It’s 5:30 p.m. You have arrived home from work with a pizza for dinner to find a pile of dishes in the sink, the television blaring and your kids’ stuff strewn on the kitchen counter. To make matters worse, you received a phone call earlier in the day from your son’s fifth grade teacher letting you know that he hasn’t been doing or turning in his homework and will miss recess for the rest of the week to catch up. You are both tired of the homework battles. Yet you, as the adult, have to muster up the energy to talk about the dreaded topic of homework and, even worse, to supervise it. How can you manage this situation effectively and successfully?
First, it is important for you to take a deep breath and ask yourself what matters most right now. That answer should involve connecting positively with your child. Your child or teen spends most of her day struggling to do the work she is assigned in class and to focus while she is in school. She is trying to keep it all together. When school is over, she needs a break from studying–whether it is time playing outside or doing sports, time in an after-school program with activities she likes, time doing she loves like playing music or time just being with friends. Her brain needs to do something different. Your job is to support this break in whatever way your can. The key to successfully beating back the homework monster is to make sure that she knows this break is time-limited AND that homework lies on the other side of it.
Secondly, it is critical that you create an incentive-based structure for doing homework with your child or teen. Ask him how long he thinks he can work without getting distracted. For kids with ADHD under 10, this period can vary from 10-20 minutes. For kids between 10-14, it’s usually 15-30 minutes and for teens between 14-18, it’s likely 30-50 minutes. Then, set up a plan that you BOTH agree on. This plan includes establishing work periods for these agreed upon amounts of time which are then broken up by TIMED breaks of no longer than 10 minutes. Breaks can include snacks, texting, Facebook, a phone call, walking around the house or going to the bathroom. The plan should also address the length of total studying time.
At the end of the desired study period, your child has earned a reward which you must agree on. For one family, that reward could be one show on television; for another, it could be a specific amount of computer time; for a third, it could be reading a story together on the sofa. Whatever works for your family and is interesting for your child or teen is a good choice. REMEMBER, kids with ADHD get bored with routines so you will likely have to update or change this reward regularly.
Initially, you may have to work alongside your child or teen to make sure that work is actually occurring during this period and to answer any academic questions that could arise. You can call this ‘family work time’ and use the opportunity to catch up on your own stuff (balancing the checkbook, answering emails, reading an article of interest). Often, it helps to go over the various homework assignments before starting and then make sure they are completed at the end. If your child is stuck and wants your assistance, then please give it. Otherwise, try, try and try some more to keep your comments about how he could do things different (re: better) to yourself. Reviewing the work itself is tricky: sometimes it makes your child feel bad about what’s been done instead of good about completing it because the focus becomes the errors in the work. I advise you to let the teacher correct the work for mistakes and for you to provide a supportive, consistent environment to do the homework.
Lastly, celebrate when you have a successful homework period by pointing out what you noticed that went well. For instance, “I liked how you stopped doing your math at break time but then went right back to it” or “I see how hard you are working on that English paper and I am proud of you.” These comments go a long way towards building self-confidence and emphasizing the positive efforts your son or daughter is making!