Homework can be difficult for most kids during the school year, but it can become a major challenge when you have a child with ADHD. But here’s some good news for exhausted parents: if you take the right steps now, at the beginning of the school year, homework hassles can be kept to a minimum. The key is to be organized and plan ahead to minimize the frustration your child is bound to experience around multiple homework assignments. Begin by tackling the two most important places: school and home with these homework tips for kids with ADHD and ADD.
At the beginning of the school year, meet with your child’s teacher (or teachers) to find out what the expectations are regarding homework. Try to work out a system where they can let you know in advance what homework will be assigned either on a week-to-week basis or for the whole semester. Many teachers are even willing to keep you informed by e-mail. You should check with your child’s teachers periodically to make sure that things are going well. And definitely remember to ask them to inform you whether assignments are being turned in on time.
Another big problem for kids with ADHD is that they often forget to bring their books home. You may be able to work out with the school, particularly if your child has a 504 plan, to get an extra set of books. This way, your child will have a set of books at school and a set of books at home.
Children with attention disorders, particularly those with a 504 plan, are entitled to accommodations to make school demands appropriate to their abilities. So for example, in math or other subjects with long lists of questions or problems, the accommodation states that the school must allow the child to do every other question or problem, rather than the entire list that’s been assigned. Talk to your child’s teachers about your child’s abilities and the accommodations that can be made. It can make the difference between enduring endless hours of frustration at homework time and having your child succeed.
Moving now to the home front, it’s important, if possible, to have a quiet time in the home where there’s no TV and no other media to distract your child. You might even stop phone calls during homework time. And if you have a project that you’ve brought home from work, consider doing it while your child is doing his schoolwork. (But be available for help if necessary.) This helps younger children with ADHD to understand that homework is a normal part of life—just another responsibility that needs to be met, and it also sets the right mood for focusing and concentration.
It’s best to have a scheduled time for homework and a quiet place to do it. For older kids, it may even be a good idea to set up their own “office”. This could be a space in their room, the living room or kitchen where they do their homework on a regular basis. You might even put up a bulletin board with all their long-term assignments and due dates. What this provides is a way to make it easy to have all the materials they need and to keep them on task.
If you know what your child’s assignments are, you should review them together. Make sure that they understand what they need to do. In particular, be certain they understand the directions completely. If they have homework for several different subjects, you can eliminate much of the hassle simply by helping them to organize their time.
It may be a good idea to break homework into sections. You can set aside time for each specific subject, with some relaxation breaks in between. High school age kids with ADHD certainly can do an hour of homework at a time without a break, while first graders may only be able to go for 10 to 15 minutes without a break. You need to determine what you feel is a reasonable amount of study time for your child, and then help him or her to manage their time appropriately. When they complete their homework successfully, use fun activities such as on TV or video games (or whatever your child enjoys) as a reward.
Finally, a big problem for kids with ADHD is that even when they get the homework completed, they forget to turn it in to the teacher. It’s wise to have a notebook with a clipboard or a separate folder for homework for your child. Remind him or her to check the clipboard or folder at school for each class to be sure that they turned in all the work. Then, before they leave school, they should check it once again. If they find any assignments that were not turned in they should take it to the teacher or the office and hand it in before they leave the campus. Most teachers will accept an assignment later in the day from a child they know to be attempting to cope with ADHD.
The internet also has great resources to help you and your child gather information for homework projects. These include Kid Info www.kidinfo.com, Fact Monster www.factmonster.com and Searching for Stuff-Kid’s search tools www.slco.lib.ut.us/kids_search.htm.
Dr. Robert Myers is a child psychologist with more than 30 years of experience working with children and adolescents with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD - ADHD) and learning disabilities. Dr. Myers is Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at UC Irvine School of Medicine. "Dr. Bob" has provided practical information for parents as a radio talk show host and as editor of Child Development Institute's website, childdevelopmentinfo.com. Dr. Myers earned his Ph.D. from the University of Southern California.