Helping a child who has Attention Deficit Disorder with school work can be a difficult task. It is worth the effort because the lessons they learn at an early age will take them through the rest of their life. I have raised a son with ADD; I know how challenging it can be. I have been to the specialists, I have read the books. I have gone the gambit of what worked well to what was just a waste of time and effort. I also know that with diligence and a positive attitude, teaching strategies to complete homework will be one of the most important and transferable life skills a child with ADD learns.
Set A Homework Hour
By setting a specific time for homework at your house there are no surprises. Change is difficult for anyone diagnosed with ADD, any time you can offer consistency to your child with ADD; you are setting them up for success. This homework time should not be right after school; kids have been in class all day and need a break. Right after school is a time for recess. Don’t allow television or screen time, these just promote a child to zone out, or check out for the day. Encourage your kids to get active by either playing outside or finding something creative to do in the house. Make homework time the same time every day. A child with ADD thrives on knowing what to expect and when to expect it. As much as possible, have a set schedule that you follow every day. This works well for all children in the long run but is critical for the success of a child with ADD. In my house, we started homework while I was preparing dinner. I was available for questions, and was able to monitor that they were staying on task, but I was not hovering over them making them feel pressured. Homework time continued after dinner while I was cleaning up, if needed. This worked well for all of my children.
Use 20 Minute Time Intervals
After children have had some down time to enjoy their afternoon, bring them back to the table to work on homework. Use a timer and 20 minute intervals. Let your child control the timer. Have your child set the timer for 20 minutes and after that time is over, stop and give your child a 20 minute break. This timer system gives the child an end in sight. They know that they will be able to stop and take a break in 20 minutes even if they haven’t finished their assignments. Encourage your child to try to finish as much as they can. Do not try to penalize them for not getting as much done and you think they should. Let them have their break, then come back to the homework. A child with ADD needs short goals that are easily accomplished. Repeat this cycle with a timer until the child has completed all of their assignments. Children with ADD have trouble grasping exactly how long a task takes, letting them control the timer and having a start and stop time teaches your child that things can be accomplished in short intervals, as well as helps them understand exactly how long a task takes. Encourage them by showing them how much they actually were able to accomplish in 20 minutes. This timer technique will start working in other areas of their life, clean your room for 20 minutes, and then take a break. They can take this skill to school and it will help them stay focused on assignments. Before they take a break, ask them to decide what they want to work on next, set appropriate time expectations, explaining how many intervals they will have left if they work hard.
Break Larger Tasks into Small Ones
A child with ADD many times feels overwhelmed, like there is so much to do. If they feel overwhelmed with the amount of work, divide it up in sections. If they have a math worksheet that has 15 problems to complete, let your child choose 5 problems and encourage them to complete them in a reasonable amount of time. Then move to another assignment for a few minutes and come back to the math problems and complete 5 more. The same method can be used for any assignment. By breaking the assignment into pieces, it does not seem so big. Again, smaller goals work best for a child with ADD.
Choices, Choices, Choices
Allow your child to decide what they want to work on first. If they are struggling with a particular assignment, put that aside and work on something else. A child with ADD needs to feel like they have some control over their situation and that they have some options. Sprinkle subjects they dislike between assignments they enjoy. Giving a child choices gives them a sense of responsibility. When they make choices they are much more motivated to complete what they are working on.
Offer Daily Rewards
Offer a reward when they have completed all of their homework for the day. Try to avoid food as a reward. Activity rewards work best and are centered on an activity that is off limits until all homework is complete. We used screen time in my house. There was no television, video games or computer time after school, until the homework was complete. That rule applied to all of my children. That does not mean that my children were not able to have free time, but they were not allowed to watch television until the homework was complete. This offered motivation to complete the assignments in a timely manner, especially if there was a favorite show coming on. As much as possible, make the rules the same for all children in the house. This consistency will not make your child with ADD feel singled out.
Helping your child stay focused on homework when they have ADD is a daunting task. Don’t give up though because this develops a strong work ethic in adults. These skills also help with time management techniques and develop discipline. With some structure and guidance your child will build lifelong coping skills that will serve them well as adults, and that is the ultimate goal.