Homework is grueling for many kids with ADHD. They’re exhausted after a full day of school, and often have challenges understanding what’s required of them. It’s tough enough to focus on getting all their materials into their backpacks with the commotion at the end of class. Our kids may forget to write their assignments down, and lose track of what they have to do.
The parent’s role in the homework process is to manage rather than be active. We need to provide the structure at home to promote the learning process.
Strategies for Kids with ADHD & Executive Functioning Challenges
Use a Visual Plan
Help your child understand the benefits of having a visual plan of assignments. The ADHD brain tends to focus on what it sees, so it’s critical to have a written plan kept in sight. This can be in the form of a sheet of paper, a planner, or a small dry erase board. Electronic devices are not continuously visual and are often out of sight and out of mind.
• If your child has trouble writing down the assignment in the allotted time, see if he can get permission to take a photo with his phone and transfer it to a notebook or calendar when he gets home.
• If an electronic calendar must be used, support your student to print off the daily schedule and clip it to the front of a binder or calendar so it is in sight. This way, your child isn’t rushing to write down assignments that may turn out to be incorrect with inaccurate instructions.
People with ADHD are said to lack “timesight,” tending to “float in time,” unless a deadline kicks them into gear. Their concept of time is "now or not now." Our kids with ADHD are no different. They often estimate time inaccurately or not at all and tend to convince themselves it takes them shorter than actual, even when they have consistent proof otherwise.
• Make a game out of estimating the time it takes to complete some daily home activities or chores. Have him then perform the activities with a timer. Support her to compare the estimates to the actual times and notice the difference.
• Encourage your child to apply time estimation to homework tasks. Discuss how it's not necessary to be perfectly accurate. The priority is to develop time awareness and practice estimating time to complete assignments.
It can be difficult for our kids to prioritize and set up a plan to take action. Their brains can be flooded with uncertainty, where initiating, sequencing, and following through can be problematic. Provide a positive environment to help your child get unstuck and decide what tasks are important to complete first, and why.
• Encourage your student to problem-solve: If an assignment is due tomorrow, and another is due next week, what would be important to start on first?
• Support your child to help him prioritize the homework by numbering the tasks with low, medium, or high priority, or A, B, or C.
Capture Time in a Calendar
Our kids have a barbed wire fence around “to do” lists. A to-do list with lots of tasks can be overwhelming and will only contribute to procrastination in taking action. Because time is intangible it's helpful to capture tasks visually in a calendar.
• Have your child notate an amount of time to a task in a calendar.
• Support your child to visually allocate time to the task in the calendar so your child has reserved the time required.
• Model this in your own calendar
Plan Large Projects
When we need to complete large projects, various components of the project have to fit around the rest of our lives, such as school, sports, family and scheduled activities. Breaking projects down into concrete visual steps is important to compensate for challenges in planning and time management. Planning backwards allows your child to figure out the date necessary to begin the project with plenty of time for completion.
• Block out scheduled activities in your monthly calendar
• Using sticky notes, break down the project into steps with each step on a different sticky note
• Estimate time for each step on each sticky note
• Find space and time to work on the project by planning backward from the due date, leaving a cushion to arrive at a date of completion.
The ADHD brain is best when it’s focused for short intervals. Encourage your child to take breaks and recharge. Help him decide what breaks support him best.
• Your child may enjoy a quick game of basketball outside or a 30-minute TV show.
• Postpone video games for rewards after homework is completed rather than short breaks. Kids with ADHD have difficulty transitioning in and out of activities as it is. Video games are designed to hook in their players, will likely set you and your child up for frustration and conflict to get back to homework, and stretch out the "short break" as well.
Select a Homework Space
Select a place to do homework that is away from traffic but not so remote that you won’t be able to monitor your child.
• It might be helpful to have a few places that work for homework. This adds novelty, which acts as a motivator for our kids, to an otherwise boring activity.
• Involve your student in the process and help him understand what works best for him and why.
Design a Homework Insurance Policy
It’s common for our kids with ADHD to do the incorrect assignment or misplace what they’ve already done. Setting up a homework insurance policy can help your child be successful and increase self-esteem.
• Have your child check the homework online, if it’s available, to make sure she has the correct assignment.
• Set up a landing zone, such as the jacket closet, for finished homework, school materials, and backpacks for the next day so you’re not scrambling in the morning.
• Make a game out of it and have her reward herself for completing the correct homework and putting it in the required place.
• Tell your kids that their homework isn’t done until it’s in their backpack. Remind them, “Where do you put it away for the day?” or post the question on a Post-It in a well-trafficked area and take yourself out of it.
Support your child to problem-solve about the homework process and her own learning.
Be curious and ask: (try stick to one question at a time, and space them out!):
• How is prioritizing working for you?
• What breaks are best?
• What are you noticing that’s easier to start with on a typical day?
Try not to take it personally if your child answers, "I dunno." They’re hearing you and will answer when they’re ready!
Our kids may not stick to a plan entirely but helping them think about how they learn, figure out what works best for them, and develop an awareness about how they get their work done effectively and efficiently is what’s most important. As they experience positive outcomes, success builds on success!