s start with your math” or “Do you want to do reading or science first” gives them a starting point. Not only does it give them that starting point to help them begin, but it also narrows their focus which reduces anxiety. They will think only about the assignment at hand rather than trying to decide between math, reading, science, and social studies and becoming more stressed because they have all this work to do and don’t even know where to start, much less how to finish it all. Remember that to us, as adults who have already gone to school and learned this, that pile of homework is nothing. But to the child who is currently learning this stuff, and who has a condition that can inhibit that learning, that pile of homework might as well be Mt. Everest.
The same rule to be specific applies to specific tasks within assignments as well. When helping your child solve a math problem, don’t just say “solve this”, instead ask them what is the first step in solving this math problem.
It sounds like something you wouldn’t want to encourage in a child that has concentration issues. But sometimes, studying while engaging in something that would seem like a distraction can help your child.
Fidgeting – Your child may want to work standing up. She may want to stretch out on the floor and thump her feet on the floor. He may sit and wiggle his foot up and down or tap the fingers of his free hand on the desk. While these things may drive you nuts and you may think that they are more of a distraction to your child, the truth is these things may actually be helping.
Kids with ADHD often have excess energy, and moving around while doing seated work may help them stay more focused. It’s often been found that very creative minds work best standing up – which means that this might not even be related to ADHD but instead a sign of your child’s creativity. Encourage them to work however works best for them – standing, sitting, tapping, or anything else the feel works.
Breaks – For some kids, they need a little break doing homework. They might do better to sit down and do all written assignments upon arriving home, and then doing their review work to remember spelling words or multiplication tables right before bed.
Playing – If your child has spelling words, math facts, or something else to commit to memory, consider quizzing them while playing. While your child is involved in a video game, playing with cars or maybe taking a bike ride together, ask them to spell a few words or answer a few facts. The activity serves two ways: it is fun, which can associate learning with fun and makes the learning seem less tedious; and if it is a physical activity such as bike riding or swimming, it is helping to burn off energy which can also help them focus more easily.
Homework may never ben the easiest part of the day for you and your child with ADHD. But it can be easier, and much less stressful on both of you.