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Teaching a child with ADHD

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Helping a child with ADHD is hard. One of my children has ADHD, and I don’t think I’d appreciated quite how hard that made teaching him until the first COVID lockdown in 2020. Wow. One word into a story and I’m being told about something else, another word down and the rubber is flipped across the room, I turn around and then he’s fallen off his chair. I leave the room and come back to find he’s staring into space having written nothing. Then he’s forgotten what the task is and when I start explaining it, he starts talking over me about something unrelated that he’s been thinking about. It’s exhausting, it’s hard and it requires a lot of patience. More than I have sometimes.

Over the years, through teaching my son and other children, I’ve developed a few different strategies for helping kids with ADHD do work at home. Not all will work for all children, and it’s a bit of trial and error. And one thing may work for a while and then need to be adapted. But, for what it’s worth, here are some things I’ve found that help:

  • Use a visual timer like the one pictured. Depending on the activity and age of the child, using a timer can be a game-changer. If you have 1/2 hours worth of work to do with your child, then you could break it up like this – set the timer for 10 minutes and ask them to focus hard for that time, and then explain that when the timer goes off, then can set it for 3 minutes and they can play/rest/whatever works for that time before re-setting the timer. Obviously the times involved may vary depending on how old your child is and what you’re doing, but I’ve found letting a child know that they will definitely get a break goes a long way towards helping them concentrate for short periods. Don’t be tempted to set the timer too long. Short bursts for a child with adhd are manageable and work far better than trying to eek out the work time longer. The timer is also useful for showing how long you’ve got until school starts, or you need to leave, or xxx is happening.
  • Break sedentary activities up with exercise breaks. This may even be worth doing before you try and sit down with your child if they are particularly high energy. Good things to do are – star jumps, push ups, punching (the air!), army crawling, animal walks (e.g. duck walks, crocodile walks, slither like a snake), jumping on a trampoline or bosu, crawling through a play tunnel, bunny hops, squat jumps, high knees and sit ups. I don’t think we’d get far without our Bosu and play tunnel (fairly cheap online options available).
  • Keep work areas free from distraction and things that can be fiddled with. If your child is anything like mine, then a crumb on the table becomes a source of distraction. He notices things I don’t and then plays with them. However, the caveat to this is that sometimes it may be helpful to have a fidget toy or two available to help calm sensory issues. This could be a pop it, or something squishy, or a fidget spinner – again, easy to find online.
  • Pick your time of day with regards to work. My kids have always been way better in the mornings than after school – they are just too tired in the afternoons. I’m sure this will change as they get older and have more homework, but at the moment we get all our outside-of-school learning done in the morning before the school run. The kids get up, dressed, have breakfast and then we do some work. They know this means that it will all be done and they can have the entire afternoon off, so they are pretty motivated. And I’m fresher and less worn down by the day so better able to help them (fresher being a very relative term with a little one who doesn’t like sleep).
  • Don’t put pressure on yourself as a parent to do too much with your kid. I think it’s hard for parents who don’t have a child with ADHD to appreciate the extra challenges that come with parenting such a child. It is exhausting and draining, and I find the mental effort required working out how I’m going to do various activities with my son compared to my other children much greater. So if you don’t do as much as you would like to with your child, that’s ok. Your well-being is important too. And if your child doesn’t do their homework because it’s too much for you or them, then you can explain this to their teacher (if it’s school work) and it will help the teacher get a picture of the struggles you are having at home.
  • If you are choosing the Maths to do with your kid, then make it short and fun. I think these books Progress with Oxford: Maths Age 9-10: Fawcus, Caroline: 9780192772954: Books are great for kids with ADHD as they are colourful, have lots of pictures, are chunked into very short, manageable and age-appropriate sections and cover the material but without lots of repetition. It would be worth checking the level of your kid though as I found the ages of the books I needed for my son didn’t correspond with the ages of the books. Another great resource is twinkl – Primary Resources – KS2, KS1, Early Years (EYFS) KS3, KS4, Twinkl which has loads you can use and very reasonable joining rates.

I’m sure there’s a lot more I could say, but hopefully these pointers are helpful. Keep going and keep smiling.

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