As a parent of a child with ADHD / ADD, you know how important the home environment is for helping your child feel at ease. Lynne Edris, an experienced Life & ADD Coach, is here with expert tips on how to create a safe, focused space suited to your family!
Customizing Your Child's Study Space
Question: How do I set up a focused study space for my child?
Lynne's Response: When I work with parents on homework practices for their kids with ADHD / ADD, I often tell them to throw away most of the homework rules their parents may have had for them! Other than implementing a predictable, structured routine for homework so that your child knows when homework is to be done, a less conventional approach to studying and homework can often be beneficial for kids and teens with ADHD / ADD.
Because each child has their own, unique processing style and preferences, there is no single ''right'' way or ''perfect'' space for your child with ADHD / ADD to study or do homework. Sitting still, in silence, at a clear desk with nothing more than a pencil and their homework in front of them may work well for some kids, but can be counterproductive for some kids with ADHD / ADD! Instead, pay attention to what your child likes and needs, and how and where they seem to focus best.
Is she a wiggle worm when studying or doing homework? Embrace it! This may be an indication that she has a strong preference for a kinesthetic, or movement, element when learning/processing. Instead of urging her to sit still and pay attention (a difficult combination for many), try having her sit in a rocking chair or on an exercise ball, swing, or even ride a stationary bike while she studies. Movement often facilitates learning and focus for kids with ADHD, so let them wiggle and fidget and squirm as much as they need to.
Try giving your child a few acceptable options for where they can study, and let them choose. When my son was young, he would sometimes lay on the floor underneath the conference table in my home office to do his homework. I have a teenage client who likes to sit on the landing of their staircase to read. As a woman with ADHD myself, I often do some of my most focused work outside when the weather permits, or in a busy coffee shop. When it comes to location, it often helps to think outside the box to find an ideal studying space!
Does your child constantly come looking to you or someone else when they're supposed to be doing their homework? Some kids will find it much easier to get and stay focused with another person in the room, even when that person is doing something completely unrelated to them. In coaching, we call this the Body Double technique, and it can work as well for adults as for kids.
Likewise, the quiet environment you were probably encouraged (or required) to have for studying might not be the best for your child's focus. Some kids (and adults) are better able to focus with music or sound in the background. Try different types of music, white noise, or ambient sounds to help them find their preference. (I had a client years ago whose tween-aged daughter found polka music to really help with her focus, much to her family's dismay. Thank heaven for headphones!)
Finally, it can be really helpful to set up some sort of portable caddy for homework supplies that they can take with them to prevent the inevitable distractions that will inevitably arise when they need that one more thing! Simply put a stash of pencils, erasers, highlighters, fidgets, and other study supplies in a bucket or bin that they can take with them. Having a simple study checklist to which they can refer that includes what they need to be ''ready'' to get to work (i.e., pencils, paper, calculator, a drink, their favorite fidgets, etc.) can go a long way in keeping them on track once they do get started.
Keeping Clutter in Check
Question: How important is it to keep my house neat and largely clutter-free? Will that help?
Lynne's Response: Unfortunately, the answer to that question is an emphatic, ''Yes! It will help.'' One of my favorite expressions is, ''Physical clutter begets mental clutter.'' (In fact, I say it so often I can't remember if the quote belongs to me or to someone else!)
Here's my overly simplistic, layman's explanation of why: If you think about it, having ADHD / ADD is not really about having a deficit of attention. Anyone who's ever been around someone with ADHD knows that, at times, we can have a surplus of attention. If you've ever seen a child with ADHD / ADD play video games or hyper-focus on something of interest to them, you know precisely what I mean. Having ADHD / ADD does not really mean we have a deficit of attention itself, rather the deficit is in our ability to regulate our attention, which means we can struggle to pay attention to the appropriate thing and filter out the excess (what we don't need to be paying attention to) at any given moment. Clutter in our surroundings gives us more to have to filter out, making it more difficult to pick the appropriate thing to pay attention to, and making it more difficult to sustain focus appropriately.
