Kids with ADHD have a hard time completing tasks, such as homework and chores.
They may understand the material and be capable of completing the assignment, said Cindy Goldrich, Ed.M., ACAC, an ADHD parent coach, mental health counselor and teacher trainer. She shares her unique insights and experience to build an environment where kids feel safe, supported, and capable of learning.
But “they often have significant weakness in their ability to get started, stay focused, plan and organize their work, monitor themselves to regulate their actions, and manage their emotions.”
Kids with ADHD may be up to 30 percent developmentally behind their peers — even though they’re of average or above average intelligence, she said. “It’s not a problem of knowing what to do — it’s doing what they know.”
They have an especially tough time completing tasks they find boring.
“[T]heir brains are not as alert due to lower activity in the transmitters in the brain — dopamine and norepinephrine. They literally have a harder time paying attention or staying involved.”
But even interesting, enjoyable tasks can be challenging.
“Without a strong motivator, it’s hard for ADHD kids to get anything done — sometimes even if its something they really want to do,” said Elaine Taylor-Klaus, an educator and parenting coach.
Some parents make the mistake of trying to motivate their kids with threats and warnings or by taking things away, she said. She regularly gets calls from exasperated parents who say: “I just don’t know what to do anymore. There’s nothing left for me to take away, and my son or daughter doesn’t seem to care at all!”
That’s because threats, shame and guilt don’t work, and actually make it harder to get stuff done, Taylor-Klaus said.
Surprisingly, rewards don’t work either, Goldrich said. Rather, they add “stress and pressure; even though it seems like positive pressure, kids often have a harder time thinking.” They end up shutting down, she said.
Another common mistake is isolating your kids, restricting their movement and eliminating “distractions,” such as music, she said. To kids with ADHD such distractions are actually helpful.
“It’s hard, but parents need to understand that their kids aren’t really avoiding work just to be rude or difficult, or disrespectful — they just don’t have a mechanism to get themselves activated,” Taylor-Klaus said.
However, parents can use various strategies to help engage their kids. Here are 12 to try.
1. Be radically compassionate.
Taylor-Klaus stressed the importance of practicing “radical compassion” with your kids. “It really is very hard for them to get activated, and then to focus, and then to sustain effort. That’s a huge amount of executive function required just to do one homework assignment.”
2. Focus on what really motivates them.
Again, motivation is critical for kids with ADHD. “There are five things that motivate the ADHD brain,” which are “novelty, competition, urgency, interest and humor,” said Taylor-Klaus, co-founder of ImpactADHD.com, an online support resource that trains parents on how to effectively manage kids with ADHD and other “complex” needs.
Not all of these techniques always work, particularly competition, she said. But creating strategies around them can help.
Also, focus on the individual things that motivate your kids. For instance, Taylor-Klaus worked with one parent who tickled his 8-year-old son to help him wake up. “It wouldn’t work for all kids, but this kid needed the fun, and the arousal energy in the morning.”
3. Have them do something beforehand.
“Sometimes, let them do something fun before the homework, like read comics, and then get started,” Taylor-Klaus said. She shared these other examples: doing wall push-ups or wheelbarrows.
4. Work in bursts with breaks.
Let your child know they can work for a certain amount of time, and then get a short break, said Goldrich, founder of PTSCoaching. For instance, they might work for 15 to 25 minutes and then take a five-minute break.
“[Your kids] will often be able to concentrate deeper and work more efficiently in bursts,” she said.
5. Play sports while studying.
Play catch with your child as they review information, Goldrich said. “Throw them a ball and have them throw it back when they know the answer.”
Or help them “learn spelling words or math facts while bouncing a basketball,” Taylor-Klaus said.
Movement in general is great for kids with ADHD. “A lot of these kids are kinesthetic learners, so they think better while moving,” she said.
“In fact, for many kids with hyperactivity, sitting still is the kiss of death when it comes to learning.” That’s why trying to sit still in class is so difficult. If a child’s brain and body want to be in motion, they end up exerting most of their energy on trying to sit quietly, making it tougher to listen to the teacher, she said.
6. Play games.
Goldrich suggested playing concentration by printing two sets of flash cards and laying them on the floor.
7. Time them.
For instance, “set a timer to see how many spelling words a kid can write before the timer goes off,” Taylor-Klaus said.
8. Encourage their creativity.
Ask your child to invent a game to make studying more fun, Goldrich said. “Let them be creative.”
9. Let them switch environments.
Let them do homework in different places, Taylor-Klaus said. For instance, her daughter’s new favorite spot is on top of the dining room table. “She likes to lie down and have her feet fall off the end.”
10. Let them listen to music.
“Allow them to listen to music as long as it does not become their primary focus,” Goldrich said. “Empower them to experiment with different genres to see what works best for them.”
11. Let them chew gum.
Goldrich has found that any kind of chewing — including gum and crunchy snacks like carrot sticks — seems to help kids with ADHD concentrate better.
12. Seek an arrangement with their teacher.
“See if there are ways to modify the homework as needed by having an agreement with the teacher that gives you … some leeway as you see fit,” Goldrich said.
Your kids have already worked really hard during the day. “Many of the kids require extra time to get their work done — and extra time on homework is sometimes too much!”
She gave this example: If your child tried their hardest and worked a reasonable amount of time on their homework but didn’t complete it, sign a note informing their teacher. You might also inform the teacher of extenuating circumstances.
Completing tasks is really hard for kids with ADHD. Using various creative strategies can help.