Homework Tips for Parents of Kids with ADHD

January 20, 2013



In most homes of children and teens with ADHD, homework is problematic and a source of great frustration for both the child and parents.  It is important for parents and teachers to understand the impact of inattention and executive function weakensses on these children and provide the structure and supports to enable these kids to have greater success with homework.  This blog will address strategies parents can implement at home.  My next blog will share what teachers can do to help with homework.


Homework Routine and Schedule

· Together with your child, design/create a homework location.  Make sure your child has a quiet, organized work area with adequate lighting, and is as free from distractions as possible.
· Schedule with your child a specific time for doing homework. In order to develop a homework habit, it is important to adhere to a homework schedule as closely and consistently as possible.
· Consider a variety of factors when scheduling for homework: extracurricular activities, medication effects at that time, meal and bedtimes, other chores and responsibilities, your availability to supervise/monitor, and your child’s individual preferences and learning styles.
· Some children prefer and are more productive if they start homework shortly after they come home from school. Others need time to play and get some physical activity or relax first, and then start homework later. However, it is recommended to NOT wait until the evening to get started.
· Help your child get in the habit of putting the homework to be turned in to the teacher in a consistent location (e.g., specific homework folder or pocket in the binder), and make sure the homework(along with all books, notebooks, signed notes, and other necessary materials) are placed inside the backpack before bedtime.
· Place the backpack in a consistent location (e.g., by the front door) that your child cannot miss seeing or tripping over when leaving the house in the morning.


Know the Homework Expectations

· Expect your child to have all assignments recorded. Request the teacher’s help in making sure all assignments are recorded daily – perhaps to initial or sign the student calendar/assignment sheet or other system.
· Be sure to follow through by reviewing the recorded assignments with your child.
· Emphasize the importance of not leaving school until your child has double-checked the assignment sheet/calendar and made sure the backpack is loaded with all books and materials needed to do the homework.
· Have your child take the phone numbers of a few responsible students who may be called or texted if there is a question about school work.
· Many schools help in this regard with homework hotlines, recording daily assignments on teachers’ voice mail, classroom websites – with teachers posting assignments on-line.
· Help your child to first look over all homework assignments for the evening and organize materials needed before beginning.

Help During Homework

· The amount of direct assistance required during homework will depend upon the specific needs of your child.
· Assist your child in getting started on assignments (e.g., reading the directions together, color highlighting the key words in the directions, doing the first few items together, observing as your child does the next problem/item on his or her own, offering feedback and help, if needed). Then get up and leave.
· Monitor and give feedback without doing all the work together. You want your child to attempt as much as possible independently.
· Even with younger children, try to get your child started, and then check and give feedback on small segments of his or her independent work (e.g., after every few problems, or one row completed). Being available to help and assist as needed is wonderful. But, try not to get in the habit of having your child rely on you overseeing every minute.
· As tempting as it may be, even when homework time is dragging on and on, do not do the work for your child.
· Work a certain amount of time and then stop working on homework. Do not force your child to spend an excessive and inappropriate amount of time on homework. If you feel your child worked enough for one night, let the teacher know (e.g., write a note to the teacher or send an email).
· If your child struggles in writing, your son or daughter may dictate and you write and record his or her responses. These accommodations to help bypass writing difficulties are reasonable for children with ADHD. Speak to the teacher.
· Help your child structure and stay on top of timelinesfor long-range assignments (reports, projects).  This requires frequent monitoring and support from start to completion.
· As homework supervisor and coach, praise your child for being on-task, getting to work, and taking responsibility. Give extra praise (and other rewards) for accomplishment and progress.


Increasing Motivation and Work Production

· Use a timer to challenge your child to stay on task, and reward work completed with relative accuracy during that time frame. Tell your child that you will come back to check his or her progress on homework when the timer rings.
· A “beat the clock system” is often effective in motivating children to complete a task before the timer goes off.
· Ask to see what your child has accomplished after a certain amount of time, or to show you when a particular assignment is done. Praise and reward work upon completion.
· Help your child in setting up mini-goals of work completion (read x number of pages, finish writing one paragraph, complete x number of math problems).  When accomplishing the goal/task, your child is rewarded with perhaps points/tokens or other reinforcer.
· Remind your child to do homework and offer incentives: “When you finish your homework, you can ______”.
· Allow your child a break between homework assignments. In fact, your child can reward him or herself with a snack and play/exercise break after completing each assignment or two.
· A contract for a larger incentive/reinforcer may be worked out as part of a plan to motivate your child to persist and follow through with homework (e.g., “If you have no missing or late homework assignments this next week, you will earn. . .).
· Avoid nagging and threatening, and instead use incentives to support and motivate your child through the difficult task of doing homework.
· Enforce consequences such as loss of points (on token economy/behavior modification system) when your child fails to bring home needed assignments, materials, to do the homework.
· Withhold privileges (e.g., no T.V./other screen time or access to their phones and other electronic devices) until a reasonable amount of homework has been accomplished.


Communicate with Teachers about Homework Issues

· If the homework is too confusing or difficult for your child to do (or for you to understand from the directions what is expected), let the teacher know.
· If homework is a frequent cause of battles, tears, and frustration in your home, seek help. Make an appointment to discuss the homework problems, and request reasonable modifications and adjustments in homework assignments.
· Communicate with the teacher and try to come to a reasonable agreement about daily homework expectations. Remind the teacher that children with ADHD often take 2-3 times longer (or more) to output the same amount of work as their peers, and some of the homework demands might exceed your child’s capacity without enormous stress.
· Let the teacher know your child’s frustration and tolerance level in the evening. The teacher needs to be aware of the amount of time it takes your child to complete tasks, and what efforts you are making to help at home.
· Ask for progress notes or use of a daily/weekly report card that keep you appraised as to how your child is doing. See Daily Report – B for an example.


Other Ways Parents Can Help

· If your child is on medication during the school day, but cannot get through the homework once the medication effects wear off, consult with your doctor. Many children with ADHD are more successful with homework when given a small dosage of medication in the late afternoon, or switching to a prescription that is a long-acting formula.
· Many students with ADHD need homework accommodations written into a 504 Plan or IEP.
· It is common for students with ADHD to fail to turn in their finished work. Naturally, it is very frustrating to know your child struggled to do the work, and then never got credit for having done it. Supervise that completed work leaves the home and is in the notebook/backpack. You may want to arrange with the teacher a system for collecting the work immediately upon arrival at school.
· Help your child study for tests. Use memory strategies to increase recall and retention of material. Practice and study using a variety of multi-sensory formats and memory techniques.
· Many parents find it very difficult to help their own child with schoolwork. If that is the case, find someone who can. Consider hiring a tutor. Often a junior or senior high school student is ideal, depending on the need and age of your child. There are a variety of tutorial services available in every community. You will, of course, want to check references.
· Encourage your child and emphasize effort as the most important criteria when doing his or her homework.


This blog is adapted from the content in Sandra’s books:
Rief, Sandra (2008). The ADD/ADHD Checklist: A Practical Reference for Parents & Teachers, 2nd edition. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Rief, Sandra (2005). How to Reach & Teach Children with ADD/ADHD, 2nd edition. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Rief, Sandra (2003).The ADHD Book of Lists. San Francisco: CA: Jossey-Bass.

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