As a therapist I hear over and over again from parents and kids with ADHD that homework is the number one cause of frustration, stress, and arguments at home. This is true whether kids are in elementary school and have only 20 minutes of homework each night or they are in high school and have an hour or more of homework to do each day. Why? While it might seem like it should be simple enough to just sit down and do your homework, the task of doing homework actually requires many complex skills that are hard for kids with ADHD, like getting started right away, staying focused on something that is not interesting, delaying gratification (since homework comes with no immediate reward), organizing and prioritizing assignments, sitting still for an extended period of time, and blocking out distractions. On top of this, the same ADHD symptoms that make it hard to do homework interfere with learning during the school day, which means a child may not have absorbed all the academic knowledge and skills needed to complete any given assignment. When we take a step back and think about homework from this perspective, it starts to become a little clearer why kids with ADHD struggle the way that they do.
For kids with ADHD balancing homework with interests in sports, music, art or other after-school activities can be a challenge. Homework takes longer to complete when you have ADHD – sometimes hours longer, leading many parents to feel like their child simply doesn’t have time to participate in extracurricular activities. However, studies show that kids who participate in after-school activities actually do better academically than those who don’t participate. For kids with ADHD, these activities also teach important social skills that can help strengthen their relationships with classmates and friends. When the afterschool activities involve sports, they also provide an outlet for the physical activity that many kids with ADHD crave. On top of this, for many kids, scoring a goal or landing a role in a play can be an extraordinary confidence boost that finds its way into all aspects of their life, especially if the challenges of ADHD have them struggling academically. So how do you support your child and ensure he or she thrives in both school and in extracurricular activities?
Does your child or teen spend too much time on homework? Do you find yourself worrying that he or she is going to bed too late or is overly stressed because the amount of homework he or she has is overwhelming? Well, you’re not alone. Complaints about homework seem to be at an all-time high, and relate to the quantity of homework (“He doesn’t have enough hours in the day to do all of this!”), the level of effort or skill required to complete homework (“This seems like a college-level assignment!”), and the age at which kids are starting to have homework (“How can he be expected to do that by himself?”). While national data show that the amount of homework assigned to kids of all ages has generally stayed flat over the past decade, and even decreased in some cases, the academic skills engaged during homework time have changed (e.g., increased emphasis on critical thinking, requirements to “show your work” on math assignments, etc.). As a result, homework may actually be more taxing today for kids with ADHD.
When you have ADHD, keeping your mind focused and engaged while you’re studying isn’t always easy. An ADHD brain thrives on novelty, mental challenges, and exciting visuals – three things that the act of memorizing rote information rarely provides. Fortunately there are a few dynamic online study tools that can make typical study strategies more engaging and effective. They allow you to move past the basics of rereading material or reviewing your notes by engaging your mind through active learning techniques that will take your study methods to the next level.
You’ve got a big test coming up at the end of the week, and you’re dreading it. You know you should start studying now so that you’ll be well prepared, but whenever you think about studying your mind gets flooded with negative thoughts: There’s so much material to study for this test, where will I even start? What if I can’t find my notes? What if my notes aren’t good enough and they don’t make any sense to me now? What if I put all of this time into studying and then fail the test anyway? All of these thoughts can quickly send you into avoidance mode. Before you know it, it’s the evening before the test and you haven’t studied at all.
Your child says that listening to music or watching television helps him or her concentrate when doing schoolwork. But is he or she right? Sitting down to concentrate on homework is hard when you have ADHD. Not surprisingly, kids, teens, and their parents are always on the lookout for ways to make homework less painful. For many families that I’ve worked with, arguments often erupt over whether or not the television, music, or other noise should be allowed during homework. Desperate to help their kids get their work done, many parents are willing to make more concessions during homework time than they would for other activities and chores throughout the day. But do things like television and music really help kids with ADHD concentrate? Or are they simply fun distractions? Let’s look at what the science has to say.
Teenagers might not be faced with many of the situations that adults consider to be stressful, like financial concerns, parenting challenges, long commutes, a demanding career, job instability, etc., but the middle and high school years come with a set of challenges that can be highly stressful in their own right. In fact, in a 2013 American Psychological Association survey teenagers reported experiencing unhealthy levels of stress at higher rates than adults. Teens cited school as the number one source of stress, followed by worries about getting into a good college and figuring out what to do after high school. Other sources of stress included social pressures, worrying about family members, and worrying about family finances. When a teen has ADHD, their risk for unhealthy levels of stress goes up even higher. ADHD symptoms make school more challenging, both during the school day and in the evening during homework time. Friendships and dating can be harder with ADHD too, especially for teens that have difficulty picking up on subtle social cues or who tend to impulsively say things that they regret later. If your teenager is like most, then his or her afterschool and weekend schedule is packed with extracurricular activities that leave little room for down time. The time management challenges and impulsivity that comes with ADHD make it much more likely that a teen will get in over his or her head with too much to do and too little time. But like most teens, those with ADHD may not recognize that they have bitten off more than they can chew. They don’t necessarily know that their stress level is higher than it should be, or that they can ask for help.
Have you noticed that many kids with ADHD seem to move and fidget constantly when they are doing their homework or are sitting at a desk in their classroom, no matter how many times they’ve been told to sit still or stay in their seat? Have you also noticed that these same kids seem to have no problem sitting still when they’re watching a movie or playing a videogame? This stark contrast in behavior perplexes and frustrates many teachers and parents. It gives the impression that kids with ADHD are able to sit still “when they want to” and only move constantly at other times because they’re trying to avoid doing their schoolwork or escape a boring situation, or because they are simply being defiant.
Have you noticed that your child’s ADHD symptoms seem better on days when he or she is more active? Is your child able to sit and focus on his or her homework more easily once he or she has run around and “burned off some energy” after school? Researchers have only recently begun studying the effects of exercise on ADHD, but results from early studies are promising. Engaging in moderate-to intense-exercise multiple days a week appears to improve ADHD symptoms, executive functioning (read more about executive functioning in my previous post), social skills, and motor control. A recent study by Dr. Betsy Hoza, published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, compared two interventions in elementary schools. The first was a 30-minutes exercise intervention that included moderate- to-intense physical activity through games like tag and “sharks and minnows”. The second intervention was sedentary, and included 30-minutes of classroom art projects. Both occurred before school every day for 12 weeks. At the end of the 12-week period parent and teachers rated the children on ADHD symptoms, moodiness, social skills and motor skills. Kids in the physical activity program showed improvement in each of these areas.
You know that you need to stay focused when you are doing your homework or studying for a test, but sometimes it just seems impossible. If you’re like most teens with ADHD, you always have intentions but no matter how hard you try you always seem to get distracted. Usually, the longer you work the more easily distracted you become! Why? Because our brains are not designed to focus on a single task for hours at a time, even when ADHD isn’t part of the picture. Add ADHD into the mix and trying to focus for long stretches become truly overwhelming. Research shows that the average amount of homework assigned to high school students is 3 hours a night. So, how can you possibly complete that much work if your brain can’t seem to focus for a 3-hour stretch? Well, a tomato may be able to help!