And, of course, keeping clutter at bay and simplifying our surroundings makes it easier for all of us to find what we need when we need it, see what's out of place and needs to be put away, and just generally stay organized! And, of course, staying organized is no small feat for most of us with ADHD / ADD. Keeping a relatively organized home with minimal clutter and sufficient structure can be extremely helpful for kids with ADHD / ADD.
Herein lies the rub! We know that ADHD / ADD tends to have a familial component. Kids with ADHD / ADD tend to have parents with ADD, and keeping an organized home with minimal clutter and sufficient structure does not come naturally for most adults with ADHD / ADD! Finding your way, parents, to get your own ''stuff together'' with the help of an appropriately trained coach or other support can make a huge difference in your own life, of course, but also in your kids'. And I don't believe there is a better way to teach your children what's possible than to model it for them! After all, children learn what they live, not what they're taught, right?
As a mom with ADD myself, being something of a model for my kids has always been a huge motivator for me to keep my own clutter and organization in check. Besides, it makes my job as Mom a whole lot easier when I'm walking that walk myself!
Involving Your Child in Everyday Chores
Question: Should I involve my child in the organization and cleaning? Will that help their sense of responsibility and focus?
Lynne's Response: I do think it's important to involve our children in organization and cleaning, but we should be aware of and understand their limitations and their strengths when we do it.
Remember: kids with ADHD / ADD can have significant delays in terms of many of their developmental abilities. Some experts say that our kids with ADHD / ADD can be behind as much as 30% developmentally, particularly in areas of executive function (such as organization, decision-making, prioritization, and the like). This means a teenager with ADHD / ADD may function more like a grade-school aged child when it comes to organization and cleaning. Understanding how and why your child struggles where they struggle is so important! We want to support them where they need to be supported, and still challenge and stretch their abilities so that they continue to grow and develop. It's a fine line to walk, and one that is constantly moving, so pay attention to your child! You are the expert on your kids.
Keep your expectations realistic, and both your expectations and instructions crystal clear. Breaking down organizational and cleaning tasks into manageable steps, for example, with clear tasks to be executed and with satisfactory completion clearly defined, will be more effective for most kids and teens with ADHD / ADD. We know what happens when we simply tell a child or teen to ''Go clean your room,'' right? We usually find them reading or playing or doing just about anything else when we check in. Often, this is not act of willful disobedience, but a direct reflection of their feeling of being overwhelmed and not knowing where to start. Understanding how easy it can be for your kids with ADHD / ADD to get overwhelmed, and learning to help them work with it, is crucial to being able to support and guide them.
Giving your child a set of concise steps, preferably in writing, that will get them to the end goal of a clean room (or any other multi-step project) will always be more effective, especially if they can do it in stages with breaks and intermittent changes of activity. Try putting the steps on a checklist in a sheet protector for them to cross off with a wipe-off marker and see what happens. Adding visual cues like pictures of where things go when they're put away properly can also help.
Most of all, plenty of clear, concrete encouragement and acknowledgement to help them see the progress that they're making and the value in the effort they're putting forth can give them the dopamine boost they need to keep plugging away! And while you're at it, give yourself some well-deserved pats on the back for the hard work you're doing with them. Because anyone who has ever parented a child with ADHD / ADD knows that it's hard work! But it's so very well worth it in the end!
About Lynne Edris
Lynne Edris is a Life & ADD Coach specializing in working with adults and parents of kids with ADHD / ADD. She is a woman with ADD herself, mom to two (one of whom is now a young man with ADHD), and wife of nearly 30 years to a man whom she says doesn't have an ADHD bone in his body. She has been where her clients are, and has gone from living in a constant state of chaos and overwhelm, to living a life of calm & success. She helps her clients start ''firing on all cylinders'' in all areas of life, so that they can have more time and more energy for what they love. You can learn more about Lynne at CoachingADDvantages.