Parenting can be a challenge all on its own! What is even more challenging is learning how to manage your child's ADHD/ADD in their daily routine, specifically during homework and at home tasks. If you find that you are struggling with this issue, continue reading to gain tips on how to be more successful when managing your child's ADHD/ADD behaviors in the after school timeframe.
1. You are tired from your long day
You may be a working parent that works 30-70 hours a week. After work you may experience fatigue, stress, anxiety, frustration, or just the desire to unwind. When you return home you know you have to tend to your child/family by preparing dinner, inquiring about their day and helping them with their homework. During those times that you are tired and want to fast track this process to prepare yourself for bed, you may be surprised at how long the process may take because it is challenging for your child to be attentive to the tasks at hand. It is okay to verbally let your child know that you are tired without making them feel guilty. Try these suggestions to help you manage homework time with your child:
- Set the scene – Let your child know that you are exhausted. For instance, you could say, “Work today really tired me out. Although I am tired, I am glad to help you with your homework; but I am going to need your help.” Saying this will let your child know that you are tired but are willing to help him. By also saying this, you are giving your child a sense of empowerment in knowing that you are asking them to help you.
- Realistic expectations of your child – Identifying your child’s limitations will help you develop realistic expectations of what your child can do. For instance, if in the best of circumstances you know your child can focus on a quiet activity (no electronics) for X minutes, than consider that timeframe to be an approximate limit to your child’s attention span. In order for your child to achieve longer timeframes to focus, your child would likely need a lot of adult support. On an unpleasant task, your child is likely able to achieve 25% of the same level of focus before they find themselves distracted, but at least you know what their potential is when all the stars align themselves.
• To uncover your child’s current ability to focus consider these ideas:
- Observe your child as they complete homework on their own. Time their attention focused on answering questions on their homework sheet and calm thinking
- Note the moments when your child seems frustrated and during which homework assignments (math vs reading, etc)
- Observe when your child starts to engage
- Ask your child’s teacher to tell you how your child responds during classroom time and what their limit appears to be and how your child responds to being distracted or frustrated
- Determine a timeframe to complete homework/tasks - Setting a timeframe for homework time will give you and your child structure and time expectations. Sometimes parents and children feel as if homework time lasts “forever”; however, knowing when the endgame is approaching will give you and your child that extra boost to help maintain the timeframe.
2. Know how to support your child.
You may sometimes get frustrated at your child for not completing their homework or other tasks which in turn may lead you to yell, sigh loudly, be demanding, rush your child or even give up the whole process all together. If you are a parent that experiences this, remember that your frustration can be a product of your impatience and/or a high expectation that you place on your child. With that in mind, learning how to encourage your child during these moments will help decreases your frustration and in turn gives your child a sense of adequacy, encouragement and a higher self esteem. Keep in mind that as a parent your job is to support your child’s academic efforts and your child’s teacher’s job is to teach and grade your child’s performance. Reminding yourself of your complimentary, but distinct roles will help you become less frustrated during difficult homework/tasks time. The teacher gets the role of disciplinarian, and yours is the cheerleader. Some encouragement ideas include:
- Record homework/task time with you and your child - Review the interaction and note how many times you gave you child negative comments (verbal and non-verbal) and when you gave your child positive comments. Ideally you want to have nine positive comments for every one negative comment.
- Alter your language - It may be natural for you to tell your child to stop doing something that is undesirable. Instead of telling them to stop, change your language to tell them what you want them to do. For instance, instead of “stop day dreaming” you can say “read that paragraph out loud and then tell me what you thought it meant” or “tell me more about what you just wrote down”; “if you don’t finish your homework you will get in trouble”, instead use “finish the next three questions and then we will take a short break”; “stop tapping your pen”, instead use “sometimes people tap their pens to help them think, what are you thinking about?”; “stop getting upset” instead use “I know it is challenging for you and you appear to be upset, let’s take it one problem at a time”.
- Praise your child – As you are engaging with your child during homework/task time, notice things that your child does that should be praised. For example, your child paid attention for the focused time your allotted; your child completed a task; your child tried very hard on an assignment/task; your child did not complain, etc.
3. Know how to support yourself.
• When you are feeling irritated and short tempered due to your long day at work, be kind to yourself. It is okay to take a moment to decompress from the day before you attend to your child during homework/task time. You may want to take a shower/bath, have tea or coffee, spend some alone time a quiet space at home, listen to music, do yoga, or what ever else will allow you to decompress. It will be useful to do something that is not too tiresome in efforts for you not to disengage when interacting with your child during homework/task time. You may also what to know what your limitations are when helping your child with their homework. For instance, are you able to help your child with homework without becoming too irritated or frustrated at your child? Are you just too tired to be an effective encourager? If you know you have limitations of your own, it may be helpful to think of alternatives such as asking your partner/husband/wife/family member to help your child with homework time or to get your child a tutor. If you are not able to manage homework/task time someone in your support system may be able to give your child the assistance they need. You may feel guilty choosing another option; however, consider the idea that some plants thrive in sunlight and some do not. Knowing your own limitations can help your child thrive in their environment.
