When your child has ADHD, it is important to set up a home environment that facilitates homework completion. Because many children with ADHD have problems with organizational impairment due to executive functioning deficits, the following proactive strategies will help take some of the stress out of the homework process.
Organize a space in your home for doing homework. Choose an area that is away from distractions and has ample room. Depending on their age, some children do better working independently in a quiet place that is away from other family members and distractions. Younger children often need to be in an area close enough to mom or dad so that progress on homework can be monitored.
A large calendar on the wall can be helpful for keeping track of your child’s assignments, when they are due, and when your child will be working on parts of long-term assignments. It can also be beneficial to include the dates of other activities such as soccer games, piano lessons, and so forth. This will help you and your child see the big picture of what needs to be done each week. Post-it notes and a bulletin board to put them on can also be a helpful organizational tool for older children.
Make sure all supplies for doing homework are organized and accessible close to the homework area. It can be helpful for the supplies to be sorted in containers or bins or placed in a regular spot on a shelf. Items that students often need to complete assignments include paper, pencils, pens, colored pencils, crayons, erasers, magic markers, a ruler, a calculator, a stapler and staples, scissors, glue sticks, and report folders. Different kinds of paper, such as lined, graph, computer, and construction paper are important to keep in the designated homework area. And for those moments when your child announces at 9 PM that he just remembered he has a project due for his science class tomorrow, it is wise to keep a supply of poster paper and maybe even project board on hand.
One essential tool to have in the homework work area is a timer that can be set to break the homework session into manageable units. Setting the timer for fifteen minutes of on-task work followed by a five-minute break can give the fidgety or frustrated child an opportunity to get up, move about, and then refocus on the work. Repeat this process for as long as is necessary to complete the evening’s homework.
Time limits will vary depending on the age of the child, his/her ability to stay on task, and the child’s difficulty with and/or interest in the assignment. The timer can also be a tool for teaching the child time-management strategies. Parents can make the child aware of the importance of using strategies, such as a timer, when they model using it to break homework completion into manageable parts.
Prepare a notebook for the handouts your child’s teacher sends home. This notebook will be for you. It is hard to remember classroom policies, course outlines, and grading scales for all teachers. Create a section in a three-ring binder for each of your children, using notebook dividers with pockets. When your children bring home correspondence during the school year, you will have a place to keep it. When you need to refer to the information, you will know right where to find it.
Schoolwork and the stress that it brings can be difficult for families dealing with ADHD. Help get the new school year off to a good start by setting up your home environment so that your child — and you — are ready to meet the challenges of homework completion.
An earlier version of this post appeared in Attention magazine. Join CHADD and receive every issue!
Beth A. Kaplanek, RN, and Linda Smith are two of the founders of CHADD's Parent to Parent: Family Training on ADHD.