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Balancing Work & Downtime to Keep ADHD Kids on Task

parenting kids with adhd

Children with ADHD often struggle with staying on task and task completion. Though they may need extra time to complete tasks, balancing downtime with work time can make them much more productive overall.

Brain Breaks

To keep students with attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) on task, you can incorporate brain breaks during class time, or even suggest using them at home during homework time, to help them stay focused. The term 'brain break' refers to giving children the chance to get up and do something physical, thereby allowing their brains to take a few minutes off and reset themselves. That way, when students come back to their tasks, they can be more focused and productive. For students with ADHD especially, the longer they work continuously on a single task, the less productive they tend to be.

Scheduling Brain Breaks

As students get older, they no longer have the luxury of an old-fashioned recess to use as brain breaks. So we have to get a bit more deliberate about providing them.

For example, if your class is working on a long writing assignment, stop every 15 or 20 minutes and have the students get up and move. The GoNoodle website posts dozens of school-appropriate guided dances and songs you can use with your students to take a brain break during class. These are short, typically around three minutes in length, so they don't eat up huge amounts of instructional time. However, taking five minutes to have a truly productive brain break can make your kids more efficient during class time and give them the chance to complete more of an assignment in school.

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Scheduling 'Quiet Breaks'

Another option, if you don't want to do a whole class brain break, is to utilize subtle class breaks that students can pursue on their own when prompted by you. Use a small timer that beeps at the end of the break but doesn't produce any other noises. The clicks of a typical egg timer, for example, would distract anyone with ADHD. Then, find quiet activities that the students with ADHD in your class would enjoy.

For example, some students may enjoy puzzles like Sudoku or word searches. Others may enjoy a Rubik's cube or a coloring book. When you notice one of your students with ADHD needs a break, hand him or her a timer and preferred 'quiet break' material(s). When the timer goes off, he or she can go back to the assigned task and you can collect the 'quiet break' materials.

Importance of In-Class Work

Getting as much work done in class is particularly important for ADHD students because if they are taking medication for their condition, it typically wears off over the course of an afternoon. So by the time they get home from school, they may be trying to complete assignments without anything left in their systems. Brain breaks will help them make the most of their time in school; however, they can use them at home as well to stay on task. For example, they can set a timer to work for 15 minutes; then they can do some jumping jacks, listen to a song, or do some drawing for five minutes - activities that engage their brains in different ways and give them a rest.

Processing Time

Children with ADHD are born fidgets; they can't help it! It's just the way their brains are wired. However, depending on the nature of an assignment and their interest level, they may hyperfocus and work on a task for hours on end, even days sometimes. However, this isn't typically what a teacher should expect of an ADHD child in the classroom.

Post Processing

People with ADHD tend to post process what happens. Post processing means students don't process an activity or event as it is happening, rather they need to have time to process it later. So if you want to keep an ADHD child on task, you need to build in processing time during lessons and homework. Downtime allows their brains to work through what has been said, or what has happened. For example, if you're doing a lab in class, children with ADHD may struggle if the discussion directly follows the collecting of data. To remedy the situation, schedule a break in between collecting and discussing the data so they can process the experience and stay on task.

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Pacing Yourself

You may even need to pace yourself while teaching so that you can make sure you're using appropriate wait time for the students with ADHD in your class. Don't be afraid of those moments of silence because they are your students' friends. So if you ask a question, tell the class everyone is going to take 30 seconds or whatever time frame is appropriate to think or make notes. This will give your students with ADHD a deliberate moment to process the question and their answers.

Fidget Objects

When children fidget, they are telling you they need to move. In relation to children with ADHD, there will be times when it's hard to schedule a break around what is going on in the classroom - such as during state testing. In situations like this one, provide children with ADHD with a fidget object, which gives them something physical to do. It could be a toy that they can squeeze like a stress ball.

Sometimes, other objects can be used to tame the fidget and give a child some downtime for a few minutes. For example, small tops work well because they require concentration and coordination to get them spinning. Other small games such as having students catch a moving toy fish work as well. These can quickly be pulled out and then put away when a break is over.

Sometimes the trick to balancing downtime and task completion in class for children with ADHD requires some creativity. For example, you might have a child with ADHD act as the supply person for his or her lab group. This provides the student with 'reasons' to get up and go back and forth for materials. These movements give his or her brain a short break during the task. You could also have a student help you pass out copies of an assignment, which again gives him or her a reason to get up and move around. These brief breaks, big or small, rest the brain and give kids with ADHD the chance to renew their attention when they come back to a task.

By Rachel Tustin
January 2017
parenting kids with adhd parenting tips & tricks

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