Finish Homework Faster by Building Breaks into Homework Time

By Dr. Mary Rooney, Ph.D.

ADHD and homework mix about as well as oil and water. In fact, homework time is often the most stressful part of the day for kids with ADHD and their parents. The biggest challenge is typically the extreme amount of time it takes kids with ADHD to get their homework completed. It’s not uncommon for it to take kids with ADHD hours to complete their homework every night, even when it’s only taking other kids in the class about 30 minutes to finish the same assignments.

During these hours, parents feel like they are nagging their kids to get started on their work and stay on task. Even with all of this effort, parents are frustrated by the quality of the completed assignments, which they feel doesn’t reflect their child’s full potential.  Kids are frustrated, too. They think their parents are being too hard on them, and they feel like they are missing out on the fun time they should be having in the evening after a long (and often stressful) day at school.  

When it comes to getting homework done more quickly, there is one simple step that can help dramatically: having your child take breaks during homework time. Yes, adding breaks can actually shorten the amount of time your child spends on homework!

If you’re like most parents, you may be skeptical and reluctant to encourage your child to take a break from their homework, especially when it’s been such a challenge to get them started and focused in the first place. But when they’re done right, homework breaks can make it easier for your child to get started on homework and can help them stay focused longer.

Why? Sitting down to complete an evening’s worth of assignments can feel overwhelming for kids with ADHD, causing them to procrastinate and avoid getting started at all costs. In contrast, sitting down to work for 10, 15, or 20 minutes at a time can feel much more manageable. During these shorter work periods, kids with ADHD can typically stay focused. They are able to work carefully without rushing, and produce higher quality, completed assignments.  

Here are some tips for making homework breaks most effective:

  • Choose work periods that match your child’s ability level. Most kids with ADHD can work for 15 minutes before needing a break. Older kids may be able to sustain their focus for 20 minutes, while some younger children may only be able to work well for 10 minutes before needing a break. Find the time that works best for your child and stick with it.
  • Keep breaks short. Five minutes is enough time for kids to get the mental break that they need.
  • Stay in the “homework area” during breaks. Aside from getting a glass of water or using the bathroom, kids should stay close to their “homework area.” This makes it much easier to get back on task when the break is over. There can be easy fun activities nearby for use during breaks, like a Nerf basketball hoop. Just make sure the activities aren’t something so engaging that your child will struggle to stop playing when the break is over.
  • Avoid screen time during breaks. Most kids will struggle to transition between screen time and homework, making it much more difficult to get back on task when the break is over.
  • Use a timer and praise your child when they get back to work after a break. Always use a timer to indicate when the break is over. Praise your child when they get back on task after the break. If needed, provide rewards for getting back to work. These rewards can be checkmarks or stickers that can be exchanged for a fun activity when all of their assignments are completed.

Homework breaks can be an excellent tool to help kids with ADHD get started on their assignments and stay focused until their work is completed. If you find that your child continues to struggle to complete work in a reasonable amount of time, even with regular breaks, talk to your child’s teacher about homework accommodations that are appropriate for kids with ADHD.



Mary Rooney, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco. Dr Rooney is a researcher and clinician specializing in the evaluation and treatment of ADHD and co-occurring behavioral, anxiety, and mood disorders. A strong advocate for those with attention and behavior problems, Dr. Rooney is committed to developing and providing comprehensive, cutting edge treatments tailored to meet the unique needs of each child and adolescent. Dr. Rooney's clinical interventions and research avenues emphasize working closely with parents and teachers to create supportive, structured home and school environments that enable children and adolescents to reach their full potential. In addition, Dr. Rooney serves as a consultant and ADHD expert to Huntington Learning Centers.


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