Strategy of the Week – Focus at Home

Helping your child with homework can be a struggle. These tips and hints can help make “homework time” less stressful for everyone.

Break schoolwork assignments into small segments. For a child with ADD/ADHD, the general rule of thumb is that a task is most likely to get done when the child knows that “the end is in sight” at the beginning of the task. It’s easier for kids with ADD/ADHD to do six five-minute chores than to do one 30-minute chore.

Reward your child when he finishes a task. Some parents don’t allow kids to play video games on school nights. But video games can be an incentive to maintain attention if kids know they will be allowed to play for 30 minutes after they finish their homework. If you decide to make this offer, say it like this: “As soon as you finish your homework, you get to play video games for 30 minutes.” Saying, “You can’t play video games until you finish your homework” sets the scene for a power struggle. Giving your child something to look forward to will energize him.

Have your child rate how hard a task is for her (1 is easy and 10 is difficult). Ask her how she could turn an 8-9-10 task into a 2-3-4 task. Can she turn it into a game, make it fun by listening to her iPod while she does it, or break the task into small pieces and do one piece at a time, with built-in breaks?

Ask your child to estimate how long a task will take. Your child may think it will take an hour to do his math homework. If he finds it took him only 15 minutes, he will be pleasantly surprised — and much less likely to procrastinate the next time he has to tackle it.

Gradually increase attention. Measure how long your child can stick with homework or a chore before needing a break. Once you establish that, set a timer for two to three minutes longer than the baseline measurement, and challenge your child to keep working until the timer rings.

Be there. Children can sustain attention longer when someone is physically with them. Make homework time a family affair — everybody brings work to the dining room table at the same time every night. Parents work on their paperwork while kids do their homework.

Schedule movement breaks. Kids with ADD/ADHD work more efficiently when they have regular opportunities to get up and move around. Even on nights when they have a lot of homework, they will get it done faster if they have periodic breaks that include some physical activity.

Help him visualize time. Devices that show elapsed time will help him reset his focus when it drifts from the task. Time Timer makes a clock and a wristwatch, as well as software for the computer, that show a time-challenged child how much time he has left (or how much has passed) via a diminishing red disc.

Expand on your child’s partial answers by saying, “Tell me more. I would like to know how you arrived at that answer? It is interesting.” This will keep his attention on the task at hand.

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