Homework, homework…does anyone really like homework? For a child with ADHD, just getting the assignment written down and the correct books in the book bag to go home can be a monumental task. Papers inevitably get lost. Either en route home, at home, or en route back to school. Oftentimes, assignments simply don’t get done. If they make it home, the energy that must be used to recall the instructions, understand the assignment, and focus on the tedious task of getting it completed with all the other distractions around may prove too much.
Homework really does involve numerous steps. One missed step can create loads of problems. For the child, it can become so overwhelming that it is easier to just not do it.
Homework can be frustrating for parents, children, and teachers!
The middle and high school years can be an especially hard time. Students receive less supervision. They have multiple teachers with multiple teaching styles. Expectations and responsibilities are much greater. Self-esteem is more fragile and feelings of self consciousness skyrocket.
How can an adolescent with ADHD develop subtle strategies for getting homework done without drawing attention to herself? How can parents help?
Be an Advocate
Be an advocate for your child. Meet with the teachers after school and discuss the homework concerns. Sometimes it isn’t possible to meet with all your child’s teachers. If this is the case, send emails or contact them by phone.
If appropriate, the teachers can lessen the amount of homework assigned to your daughter. This can be done in a way that is not noticeable to your daughter’s peers. If the regular math assignment is problems 1 to 30, it may be that your daughter only has to do 1 to 15.
This can be set up with her teachers in advance. It is also possible for your daughter to be given extended time to complete assignments.
Provide Tools and Support
Go shopping with your child to pick out a notebook where homework assignments can be written down. Ask the teachers if they will help with verbal reminders to the entire class, “Your assignment tonight is…. I will give you all a few minutes. Please write your assignment down now.” Ask them if they will begin writing assignments on the board in addition to giving verbal instructions. This approach can be beneficial to the whole class, not just your child.
Your daughter’s teachers can be on the look out to make sure your daughter is focused and writing the assignment down as instructed. If she isn’t, a simple tap on the desk or pat on the back may be enough to refocus her without drawing attention. The teachers can even check her assignment notebook at the end of class to make sure it is accurate. If possible try to get a schedule of the week’s assignments so you can have them at home as a backup.
Keep a Second Set of Textbooks at Home
Talk with the school principal about getting a second set of school books to keep at home over the school year. For children with ADHD, just getting the correct books home at the end of the school day can be difficult. A back-up set at home can be a life saver on those more disorganized days.
Help your child organize her backpack. Use part of homework time to help teach her how to clean out old, unnecessary items in the book bag. That way you won’t be surprised with a half-eaten, moldy apple leftover from school snack two weeks ago. Your child can also get her materials together and won’t be distracted by unnecessary items in the book bag. At first, you may feel that these tasks are too simplistic, but for a child with ADHD your extra support and guidance is vital.
Color coding is always helpful. When you are out on the shopping trip buying a homework assignment notebook, purchase various colored folders, notebooks, book covers, even colored pens. Match each color to a particular subject. Buy a separate closable folder to use for homework papers. This folder will provide your child with a consistent place to store the homework papers, hopefully keeping them from getting lost in the backpack or elsewhere.
Structure Homework Time
It is a good habit to get to homework soon after your child is home from school or home following after school activities. A snack to re-energize and a drink to refresh is nice, then it’s homework time. Some kids benefit from a little exercise and outside play first. If you find your child needs this time to release her extra energy and refocus, simply structure it in right before homework time begins.
Have a designated area for homework -– the kitchen table, a desk in a nearby quiet room…preferably not her bedroom. Distractions may be too great there. Plus, her bedroom may be more isolated. It is important for you to be available to your daughter to provide responses to her questions and also to provide prompts when needed.
Some children do best in quiet. Some do better with a little background noise or music. Some kids work best with periodic short breaks. You and your child can work out which environment is most productive for her.
Make the homework routine predictable and stress-free. After homework is done, check it over. Then help your daughter put the completed assignment in her homework folder and return all appropriate items to her book bag, zipping it up securely when done.
If a child is on medication, it is possible that the effects of the medicine have worn off by late afternoon homework time. Talk with your child’s doctor about trying to schedule one of the dosages of medication later to help during the homework hours. Be careful that she doesn’t take the medicine too late or it may interfere with her sleep.
Use this time to provide positive feedback to your daughter for her hard work. Try to remain relaxed and upbeat during homework time. At dinner time, compliment her efforts in front of her father and siblings. Sometimes it is so easy to focus on the negative. Remember to point out the things she is doing well. At the end of the week if all goes well, take her out for special time together.