By Terri M. James, Ph.D., Southeast Psych
Expecting a child with focus/attention/hyperactivity issues to sit still, complete assignments and not be distracted may seem like an insurmountable task to parents. In many cases it is partly because we expect these children after a long day at school to do exactly what is most difficult for them: sit still!
It is time to break the negative cycle that homework time has become in your household. The Purposeful Parenting™ way is to not react, but to plan, prepare and be positive.
Self-care. You can’t help your child if you haven’t taken care of yourself first. Every safety video on an airplane tells parents to put on their own oxygen mask first, and then help their child. If you go into homework time tense/distracted/short-tempered, it’s a pretty safe bet that it won’t go smoothly.
Kid-care. Children with ADHD are particularly challenged by the focus demands of a long school day. Most children need some downtime when they get home, before they can turn to homework. This is a great time for physical activity, not for electronics.
Organization. Make a list with your child of all the assignments that need to be completed, including what is due tomorrow, as well as later in the week. Then make a list of what will be accomplished that evening and in what order.
Establish a place for homework. Kitchen tables are often reminiscent of Grand Central Station, and bedrooms can have way too many interesting distractions. The ideal place for homework is clean, void of distractions, and close enough that parents can see but not hover. Many parents find that setting up a folding table in the dining room can be ideal, and having all necessary supplies handy can reduce the interruptions, like getting up to get a pencil and then playing with the dog.
Set a timer. Parents of ADHD children often complain that what should take their child 20 minutes ends up taking two hours. Partly, this is because the child is not capable of sustaining focused attention for prolonged periods of time. Something that can help is to work for 10-15 minutes (up to 20 minutes for older children) and then break for five-10 minutes. Set a timer for work and break time. While this may seem counterintuitive, as it seems to prolong the total amount of time, breaks help “reset” the brain and increase focus, thus making work time more productive.
De-escalate frustration, don’t escalate. If your child is having a bad day, the work is too hard, or the family schedule just isn’t working to allow the routine that day, don’t let the situation get out of hand. It’s so much easier to put the brakes on a runaway train than to try and put it back on the tracks after it derails. If you sense that the train is getting away from your child, and from you, stop! Take an unscheduled break. Go outside, get some physical activity, maybe a snack. Start back fresh and renewed.
Know your own child. If sitting still just isn’t possible, give them a ball of play-dough to squeeze while they study. Maybe they can learn their math facts faster if they need to answer them before the baseball is thrown. How about spelling words between basketball shots or hula-hoop attempts? Imagine if homework time wasn’t torture, but actually a bit of fun? Of course, that can’t work with all types of assignments, but breaking up the ones that require sitting still versus ones that can be accomplished while being active can help with focus and engagement.
Terri James has a Ph.D. in Clinical/School Psychology and specializes in assessments and parenting at Southeast Psych in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Purposeful Parenting™ program at Southeast Psych provides practical skills through parent education, training, and support to promote family flourishing. www.SoutheastPsych.com.