4. Setting a timeframe.
When setting the timeframe for homework/task time, choose a time that would be best for you to have decompressed from work and before your child is too tired to want to participate in homework time. Consider meal time and when your child is more able to be attentive. Some children may need to get a burst of energy out before they can fully concentrate, and others may need to get the homework/tasks out the way for them to enjoy the rest of their night. Consider these suggestions when setting timeframes:
- Make sure your child is not overbooked during their day with after school activities, band practice, sports practices, dance classes, etc. If your child is overbooked, they may not have the energy to tend to homework/task time. If your child is overbooked, alter your expectations of what they can accomplish during homework/task time.
- If your child is a child that needs to expend energy, take your child out for a walk or a jog when you get home. You can also put on your favorite song and dance it out with your child. You can play throw/catch ball with your child. One creative idea is to set up an obstacle course in your front or back yard or in your living room or dining room and have your child run it before homework/task time. This shouldn’t extend for hours, but a nice 10-20 minute exertion would do the trick just nicely.
5. Consider what your child is experiencing – Children, like adults, need person time to unwind before tending to homework/at home tasks. To add to it, if your child is overbooked with a lot of after school activities, it can be overwhelming to be attentive and good at every single task. Their mental and physical energy decreases throughout the day just as adults. As discussed earlier, adults can get frustrated with homework/task time, and guess what…so does your child. Consider your child having a 7-8 hour day in school learning about new topics and ideas. Being told how to act and chastised for making missed steps. If your child has had problems in school with attention and task completion, his/her teacher may have tried to correct their behavior and chastise your child for not being able to pay attention. Your child in turn may get a sense of defeat and discouraged to want to try and complete a task again (this is if your child does not have a teacher who is trained to work with children who have been diagnosed with ADHD/ADD). At the end of their school day they have a short break before they have to tend their tired minds to homework and/or household tasks. Your child could be so exhausted from trying to concentrate during the day that they can become frustrated and angry during homework/task time when their ability to concentrate decreases and their limitations presents itself more ramped. Here are some suggestions to manager your child’s frustrations:
- Create a space to do homework – When creating a space to do homework, make sure there are not any distractions such as television, video game on pause, hand held game systems nearby, music, noise, window to see outside (people walking, kids playing, etc.), papers other than homework on the table/counter, siblings walking in and out of the homework space, etc. The area should be free of distractions and quiet.
- Overscheduling – Don’t over schedule your child with too many after school activities. The point of minimizing the other activities is to create more time and space for your child to focus. If you do overschedule your child recognize the limits to what your child can accomplish and respond accordingly.
- Create rituals around homework time – Creating rituals around homework time will allow your child to know how the flow of the task will work. Homework always occurs 15 minutes after the child gets home from school. Then at the start of every “homework session” you share with your child “first we are going to go over your reading assignments, then I am going to set the timer for five minutes for you to take a break and when your break is over, we will work on your math assignments. After you finish your math assignment I will set the timer again every time you complete an assignment”. After homework is completed, then she / he can go out and play with a friend or do another activity that they enjoy. Make sure to follow through with your rituals before, during and after homework time. Rituals will help your child stay focused.
- Take breaks – Taking a break during homework/task time will allow your child to recalibrate mentally to prepare him/herself for the next topic/task. A five minute break in between homework subjects is sufficient. Allow your child to choose how they would like to spend their five minutes. Set a timer for the five minute break so that your child knows that when the alarm goes off, break is over and it is time to finish their task at hand.
- Set up a token economy – A token economy is a system that rewards your child for their desired behaviors in efforts to increase their desired behaviors. You can set it up any way you like. Some suggestions for setting up a token economy is to make a chart of desired behaviors and check off every time your child achieves the desired behavior. When they reach a level of desired behaviors that you and your child agrees upon (every time your child does five desired behaviors; every time your child finishes homework time; etc.) they will get a prize. They can choose from a basket of prized that was already predetermined by you and your child or you can get the prizes and allow it to be a surprise to your child when they choose from the basket of prizes. The basket of prizes should be about three to five prizes…not too few and not too many to overwhelm your child. For this suggestion, don’t just limit task to homework or household chores. Each time your child completes a task (homework, laundry, setting the table, sweeping the floor, doing the dishes and making their bed), they should receive a check mark and then eventually a prize. Allowing a variety of tasks will keep your child encouraged.
- Remain consistent!
It can be very difficult to maintain a balance to dealing with your frustrations as a working parent and managing your child’s inattention during homework/task times. As you read above, knowing you and your child’s limitations will allow you to change your mindset when determining expectations to what your child can accomplish. You also were made aware of shifting your expectations in order to be a more encouraging parent. If you are finding it difficult to manage your child’s ADD/ADHD behaviors, come to The Center for Growth, 233 S. 6th Street, suite C-33, Philadelphia, PA 19106, or call 267-324-9564 to talk to one of our ADHD therapists.