Dear ADDitude

Dear ADDitude: My Teen Won’t Do His Homework!

“My 13-year-old rushes through his homework and often forgets to hand it in. He also has ODD, so he is so stubborn and doesn’t want to study or accept help. He is smart, but his attitude and lack of motivation are holding him back. What can I do?”

Defiant Over Homework: Reader Question

“My 13-year-old rushes through his homework and often forgets to hand it in. He also has ODD, so he is so stubborn and doesn’t want to study or accept help. He is smart, but his attitude and lack of motivation are holding him back. What can I do?”

Defiant Over Homework: ADDitude Answers

ADHD, ODD, and puberty are a tough combination. Work on one challenge at a time. First, handle the missing assignments. Set up a meeting with your son’s teachers to find out which assignments are missing, and come up with a schedule for getting him caught up. Choose to work on a few assignments per night until he is caught up. I would suggest not allowing any screen time until that day’s assignments are complete. Follow up with his teachers to make sure they received the completed assignments. If it is possible to e-mail assignments, once they are completed, that would be ideal.

Now you can focus on the quality of the work and his motivation to do it. Many 13-year-old boys are not motivated to do schoolwork. This may be a sign of his age, his ADHD, his ODD, or a combination. If you find less screen time helps, keep this policy up until schoolwork is completed for the evening. Although teens with ODD often resent and argue with rules, you should keep certain rules in place. Clearly explain to your son the consequences and rewards. Be consistent with your approach, and focus on what he is doing right, rather than what he is doing wrong.

Posted by Eileen Bailey
Freelance writer, author specializing in ADHD, anxiety, and autism

Defiant Over Homework: ADDitude Answers

My son is 13, in 7th grade, and also rushes through all work and homework. He has a gifted IQ but currently has two low D’s in two classes.

The reason my son does so poorly in school is mostly due to his executive functioning deficits and the fact that teachers won’t provide the support he needs in that area.

[Take This Test If You Think Your Child Has Oppositional Defiant Disorder]

Ask for a parent-teacher meeting to address missing assignments, and ask the teacher to accommodate your son by reminding him to turn things in. Read this: ADHD in Middle School Survival Guide.

As for rushing through, I don’t know what to do. Individuals with ADHD are only motivated when something is of interest — it’s the way their brains work. I keep reminding myself that grades aren’t everything, but it does hurt his self-esteem.

Posted by Penny
community moderator, author on ADHD parenting, mom to teen boy with ADHD, LDs, and autism

Defiant Over Homework: ADDitude Answers

Rushing through homework is so common and kids with ADHD. One thing that I really love for these students is called “designated homework time.” It’s basically based on the premise that kids should have about 10 minutes of homework per grade level. So a third grader should have about 30 minutes of homework, a 6th grader about 60 minutes of homework, and so on.

[Smart Homework Strategies for Teachers & Parents: A Free Handout]

If your child is miraculously doing homework for, say, a third grader in three minutes, even though you know they have a lot more, you can set the time expectation and say, “All right, Jimmy, you’re going to have 30 minutes to do your homework each day even if you say you have none at all.” Then, set the timer and make sure that Jimmy has this designated homework time. Even if he says he’s done, he still has to read for pleasure, or practice his math facts. That set period of time really reduces rushing because kids know that they’re not going to get up and be able to play XBox after three minutes.

Also keep in mind that sometimes when kids rush, they have a hard time paying attention to detail. It’s not just that they want to make us upset or that they ignore when you say, “Go back and check your work.” Instead what you want to say is, “As you’re doing your homework and you come to one that’s hard for you, circle that one so then you can go back at the end and work through that with a little bit more time.”

I also encourage younger kids to make a game out of it and I’ll say, “Okay, let’s say that you’re going to review five questions that were hard for you. Put a little box on the upper right hand corner of your worksheet and every time you go back and you check one of those hard questions, give yourself a tally mark.” For every set number of tally marks, kids can earn a reward.

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

Defiant Over Homework: A Reader Answers

My daughter is 15 years old, and has struggled with homework all through school. Each night, my wife or I checked all homework and made her fix errors or rewrite things that were rushed or poorly done.

She eventually figured out we were not going to let her get away with a rush job. There were no video games, TV shows, or other activities until we said the evening’s assignments were complete. Our kids loved to read so we even took away books.

