Imagine being at a theater to watch an orchestra perform. This particular orchestra has mixed reviews: when they concentrate they are amazing! But when they have difficulty communicating they are horrendous. The musicians take their starting poses and the conductor raises his baton, which suddenly falls to the floor. Everyone is frozen; the proper ‘go’ signal has not been given. The conductor grabs hold of his baton, gives the ‘go’ signal and the music begins. The entire orchestra, however, seems anxious and communication difficulties persist. As the melody continues to be out of tune, the conductor abruptly gives the ‘end’ signal and runs offstage. He feels like a failure and resolves to quit his job.
Now imagine you are a child and the conductor in your brain is having communication difficulties, just like the conductor of the orchestra. Quitting life is not an option so what do you do? Welcome to the mind of a child with executive functioning weaknesses, one of the core deficits of ADHD.
The brain’s conductor, or our executive functions, control our actions and emotions, such as our ability to take initiative, manipulate between sets of information, problem-solve, plan, organize tasks and materials, and self-monitor (control impulsivity and hyperactivity). These are all key parts in becoming successful and independent. But what should we do when the brain’s conductor is having a hard time doing his job, especially in the case of children? Is success possible? The answer is absolutely YES! They just need our help… especially when it comes to homework!
Homework can be difficult and frustrating for children with ADHD since it involves the heavy use of executive functions. There are lots of steps involved:
-The homework must be written in the agenda. This in itself involves finding the agenda, figuring out the date and writing down the work (usually while looking back and forth between the board and the agenda—and at all the distractions in between).
-The proper materials must be brought home. This involves finding the agenda, remembering the date, turning to the proper page, reading the homework, remembering the materials needed, finding those materials, and putting everything into the backpack.
-The homework itself needs to be broken into smaller steps and organized.
-The child must do the homework, assemble it and place it in the backpack.
-The work must be brought to class and handed in.
Children can become very frustrated and discouraged when doing homework. Let’s use these strategies to set them up for success!
Plan a schedule that is non-negotiable
Children with ADHD need a firm, consistent schedule. With your child’s help, make a list of things to be done after school: homework, play/free time, supper, shower, bedtime, etc. Then, together, design a schedule giving each activity a time slot and post it in plain sight. You can also come up with a plan/secret word to remind everyone to stay on schedule!
Set clearly defined expectations
By setting specific expectations for your child to follow, homework can become structured and stress free! Expectations should be discussed in a positive manner and everybody working with the child (parents, babysitter, tutor, etc.) should be on the same page.
Make a ‘cool-down’ zone
Pre-designate an area for your child to express frustration. Place a blank piece of paper across from the homework area and explain that if your child feels frustrated/angry, to walk over to the paper, write down or draw out the problem, take a deep calming breath, and then return to the homework. Once the problem is put down on the paper, it is left there. This is not a punishment but a special gift of support.
Develop a meaningful reward system
When developing a reward system, involve your child to ensure that he/she is working towards something meaningful. Also, remember that rewards do not always have to be material things! Kids love earning 20 minutes of special one-on-one time with a parent, a short extension on free time, or a visit to the movie theater.
Keep to your word!
Remember that consistency is key! You must follow through on both positive and negative consequences, even if your child tries to negotiate, throws a fit and/or promises to do better next time. Also, if you must give a negative consequence it should be short and appropriate. Praise, on the other hand, can be more outrageous and loud!
Keep in mind that what works for one family does not work for all families. Stay focused, keep your head up and with hard work, perseverance and creativity, homework will become easier for everyone!