Dear ADDitude: Homework Takes Hours Every Night

"An hour worth of homework takes my son twice that long, even after taking an afternoon dose of ADHD medication, and it's complete torture. How can I put an end to his daily arguments and help him get through school work faster?"
Success at School | posted by Ann Dolin, M.Ed., Penny Williams

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ADDitude Answers

There are a few reasons that kids end up spending hours on homework: a difficulty getting and staying focused, defying mom and dad, or too much homework (for them).

The kids that have trouble staying focused are often fidgeters, who need tactile stimulation to tune in and calm down. When we tell them to, “Stop doing that!”, or take away whatever they are playing with, they often become what I call Superbowl Kids. It’s on for three hours, but the players are only really doing anything for about an hour. To help move things along, give kids a fidget toy, like a Tangle Junior or a stress ball. Often kids will hold it in their non-writing hand, and it helps them pay attention to homework.

Sometimes kids resist doing homework just to be difficult because parents nag them. In this case, you can ask kids, “How many reminders do you think you need?” Often kids will say, “Well, just two.” Then as parents, it's our job to stick two. So we might just keep an eye out for when we see them drifting off, then say, “Okay don't forget you're on number five on your math.” It takes the nagging out of the equation.

Setting a stop time is really important. You might say to your child, “You've been working on this math assignment for 45 minutes. It's 4:15. It needs to be done by 4:45 and then at that point, it's time to put it away. I'll give you two reminders like we discussed.” Be structured in that stop time and make sure your child is ending then. Kids really, really hate to go to school without their work done. It helps them to manage their time a little bit better to know homework is not endless.

Work with the school, and let teachers know if your child may come in with an incomplete assignment. They need to know why. If your child has an IEP or 504 Plan, make sure you add an accommodation for homework. If you don’t have formal accommodations, I found that teachers are often willing to give accommodations once you let them know what's happening in a very non-judgmental way.

I like using the words “I've noticed” because you don't want to ask for help by saying, “Jimmy has way too much homework. This is ridiculous. I thought in fourth grade he should be getting 40 minutes but he's doing two hours of homework.” It's never going to go well. But if you say, “I noticed that Jimmy is having about two hours of homework every night and I don't think that that's what you're assigning. I'm wondering if we could come up with a way to reduce the amount he's getting.” It may be that depending on the grade he studies 15 words instead of 20, that you can type a final copy, or that he just does the odd questions on a math sheet.

It's much harder to do that in high school if your child is taking any advanced classes because, really, kids do need to turn in most of the work. But when they're younger, elementary and middle school, I found that teachers are very willing to make accommodations if they're approached in the right way.

Posted by Ann Dolin, M.Ed.
Founder of Educational Connections, and author of Homework Made Simple


ADDitude Answers

Homework is a huge struggle for almost every family with a child with ADHD. Talk with his teachers about homework. When my son was that age, I asked the teachers how long they expected their students to spend on homework each night. Then, we reduced the volume of work he had to complete to fit within that time, no more. When kids with ADHD have to spend more time on homework than their peers, it’s punishing them for having a disability. No one wants that.

Here are some strategies for homework time: End the ADHD Homework Wars

Posted by Penny Williams
ADDconnect Moderator, Author on Parenting ADHD, Mom to teen boy with ADHD, LDs, and autism


A Reader Answers

You should add an incentive for completing homework. For example, video game time or receiving a portion of a weekly allowance after each homework assignment is finished. Also a timer usually helps.

Yes, homework should be done, but with students with ADHD or other disabilities it is a struggle for them especially if they find it difficult or boring. Compromising with your child, and finding creative ways to motivate him will make homework less stressful for everyone. Discuss your child's struggles with teachers and other support staff.

Posted by Anthony18Mommy


A Reader Answers

Talk to the teachers about reducing or eliminating homework. My daughter's 4th grade teacher agreed to reduce work to only 20 minutes an evening (even if that meant that only one problem was completed). The goal was to do the work until she got it and then stop, but we didn’t always get that far. Before this, homework took us 3+ hours in the afternoon/evenings!

In subsequent years, I met with teachers at the beginning of the school year, and explained this was our system. They were ok with it. One told me she was glad. She only gave homework because she was required to, but she didn’t think there should be any or very, very little.

Take this as a challenge to learn how to be a more relaxed parent. (I was a high functioning project manager focused on efficiencies and speed…parenting couldn’t be more opposite!) Decide to only pick two battles a day or less. Let the rest of your arguments go. Unless it’s life threatening, being unkind, or something of similar importance, just let it go.

This can have interesting effect. Not only do you feel better, but you are likely to see your child start to be less oppositional within a week.

Posted by Lilies&Orchids


A Reader Answers

I would see if there is a supported study center at school where a teacher can check on your son's work. Another idea is finding a student you can pay to stay after school and work on homework with him. My son does his best work during the school day. When he comes home, there is a lot of procrastination.

Definitely consider a 504 or IEP - this can reduce the workload to make it more manageable. A supported study center can be one of your accommodations.

I’m currently looking for a student mentor for my son.

Above all, be understanding. As difficult as this is for you, it’s even more difficult for him.

Posted by Momto2Cuties


A Reader Answers

You’re intuition is sound. A screaming match every night is unpleasant for all and is only useful to get stuff done for school, not really for him- and certainly not for you. This approach treats the school work as though it is very important, not as important as the child’s happiness.

Somehow I think you can enlist the aid of the school here. Maybe they would even allow him to do most of his school work in the school day. In the meantime, I would ease into a process of negotiating with your son. Before you become very frustrated simply draft a note to his teacher to let her know that there was too much homework or he couldn’t focus on it. Just three sentences. This shows all that you are engaged and that can matter later if you seek accommodations.

One other thing you might like to try is to some short recreational activity first, preferably something active, and not video game related. Then, clear a space for homework. That will set a lighter tone to the evening.

Instead of being a policeman during homework time, you could be the accountability secretary. Just make a few notes on what went on. Let him see the notes. Let him know that he is responsible, but you just want to keep a record. You’re not angry, you’re just keeping track. This has an oddly sobering effect on improving accountability. This is not an ideal solution but, even for a week or two, it will allow the policeman to stand down and will serve as a transition until you can read up on Ross Greene or find other ways to help with homework.

Good for you to have the heart and wisdom to question and seek ways that you can change to help your son.

Posted by John Tucker, PhD, ACG. ADHD Coach


A Reader Answers

Hang in there! I always ask my son if he needs help on homework nights. He always says "No," but if I’m in the immediate area where he’s trying to finish an assignment, he may see me folding clothes, or doing the dishes, and ask me a question or two, just to get started.

Your son sounds like my son used to, in that he is has trouble getting going. Maybe you can sit at the kitchen table reading the paper while he’s also sitting at the kitchen table trying to finish a worksheet.

Don’t help unless he asks for it. I do notice a difference in my son’s ability to get started, then to follow through, if I’m in the immediate area. Funny, yes, but it works!

You don’t mention a school IEP or 504 plan. Have you heard of these? I encourage you to contact your school district and find out about them, and what free resources are available for your son. Often schools won't offer help unless you ask.

Structure, structure, structure. Adding routines to your son’s typical before-and-after school day will help him know what upcoming tasks are due, and make him feel responsible for trying to find strategies that work for him.

As our kids mature, they feel out of control with their ADHD. Try to find little ways to incorporate your son's ideas into successful routines. Positive feedback from teachers will also help make the kids want to finish homework in a more timely manner. Good Luck, and take care of yourself, too!

Posted by WhoAreYou4


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