Now that the rush of starting school has passed and students are settling into a familiar routine, it's time to evaluate what your child or teen needs for academic success this year. Kids with ADHD spend their days at school trying to pay attention in classes that often seem uninteresting with unfulfilling work.
Throughout the day, they have to use their weaker executive functioning skills such as impulse control, working memory, planning, organization and motivation, which are typical challenges related to having ADHD. Even when they enjoy a subject, they often struggle with staying on top of assignments and remembering to turn them in.
All parents have educational goals for their kids such as learning and retaining information, obtaining good grades, and behaving appropriately. By this point in the school year, it's time to set positive, clear goals based on collaborating with your son or daughter. Kids with ADHD spend a lot of time listening to what they could do differently from caring adults and friends. Often, these directions may not make sense to their ADHD brains. To ensure their buy-in to any plan, they need, and want, to be part of the problem-solving process.
Make a time for a calm, honest family conversation about routines, organization and homework so you can work together to make this year a success. Use these tips to guide you:
Create clear routines with simple steps and post them: Kids with ADHD benefit from visual cues. If you want to reduce the countless times you remind them to do things, make a written list together. Break tasks down into basic steps—the simpler the better. For example, if your goal is to leave the house on time each morning, "get ready for school" is too broad of an instruction. Instead, simplify it into "get dressed, eat your breakfast, brush your teeth, and grab your lunch and backpack." Use incentives that matter to your son or daughter as rewards for successful efforts.
Design a place for everything: Whether it's a designated box for gloves and hats or a particular file for homework, kids with ADHD perform better when they know where things should go, even if they don't always put them there. The biggest issue is using their own ideas about organizational systems in conjunction with yours to come up with something practical and useful. Perhaps your daughter likes to color code her academic subjects into separate notebooks with folders. Maybe your son prefers one large binder with a homework tab for each class. Talk with them about what's helped in the past and what could be useful now. If you try a system and it's not working, regroup and try something else.
Establish a homework program with timed work periods and breaks: Ask your son or daughter how long they think they can work without getting distracted. For kids with ADHD under 10, this period can vary from 10-20 minutes. It's usually 15-30 minutes for kids between ages 10-14, and it's likely 30-50 minutes for teens between ages 14-18. Then, set up a program that you BOTH agree on. This plan includes work periods for these agreed upon amounts of time which are then broken up by TIMED breaks of no longer than 10 minutes. Breaks are times for things like snacks, texting, checking social media or going to the bathroom. At the end of the desired study period, your son or daughter earns a reward that you've already agreed on. External incentives are the best ways to foster cooperation for kids with ADHD.
On a weekly basis at first and then a monthly one, review your child or teen's progress on these goals. Whether your goal is less conflict at home in the mornings, a neater notebook with fewer misplaced assignments or avoiding the nightly homework battles, including your son or daughter in the creation of any program leads to the successful outcome you both desire.