ADHD Homework Help: change the homework to fit the kid

(3 min read)

It feels comforting to have a perceived sense of control over what we are doing. We like to choose how we do our work, how we run our homes, and how we conduct ourselves. Whenever someone else tries to micromanage us and force a routine on us that we know isn’t best we can become frustrated and want to quit.

Think about how this concept feels to a child with ADHD who just can’t quite understand their homework assignment.

The parens, caregivers, and teachers need to show the child that it’s ok to learn the material another way. The child must understand that nothing is wrong with them because they cannot complete the assignment as written. The adults are the guides on this journey. They can see the big picture and help create a new homework assignment: one that gets the child to the same end goal but on a path that it uniquely their own!

Start with observing your child in action

Before we can jump right in a start problem-solving, we need to clearly understand the problem. The child might be watching TV, avoiding the homework altogether. They might be sitting in their room staring at a page but not writing anything. Or they could be sitting in the kitchen reading and writing and then suddenly stop and exclaim, “This is stupid!”

Take note of what subject they are (or are supposed to be) studying. Is this a subject that they typically like or is it one that’s a source of struggle? What emotions are on display? Anger, frustration, sadness?

Next ask some curious questions

Approaching a tense homework situation takes patience and care. We need to demonstrate that we are inserting ourself into the situation because we want to be supportive. We are not criticizing or judging.

In order to avoid interrogating the child we need to ask curious questions. “What can’t you finish this homework?” will put the child on the defensive and shut down the lines of communication. Instead you could say, “Can you show me where you are stuck?” or “Can I read the assignment so I understand what it’s about?”

Once you ask that first benign question and get invited into the homework process continue proceeding with care. As adults we can probably look at a lot of school assignments and remember when we did that work. We might know the answer right away! But the idea is to help the child arrive at the answer on their own. Remember were are a guide in this process.

Move to the next level of curious questions, ones that dig into the source of the problem. Examples of questions you can ask at this stage are:

  • Can you show me which parts you do understand?
  • In the part where you are stuck is there anything that sounds familiar to you?
  • Download my Curious Questions free printable for more ideas.

Finally you pitch some new ideas and see what sticks

After gaining a better picture of the problem you need to brainstorm some creative solutions. You know you child best. You know if they enjoy learning by reading or watching educational videos. You know if they prefer to type instead of write. You know if they can work for short or long amounts of time before they lose focus and need a break.

Can you find a new resource to explain the confusing topic? Once the child learns from this resource then maybe they will have enough knowledge to complete the task.

Do you need to rewrite the instructions for the project? Teachers are amazing but a comprehensive multi-paragraph set of instructions can be overwhelming for a child with ADHD to read. Can you rewrite it in shorter bullet points?

Is your child’s handwriting disorganized and therefore their math work are a mess to follow? Multi-step math problems can be tracked more easily of the child writes on graph paper.

How you pitch these ideas is key. You are suggesting and not dictating. “What if we found a video to explain this concept?” is a low-key way to offer the idea. The child may say yes or no. If they say no, then we can offer the next suggestion.

I always think like a scientist and treat experiences like this as experiments. A “no” simply means that was not the right-fit solution for the problem. It does not mean you stop. It mean you test a new hypothesis – you test a new idea and see if it sticks. Do not take hearing “no” personally. You goal as the guide in the homework process is to help the child find a solution that works for them.

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