ADHD and math: ask questions instead of making demands

(3 min read)

When we see kids with ADHD struggle in math we often want to jump right in and fix the problem. We start bombarding them with advice, extra worksheets, and online videos without really knowing what problem we are trying to solve.

Take a step back instead and refocus your energy. Focus on finding the root of the math struggle.

Each kid with ADHD is different. Math knowledge varies from kid to kid and so does their executive function (how their brain organizes their thoughts and work). Therefore we need an approach that can work for the majority of kid – ASK QUESTIONS instead of jumping to advice.

Curious questions vs. interrogating

In my mind a curious question encourages discussion. The person asking the question (the grown-up in this case) remains calm. They are genuinely interested in understanding what the math homework is so difficult for their ADHD kid. There are no ulterior motives.

In addition to tone being important the timing of curious questions matters too. As soon as the kid gets home from school is not a good time to begin questioning them about the math grade you saw online (or a paper they left on their bedroom floor). When you finish your work day are you ready to talk about the most stressful parts of it? Usually not! Kids are no different.

RECAP: Curious Questions need Calm Voices and Calm Environments

Interrogating kids about why their math homework is incomplete or receiving poor grades usually focuses on fault. Repeated questions about, “Why didn’t you try harder?” or “Did you study all the materials from the teacher/me?” put all of the responsibility on the student. This approach makes the student feel like they are the center of the problem and the solutions to break through the struggle rest on their shoulders.

Focusing questions on what is wrong with the homework or study habits can make the kid feel isolated, like they are expected to solve the problem on their own.

RECAP: Interrogating a kid about homework is demotivating and isolating

Collaborate with ADHD Kids for Homework Talks

Collaboration makes the kid a part of the discussion where BOTH of you are focused on SOLVING the confusion about the actual MATH CONCEPT.

The focus is on the MATH and not on the kid.

Ask to start the math discussion

I like to start the discussion by asking the kid if WE CAN HAVE A DISCUSSION.

I know what you are thinking. Did I read that correctly? She asks if they can even talk about the math homework? And yes, I do.

The brains of kids with ADHD jump from idea to idea or can sometimes be intensely focused on one topic. In order for the kid to be READY to talk with you about math you have to help transition them by asking to talk.

Sometimes the kid might say “no.” They are not ready to talk. This could be jarring the first few times to hear it. You might incredulously think that your timing is more important and you want to discuss it now. Whether it is now, in 10 minutes, or even in a few hours makes no difference.

Ask the kid when they are available to talk with you and listen to their suggestion. It probably won’t be that far off from the current time. But if they stall or try to avoid picking a time altogether then you could say, “This is important and I’d like us to discuss it together. We are going to pick a time to talk.”

How to ask curious questions about math struggles

I feel more confident when I have my words prepared before an important discussion. I don’t read from a script but I do like to practice the sentences in my mind. Here are some examples of curious questions you can ask about math homework struggles.

  1. What is confusing about this math problem?
  2. Can you tell me what you DO understand about this problem?
  3. How many steps can you get through before you get stuck?
  4. Was the teacher’s explanation of the math concept helpful?

Use these questions as inspiration to ask your own curious questions. You know your kid best so my words might not be a great fit. But the intent of the questions should be to find the real source of the math struggle. Only then can we begin to try new solutions and search for additional resources.

New habits take practice – download and print my free worksheet about asking Meaningful Math Questions to get started!

Please leave a comment or email me and let me know if this approach works for you!

Check out the Math resources I developed using this method of asking questions. Each solution was tailored to the specific kid and their math struggle.

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