Last year, my oldest son was diagnosed with ADHD. It wasn’t exactly a surprise. He had experienced difficulty during his first couple of years of school. He couldn’t sit still, would rush through activities, and was always seeking something new to occupy his mind. But, though it wasn’t a surprise, it was definitely a wakeup call.
With the diagnosis in hand, it was time to take action. Knowing he did, indeed, have ADHD was comforting in a way, because now, we (his parents, teachers, and other loved ones) had parameters in which to guide him. He wasn’t just hyper or immature for his age. He had ADHD—and here’s what we can do about it.
Of course, his dad and I began working closely with his teachers to help improve his school life. Then, we focused on home. And specifically homework, which at our house might as well have been one of those “four-letter words.” Every day, without fail, homework time had been a struggle. And we were all more than ready to find ways to make it less painful—and maybe even enjoyable!—for him.
Here are a few changes we made:
Created a workspace outside his room
Prior to his ADHD diagnosis, my son’s desk was in his room. It seemed like the most practical place for it. But in hindsight, it probably made him feel confined and allowed the negativity from homework time to spill over into bedtime. As this guide on home design for kids with ADHD explains, it’s best to keep your child’s workspace outside their room because a desk or table implies there’s work to be done, which can bring on anxiety and disquiet. It recommends finding another quiet, low distraction space in the home where your child has room to move.
We converted our rarely used dining room into a work and activity room. We painted it a warm, soothing tan, put his desk up against one of the walls, and switched out the dining room table and chairs for some shelves to help with organization. So far, it’s working really well. He is definitely enjoying having a dedicated space for homework time.
Prioritized planning and routine
When we were in the process of getting my son’s diagnosis, I did a lot of reading on ADHD, and one thing I learned was the importance of organization. As this article from InsideADHD.org on environmental strategies notes, timed activities, task lists, and calendars can help a child with ADHD make the most of their focused work time. Now, my son and I do homework prep every day. Together, we assess what needs to be done, and then I help him break it all down into chunks that are doable for him. There’s no more diving in and hoping for the best! We’ve created a routine that he can count on, and he’s really thriving under that structure.
Planned for physical activity before homework time
After he’s spent all day sitting at his desk at school, the last thing my son wants to do when he gets home is go sit at another desk to work on his homework. So, we’ve really tried to develop barriers between school time, homework time, and relaxation time before bed. And the barrier between school and homework time is for him to do something physically active. He can do whatever he wants (within reason!) as long as he’s up and moving around—so no video game playing or TV watching.
Over the summer, we got a dog. I had read, as this article explains, that dogs can provide a number of positive benefits for kids with ADHD—from helping them get more exercise to helping reduce stress and anxiety to offering constant, non-judgmental companionship. So, my son’s activity of choice has been playing with his new four-legged friend. They run, play, and roll around in the backyard, providing both of them an opportunity to get out that excess energy!
Be generous with praise
Positive reinforcement has become a huge focus for us. I realized, even prior to my son’s diagnosis, that my husband and I spent far too much time trying to manage my son’s negative behavior. We didn’t give him enough credit for what he was getting right. This article on homework tips for kids with ADHD emphasizes the importance of praising the positive. It explains that specific compliments are a great way to reinforce positive behavior and to provide some much-needed encouragement. Instead of spending homework time pleading with him to do this or do that, now I spend it seeking opportunities to point out where he did well. And what do you know! It has made homework time a lot more positive for both of us.
Looking back, there are so many things I wish I would have done differently. So many times when I should have been more patient, should have realized he wasn’t just disobeying or being defiant for the fun of it, should have traded a punishment for a word of encouragement. Change is definitely in the air for all of us at our house now, and rethinking homework time as helped my son get off to a great start this school year. I can’t wait to see where the year takes him!