Homework struggles are real. Have you ever sat down with a child to do homework after school? It can be excruciating. Children sit through school six to eight hours per day and the last thing they want to do when they get home is to sit down and do MORE schoolwork.
Now, imagine trying to get the same child to do homework, only they have extreme difficulty sitting still and concentrating. You probably don’t have to imagine it. You’re probably living it right now.
So it’s no surprise that ADHD and homework are no match made in heaven.
Children with ADHD can become overstimulated and overwhelmed when bombarded with work they either do not want to do or have difficulties completing. That is why it is so crucial to learn how to focus on homework with ADHD. Of course that’s easier said than done. Especially considering research shows 46% of children with ADHD also have learning disabilities. Homework is often an extension of work in the classroom to further give the child practice on a new subject or on one that can be particularly difficult to master. Thus, homework may have a very overwhelming and overbearing effect on a child with ADHD.
The task of helping a child with ADHD complete homework can be just as overwhelming for the parent, and spiral out of control quickly. To say the least, it requires a plethora of patience.
Luckily, there are plenty of great ways to reduce homework battles and make the task far more enjoyable for both you and your child. So without further ado, here are our 5 favorite homework tips to help parents of children with ADHD.
1. Keep Your Child with ADHD on a Homework Routine
Kids with ADHD crave structure and routine, it helps to calm anxiety and keeps them from becoming overwhelmed with the unknown. Just like getting your child with ADHD to clean their room, you should strive to create a set schedule.
This way planning a time each day to do homework is something expected. As the routine is firmly established, even if your child hates the material and homework itself, they know it is required of them.
Timing is everything. Some children may thrive when doing homework immediately after school when the material is still fresh in their minds. Others may benefit more from taking an academic mental break for a few hours and revisiting the material in their homework closer to bedtime or after dinner.
No two children are the same and there is no right or wrong answer to how children and parents set up a routine to get homework done. Do what works best for your child and just remember to stick with it!
2. Design a Sensory-Friendly Homework Area
Children with ADHD may also have SPD — Sensory Processing Disorder. If that’s the case, it will likely be most prevalent during times of stress, such as when a child sits down to do homework. The bright lights, the feel of a certain pen or pencil in their hand, the itch of a sock — all can be a trigger and cause a student with ADHD to become overwhelmed.
If possible, do whatever is possible to make your child’s homework area “sensory-friendly.” This means removing items that are known to cause agitation.
Suggestions might include:
- Dim or brighten the lights
- Turn on or off (or change) the type of music playing in the background
- Remove distractions such as books, electronics, or toys
- Close the room’s door to prevent outside distractions
3. Use a Sensory Box
Within the designated homework area, it is beneficial to keep what is known as a “sensory box.” A sensory box includes items that might calm a frustrated child down, help them regain their composure and focus, or give them a break.
Items that may be of use in this box could be:
Gum or hard candy - children with ADHD are often orally-fixated so having something to chew or suck on may help to slow down their brain and allow them to regain focus or control.
Fidgets for their hands - children with ADHD often work well with gadgets or fidgets in their hands. The thought behind these objects is that children essentially put their minds to the task of playing with the gadget so their brain works at a slower pace, allowing them to also focus on another task, such as homework or listening to a classroom lecture. Items such as fidget spinners, stress balls or other similar objects may be helpful to have on hand.
- Weighted Lap Pad or Blanket - numerous studies suggest weighted lap pads and blankets help people with ADHD. They successfully allow a child with ADHD and SPD to feel surrounded and comforted by the weight of these items. Weighted blankets are known to aid in soothing overwhelmed or anxious minds, and allow children to regain control of their bodies and focus on the situation.
One can easily show how having sensory box nearby can benefit homework time. Best of all, you don’t need to spend a lot to create one. Here’s a helpful guide on how to create a homemade sensory kit for your budding student.
4. Address the Stressors of Homework
Much like making a routine of homework after school, discussing what stressors might come up while working on homework may lessen the anxiety of sitting down to the task at hand with a child with ADHD.
When faced with a difficult situation, children with ADHD often activate their “fight or flight” instinct and may quit the task or try to run from the table when they’ve set their mind to the thought that they cannot do what is asked of them. In such case a parent will likely have to redirect their child back to the task many times and encourage them to continue working, even when the material is difficult and the parent themselves is ready to throw in the towel.
The following subjects, in particular, have been shown to be stressors for children with ADHD:
Emotions are especially complex for a special needs child. Talking out the emotions surrounding work on these subjects helps prepare their minds for the difficult challenges to come, and can prevent their “fight or flight’ instincts from occurring in the first place.
For further help with one of the most challenging of these subjects — for both students and parents — check out the best ways to make math more manageable for your child with ADHD.
5. Reward Positive Homework Behavior
Rewards are gold for homework. Children with ADHD are often very reward-motivated and thus, rewarding in small steps throughout the session may keep them on track and focused.
Rewards can come in the form of:
- TV or screen time.
- A small allowance, such as a dime or a quarter per subject of homework completed.
- An activity to be done later that day or the following day. Just be careful with this type of reward as sometimes children may give up on the assignment because the reward isn’t instantaneous. However, if this keeps your child on track and motivated to finish, go for it!
- Small treats. Handing out a Hershey’s Kiss, Lifesaver Gummy, or any other treat loved by your child per subject completed can be a great motivator! Be sure to keep these sugary-rewards small and sparse, though, as they can “wind up” the mind of a child with ADHD and take their focus away from completing their homework.
Doing homework with a child who has ADHD does not have to be overwhelming and stressful.
As with nearly anything, understanding the child and their unique needs is imperative to creating a successful endeavor. Once a parent, caregiver or educator understands what their child needs to be successful, doing tasks such as homework becomes far easier.
And a lot less of a battle.
Ashley Lavoie is a mom of 3 and manages both child and adult ADHD and Neonatal Diabetes. She is advocating for awareness and loves writing and connecting with other families like hers.
Editor's note: This information is not meant to diagnose or treat and should not take the place of personal consultation, as needed, with a qualified healthcare provider and/or BCBA.