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How to Help Your ADHD Child Complete Their Homework

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Having a hard time getting your ADHD child to do their homework? This post offers some helpful ideas and insight for making homework time more productive and less stressful.

Homework Help

We all know that homework can be a pain sometimes, but for ADHD kids and their parents, homework often poses greater challenges. Below, we highlight some ways to not only help your ADHD child complete their homework, but feel better about doing so.

The Importance of Structure

Establishing a structured routine that is followed every single day your child has homework is one of the most important ways to ensure that homework gets done.

  • First of all, there needs to be a scheduled, set time when homework gets started. Many ADHD kids do best when their brains are still in school mode, so starting homework within an hour or two of getting home from school is typically the best idea. If ADHD kids are given a bunch of time for other activities in between school and homework time, they may be more apt to lose focus and become distracted or sleepy. Having a specific 'homework time' helps maintain a routine, gets your child used to a set schedule and helps develop good habits--all of which can be very beneficial for kids with ADHD, according to Everyday Health.
  • There also needs to be a designated homework spot for your child. Whether this means the kitchen table or a desk, the area should be free of clutter and distractions. If there are other kids in the house, they shouldn't be around. Have everything that could possibly be needed for homework in the designated area--pencils, erasers, scissors, glue, markers, etc. This way homework won't be interrupted if one of these items is needed.

Young girl completing homework

According to health and wellness website Verywell, kids with ADHD have a hard time controlling and regulating themselves, so they absolutely need external controls such as structure to help control their symptoms. The same article also offers a great explanation for structure in relation to ADHD; it states that structure is much like scaffolding used on buildings and at construction sites. Providing the proper scaffolding, or structure, helps support your child and builds the self-control and competence needed to succeed.

Play an Active Role

Perhaps one of the biggest things to remember when it comes time for your child to complete their homework is that you must play an active role. You cannot simply give your ADHD child a set of rules about homework and expect him or her to abide by them day in and day out.

Some important things to keep in mind:

  • Sit down with your child at the designated homework time to go over everything for that day's homework. You need to be sure that your child understands their assignments and what is expected of them. Give your child the opportunity to ask questions about anything that might be confusing before getting started. This may also be a good time to judge how long a certain assignment should take.
  • Remain nearby while your child is doing their homework to make sure he or she stays on task and can ask more questions if needed. If confusion sets in, try to help clarify the issue without giving away answers. Work through problems, but try to let your child figure out the solutions.
  • Many kids with ADHD need frequent breaks because their brains get overloaded very easily. Depending on your child's age and homework load, he or she may need to work for 15-20 minutes and then take a 5-minute break. This break might be a great time to sneak in a quick, healthy snack or chat about the day with your child. Keep the break short so it doesn't end up being a distraction.
  • With ADHD kids, it's important to keep track of how much time is being spent on individual assignments. Of course, some will take longer than others, but if you find that it is taking an hour to finish a simple, one-sided worksheet, this will need to be evaluated, and changes will need to be made. Maybe your child is just having a rough day, or maybe he or she really doesn't understand the material. If this becomes a frequent issue, you may have to talk with your child's teacher about the amount of homework being sent home. Many teachers allow kids with ADHD to complete only a certain amount of problems (e.g., only the odd-numbered problems) rather than all of them.
  • Offer positive reinforcement all the time. Even if it is a high five for getting one question done, ADHD kids need to feel like they are doing things right and being noticed for it.
  • There may very well be days when it's impossible for your ADHD child to complete their homework. If he or she is simply too tired, cranky or overwhelmed to finish their assignments, don't push the limits. Pack things up for the day, and inform the teacher of the situation. Perhaps the teacher will allow your child to finish up their homework in school with a tutor or bring it home the next night. Teachers know that kids with ADHD often need special considerations and accommodations, so don't feel bad if your child's homework doesn't get finished every single time.

Father helping his daughter with homework

The Organization Factor

Another important aspect of a solid homework routine is organization, which can often be a hard skill for kids with ADHD to master due to pesky executive functioning issues, according to psychology website PsychCentral. These issues affect how ADHD kids manage themselves and perform when a task such as homework needs to be completed.

If you want your ADHD child to complete their homework on time, organization needs to be a big factor both at school and home.

  • At school, make sure your child is armed with tools that help with organization. This can include a user-friendly daily planner with plenty of writing space. Teach your child the importance of writing down each and every homework assignment in this planner--in a different colored marker for each class if possible (e.g., red for science, blue for math). Also, color-coded folders in those same colors can be a great way for your child to keep things organized and grouped together. It may also be helpful to get your ADHD child into the routine of clearing his or her desk at the end of every school day--fresh starts are always good for brains that are easily overwhelmed.
  • At home, it can be very beneficial to create a homework schedule each and every week. A large dry erase board in a central location can be a helpful tool for this. According to Health Central, kids with ADHD often do better with a definite, visible schedule, so having a visual reminder of homework can be a great way to reinforce things. Additionally, if your child can physically cross off assignments once they are complete, it can be very rewarding and motivating.

Sample study schedule

There are also several apps that can help your ADHD child stay organized when it comes to schoolwork. Inputting information into an app may be exciting for your ADHD child and may make him more pumped about completing homework assignments. These apps may also help by sending reminders to your child's phone about assignments and due dates.

Keep Lines of Communication Open

In order to ensure that your child's homework gets completed, you will have to maintain a consistent level of communication with teachers. Discuss the fact that you will need weekly (or monthly) homework schedules to make sure your child is always up-to-date on assignments and due dates (and so you can make timely schedules at home). Most teachers have no problem with this and send out weekly email updates nowadays anyhow.

According to information from PsychCentral, ADHD kids often have trouble remembering things due to working memory issues. To help combat this, you may want to ask teachers if there are any extra books that your child can take home for the semester or school year. This way, your kid won't fail to complete homework assignments simply because they forgot their books at school. If they only have to focus on bringing home folders and worksheets, homework may be more likely to get done on time.

Be the Great Motivator

According to an article published on ADDitude by Russell Barkley, PhD, it can be hard to understand why kids with ADHD have no problem doing what interests them but then have huge issues when it comes time to perform necessary tasks that might not be so exciting, like homework. What this all boils down to is motivation. Activities that ADHD kids tend to enjoy (e.g., video games) offer almost instant gratification, which is their motivation. Homework, on the other hand, isn't instantly gratifying and may seem like a pointless task in your child's eyes. This is where you must step in as a parent and provide that motivation.

Information from The New York Times indicates that reward systems may be especially helpful when it comes to motivation and behavior control for kids with ADHD. There are many methods that can be used, such as token systems or charts with stickers. For example, let's say your child completes their homework without much trouble. Earning a token or sticker immediately after the task is done is a short-term, instantly gratifying reward that your child may respond well to. Other kids may respond better to rewards like playing their favorite game or going outside for a set amount of time once their homework is done. You may have to do a little trial-and-error to determine which reward system (or set of systems) works best for your child and household.

Study.com's engaging video lessons can help with homework and test prep. Learn more here.

By Meghan Cooney
June 2019
k-12 parenting tips & tricks

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