Homework can feel like an impossible struggle for kids with ADHD, but it doesn’t have to be that way…

As a child who grew up with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), I know what it’s like to skip homework day after day. I was fortunate to have parents who were very laid back – but, had they been pushy parents, I assure you, I still wouldn’t have got much done.

There’s this feeling, I like to call it the ‘I can’t be bothered’ feeling, which prevails every time I try to concentrate. On the rare occasion when I’d overcome the ‘I can’t be bothered’ feeling (like on the evening before an exam) you can rest assured that it would be back again the following day. On top of this, there are all the other challenges of executive dysfunction such as forgetfulness, working memory, inattention, and time management, which don’t make things any easier.

Many children I work with are so tired when they arrive home from school that they barely have any energy left in the tank. This is common for ADHD-ers, as it usually coincides with when their medication starts to wear off. So, what can you do to make homework easier for kids with ADHD?

How to understand processing modalities

From my experience, there are several strategies that can help. However, it’s important to recognise that each child is different and will be energised depending on their individual strengths and processing modalities, whether it be auditory, kinaesthetic, visual, or tactile. For example, one of my clients does their homework using coloured sharpie pens (visual), some can only complete reading tasks while listening to ‘white noise’ (auditory), while others prefer a ‘POP IT’ toy or Thinking Putty (kinaesthetic).

There’s nothing wrong with applying two items at the same time. One of my students discovered that she focuses better when using a scented diffuser together with an hourglass timer to help with her time management. These are just a few ideas that can make a big difference.

1. Flexibility

As you may well know, ADHD-ers hate being told what to do. That is why it can be so useful to give them a flexible time frame. Give your child ownership by asking when they’d like to complete their homework. Obviously, giving them the entire weekend is too long a window. The homework just won’t get done. However, offering a two-hour timeframe for your child to complete an hour’s worth of work, allows them to approach it in their own way. It also helps the child to psych themselves up for the unwelcome experience. This will make the transition from recreation to homework that little bit easier. If your child struggles to move away from the screen, then other interventions may be necessary.

2. Reward schemes

Many children with ADHD aren’t motivated by the long-term rewards of education. ADHD-ers need something ‘instant’ to look forward to, whether it be screen-time, a tasty treat, a gadget, or a packet of stickers for their collection. An instant reward has the effect of stimulating the brain in the short-term. One child I coach has an arrangement, whereby for each evening of completed homework, they receive 30 minutes of allotted screen time. Reward schemes like this don’t make homework more enjoyable, but it at least gives your child a reason to do it.

3. Body-doubling

Many children find it easier to concentrate when among their peers. This is why after-school homework clubs are so popular. If homework clubs aren’t your child’s thing, then perhaps they can use a ‘body-double’. If your child has a friend who also has ADHD, then perhaps they can take it in turns to go to each other’s house and complete their work together. If two people are working together, there’s a higher level of accountability.

4. Shorter bursts of study

Prolonged periods of attention are a challenge, especially for subjects your child has little interest in. Sometimes, hiring a tutor can be a useful way to instil some accountability. Children are less inclined to let someone down if they aren’t a family member. Arranging shorter lessons of 30 minutes with a tutor can be a more effective way of sustaining attention. The longer the lesson, the more risk there is of your child zoning out.

How can coaching help?

It might be worthwhile getting support from someone who understands your child’s ADHD. A personal coach or mentor can help your child get organised at the start of the week, and can provide calm encouragement, and accountability.