5 Ways for Parents to Help Kids with ADHD Get More Done
Everyone knows about Michael Phelps, right?
Winner of 14 Olympic gold medals, breaker of several world records, an unparalleled athlete.
However, very few people know that Mr. Phelps has ADHD.
He struggled with attention, focus, and managing his high energy levels. His mother Debbie Phelps struggled to support his academic performance, as he struggled to keep up with the other children.
Mr. Phelps went on to be an incredibly successful Olympian and world-class athlete, but he also was able to overcome the symptoms of ADHD, graduate high school, and get into a prestigious university through the support of his family and teachers.
As a parent, you may feel lost, overwhelmed, and unsure how to best help your child succeed academically. Your child may have a difficult time completing (or bringing home) their homework. They may struggle with staying on-task, frequently moving on to other activities before finishing their chores.
Just Mrs. Phelps was able to help her son succeed, we believe that you can, too.
Although we always recommend getting professional assessment and treatment for children with ADHD symptoms, there are also ways that parents can help.
Let me give you our top five tips:
Tip #1 – Add a Spoonful of Fun
Many of the symptoms of ADHD are caused by under-stimulation. Kids with ADHD tend to fidget, wiggle, bounce, and yell because their sensorimotor cortex and reward pathways are not receiving enough stimulation (Alexander & Farrelly, 2018), and so they act to gain additional stimulation.
Most of us can agree that homework, particularly at the end of a long day at school, can be less than stimulating. And very few of us find joy or pleasure out of doing the dishes, vacuuming the floor, or making the bed.
So, the solution is to make these less-stimulating activities just a little more stimulating. By adding a spoonful of entertainment, you can dramatically improve your child’s capacity to stay engaged with the task at hand.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Play upbeat music during chore time
Provide multicolored writing utensils for homework completion (math is always more fun when it’s rainbow math!)
Make a favorite (healthy) snack for your child to enjoy while working
Create a Chore Quest game, where your child dresses up as their favorite hero and completes household tasks to help save the city
Tip #2 – The Energy Outlet
Mrs. Phelps has gained a lot of praise for her decision to get her son into swimming lessons, and rightly so.
Swimming provided Mr. Phelps with a daily opportunity to release his boundless energy in an enjoyed activity. When kids with ADHD are able to use an outlet for physical stimulation, they are often able to regain a sense of mental focus and relaxation (NCCMH, 2018). The health benefits of being active in childhood are immense, as research continues to demonstrate long-term wellness and reduced risk of obesity and diabetes (Telama, 2009).
Try to find at least one consistent activity that your child is excited about doing. If they aren’t motivated to go swimming, you’ll find yourself with yet another task that your child doesn’t want to do. Of course, parents should always prioritize safety when choosing an appropriate outlet. If you have the availability to do these with your child, even better!
Here are a few outlets that your child might be interested in:
Jumping on the trampoline
Playing at the park
Tip #3 – Set a Stable Schedule
Although variation can help maintain a child’s interest, the enemy of work ethic is inconsistency.
Set a consistent weekday and weekend schedule, with some room for flexibility and free play. As your child learns to follow the routine, the routine will become a habit. This will allow your child to focus on doing a known task rather than focus on learning new ones.
Here is an example of how you could structure time after school:
3:00pm – School ends, Jimmy rides the bus home
3:30pm – Jimmy gets home and has a healthy snack
4:00pm – Parent gets home, helps Jimmy get started with homework
5:00pm – Energy outlet time
6:00pm – Dinner with family
7:00pm – Free time
Many parents already try to implement some kind of schedule/regimen into their child’s day. However, the symptoms of ADHD tend to derail those plans. And that’s why you’ll need Tip #4.
Tip #4 – Tracking and Rewarding
Checklists tend to work well for adults. They keep us on track and reward us with feelings of accomplishment. However, kids do not always tend to experience the pleasure most of us have when we check off that last item on the list.
So, you will want to fill your child’s to-do list with reward and recognition for accomplishment.
The goal here is not to make your child feel entitled to compensation for chores and homework. Rather, you are trying to create an association between work and reward. And it doesn’t take much to do so. Small trinkets, stickers, affirming words, and additional screen time can be excellent prizes for your child to receive.
More significant rewards can be used to reinforce consistency. For example, you might reward your child with a favorite meal when they reach a 5-day streak on completing their homework. Or, you might allow additional screen time on days when all chores and homework are completed. Be creative and try to find the most effective way to motivate your child to stay on track.
Tip #5 – Just Keep Swimming
Parenting a child can be exhausting, and parenting a child with ADHD can be even more so. Many parents become overwhelmed and burnt out with trying to help their child reach their goals. Sometimes it seems like no matter what they try, even Tips 1 – 4, the interventions feel less and less effective.
Take courage. Just like Mrs. Phelps, you can be a powerful advocate for your child. Keep trying new things. Find what works, build on that, and set aside the things that fizzle and fail. Just keep swimming.
And, you don’t have to do this alone.
Our team at OC Psychology Center is here for you. We specialize in helping kids and adults manage the effects of ADHD to live happier, healthier lives. If you live in the Orange County area and are interested in working together, get in touch with us. We would love to hear from you. Contact Us