The school year is here. That means—ugh!—homework. As your child with ADHD is progresses in grades, the amount and complexity of homework will increase.

Consistency is key

When your child comes home from school, set the clock. Give him a 30-minute break to sit down and have a snack and decompress from the school day. Then, it’s time to start homework. Follow this schedule consistently from day to day, with as little variation as possible. 

Location, location, location

Depending on your child’s age, you may want to set him up at the kitchen or dining room table, or a desk in a quiet corner. Avoid setting up a desk in the bedroom; you want to separate work from play and rest. The younger your child, the closer you want him while he’s trying to focus on schoolwork. The kitchen or dining room table gives your child the opportunity to work comfortably and in your presence, which also may increase his ability to concentrate.

Mood music

You’ve probably noticed that, left to his own devices (no pun intended!), your tween or teen turns on the music and TV while doing homework. Be proactive and select quiet, soothing music before he does. Choose something relaxing—something without words that will act as constant but soothing background noise. When the work is over, he can take over as DJ and rock the house. 

Set a timer

Most children with ADHD avoid homework that requires working for sustained periods. To help with these longer stretches, estimate how long an assignment requires, and set a timer—Make a game out of it! Set the timer for the estimated time, and challenge your child to beat the clock. Encourage him to work on an assignment until the timer rings. When the time’s up, give him a break. If he’s fidgety or restless, suggest a break that includes some sort of physical activity (going up and down the stairs three times or walking around the house outside). If your child can work for 15 minutes, provide a 5-minute break and time that as well. Once the bell rings, it’s time to get back to work. 

Prioritize the projects

Ask your child to review his homework assignments for the night. Ask him to estimate how long each homework assignment will take. Write the assignments on a whiteboard in order of longest to shortest time required. Then set the timer, and get started. When the timer rings, cross off any completed assignments, take a break, and move to the next item. The goal is to finish as quickly as possible so that your child can have time to relax and wind down.

Color-coded subjects

Most likely, your child is a visual-spatial learner, which means he thinks in pictures, not words, and sees the bigger concept or idea, not the details. To encourage organization, assign a color to each subject with corresponding notebooks and folders.  When your child is looking for his Science folder, he looks for “green,” not the word “Science.” This will help him locate his materials at home or in his backpack, locker, or desk. 

Create a calendar

Help your child create a master schedule for the month, with all homework assignments and projects properly color-coded. One quick glance at the schedule tells him which assignments are coming up based on the date and color.

Pour on the praise

As your child completes homework more consistently and with less resistance, he will feel more confident and proud. His self-esteem will increase and he’ll have a better chance of conquering homework successfully again the next day. Provide praise and/or privileges for completed homework, and make sure you emphasize how this is a result of his efforts.

Dr. Liz Matheis is a licensed clinical and school psychologist in NJ who provides psychotherapy, assessment, consulting, and advocacy for families managing ADHD, learning disabilities, and Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Source: NIH–National Institute of Mental Health