Eventually, we got an IEP. For one accommodation, the teacher checked and initialed her assignment book at the end of the day and asked if everything was turned in at the same time. The school had a computerized system so we could track missing work.

Part of the problem is her backpack and binders looked like an explosion went off. Our new system seems to be working. Straight A’s this last report card.

Take it one step at a time and teach the behavior you want your son to follow. Give yourself kudos for caring so much.

Posted by Augie

Defiant Over Homework: A Reader Answers

My daughter rushes through homework, too! I’ve been diligently checking it and making her correct where needed. But she recently had her first big “project” that I knew was going to drive me crazy, requiring hours of research and typing.

I made a couple of attempts to start her working on it. She hurried through, doing sloppy work, continually asking, “Can I stop now?” Then, I hit upon a solution that worked for us. I told her she had to work for 30 minutes before a break, and even if she “finished,” she’d have to read in a text book.

This eliminated her desire to hurry-up-and-finish because there was nothing to look forward to. She kept a close eye on the count-down timer, but actually slowed down with her work. It took quite a few 30 minute sessions, with nice-sized breaks in-between, but she got it done, and nicely, too. And as an added bonus, there was a lot less whining.

She doesn’t know it yet, but I’m going to make the 30-minute rule apply to daily homework, too!

Posted by Fair Hope

Defiant Over Homework: A Reader Answers

We found that using an “ADHD watch,” which vibrates every 5 minutes has helped our son refocus when doing homework (and at school) while on the computer. Since he doesn’t seem to be able to judge the passing of time, this lets him know it has been 5 minutes and he needs to refocus. He could easily “go down a rabbit hole” for hours following links without realizing it.

We also instituted a reward system where I pay him if he completes an assignment correctly within “x” amount of time and he pays me if he doesn’t. Homework got done very quickly after the first time he paid me!

Posted by kfwellman

Defiant Over Homework: A Reader Answers

My son gets a half hour of “down time” after school and before starting homework, but, he doesn’t get to start video games until after the work is done. If he gets into that game mindset, he won’t want to stop and then it becomes a battle to get him off it. So, he can play, watch a little TV, or whatever for a half hour, and then it’s homework time. When the homework is done, he is rewarded with a half hour of video game time.

I’ve also read many times that, in addition to making them feel successful, the video games make them feel like this is the ONE area of their lives over which they have some control, which actually helps his behavior and defiance. I mean, think about it: They struggle all day and have difficulties with peers, teachers and their own feeling of self-worth, but, when it comes to video games, they are the ones in control for a change. It also has to do with the instant gratification they get from the games. That’s why they are so addictive. So, the games do a number of things for them.

I don’t like taking the games away as punishment because I know that the games do all these things for my son, but I try to make it clear where the games fall on the hierarchy of priorities, and sometimes I do have to use them to get my son to do what he needs to do.

Posted by JAMurphy

Defiant Over Homework: A Reader Answers

My son is 15 and I don’t believe he’s too motivated either. Fortunately, the grades have been okay, but he hates to do homework and he did not study for his final exams. It seems that school just taxes him and when he gets home, the thought of having to concentrate just does him in behaviorally.

I try not to overreact to all of this (It’s hard sometimes!), and I’ve pretty much come to terms with the fact that he probably never will like school. It’s just not an ADHD-friendly place, unfortunately. Each semester, I meet with teachers to explain his challenges. Organization is a huge one for my son. I tell them that these are brain issues, not attitude issues. I don’t want to baby my son, but it is hard to find the balance between helping and being over-involved. I tell him he needs to fulfill his responsibilities and that I am always available to help him if needed.

I try to remind my son that his schoolwork is for himself, not me or his father. I told him that when he doesn’t do well or chooses not to do something, he’s not letting me down. Then I ask him who he’s letting down and he always knows the answer. “Me,” he says. I try to tell him that making the effort is like giving himself a gift. Sometimes he buys this, sometimes not.

So my mindset these days is to try and get through with the least abount of damage possible. At the same time, I try to find and use my son’s gifts and talents outside of school so he has things to feel good about. I don’t take away sports as a consequence because he needs it, for example.

Also, if you haven’t read Chris Dendy’s book on teenagers and ADHD, it is an absolute must-read. It helped me a lot. One of her best pieces of advice was, “Give yourself permission to be more involved with your child that you normally would.” These kids need someone who loves them no matter what.

Posted by momto3kids

[Free Resource: Proven Homework Help for Kids with ADHD]