Schoolwork at Home with ADHD

By Caroline Segal, Ph.D


Without classroom structure, kids with ADHD often find it hard to get on track and stay on track • Whether managing virtual schooling or homework, these simple strategies can help your child be more productive while doing assignments at home

For many children and teens with ADHD, getting work done at home is a struggle. They get frustrated, parents get frustrated, fighting ensues, and the result is not only incomplete work, but also a child who feels badly about himself and his academic potential. Over time, this can lead to disengagement from schoolwork, strain on your parent-child relationship, and poor self-esteem. Following are some tips to help your child with ADHD feel successful and get more done at home.

Create a Designated Workspace

A neurotypical brain is capable of filtering out multiple inputs, but the ADHD brain struggles to tune out noise and distractions in the workplace, making it exceptionally hard to focus.

To give the ADHD brain a hand, create a specific workplace for your child that is as distraction-free as possible. Ideally, this is a space that is only used for working, so the brain learns to associate it with quiet concentration. To the degree possible, this space should be separate from main living areas where other family members might be moving around or making noise. If your child is particularly sensitive to noise, he may also benefit from noise-cancelling headphones and listening to white noise.

Chunk Assignments

One feature of ADHD is difficulty with planning, organizing, and initiating tasks. To make homework less overwhelming and help your child develop planning skills, help to break down assignments into clearly defined chunks, or steps. For example, instead of “Write book report,” help develop a specific list of what has to be accomplished, such as, “1. Read book. 2. Come up with a thesis statement. 3. Write outline…” etc.

Have your child focus on completing one chunk at a time, and monitor his progress as he works. It helps to give feedback (with as much positive feedback as possible!) on their working style as they go.

Use the Pomodoro Technique

Teenagers and young adults often benefit from a time management method called the Pomodoro Technique, which structures work time around frequent short breaks. The Pomodoro Technique works as follows:

  1. Select the task to work on
  2. Set a timer for 25 minutes
  3. After the 25 minutes, take a 5-minute break
  4. After four “pomodoros” (or 25-minute chunks), take a longer break of 15-30 minutes.

There are several apps that help keep track of pomodoros, such as “PomoDone,” “Focus Keeper,” or “Marinara Timer.”

For younger children, or teenagers with severe ADHD, this technique should be adjusted down to shorter intervals. Many young kids with ADHD can’t focus for more than 5-10 minutes. Find the amount of time that works—long enough for them to make progress but not so long that they get overly antsy, frustrated, or tired—and use frequent breaks to help them stay regulated.

Encourage Movement

Many children and teens with ADHD move around like Energizer Bunnies. While this may seem distracting, it’s actually the body’s way of compensating for understimulation in the brain. So to help your child focus, find ways to integrate movement into their work. This could mean having them stand up while doing work, or even doing work while walking or wiggling around, if the assignment allows. For work that has to be completed in one set place, allowing them to use a fidget toy can make a big difference in their ability to focus.

Outside of actual work time, it helps to take frequent “brain breaks” where movement is encouraged. Have you ever noticed that you tend to be more clear-headed after exercising or going for a walk? This is even more the case for those with ADHD. Whether it’s taking a 5-minute dance break, doing some jumping jacks or burpees, or taking a walk around the block, getting the body moving will help to stimulate their brains and give them an extra jolt of “focus” for the next round of working.

Most importantly, do your best to be patient with the process. Because ADHD has many different presentations, some strategies will work better for your child than others. Do a little trial and error, and check in often about what helps the most. Whenever you find something that works, take the opportunity to celebrate! Your child is working hard to overcome his struggles, and so are you. Keep up the great work!

This article is adapted with permission from the Sasco River Center in CT. Caroline Segal, a psychotherapist at the Sasco River Center, specializes in the treatment of child and adolescent anxiety, depression, trauma, and behavioral issues.

Related Smart Kids Topics