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“I Need Help!” 6 Steps to Boost Your Child’s Homework Independence

Remote learning halted many students’ progress toward greater independence and stronger problem-solving skills. This is especially true for those with executive function weaknesses, such as ADHD. Now that students are returning to the classroom, it’s time to shore up and strengthen these essential tools of learning.

Mother and daughter with a laptop and digital tablet in hand sitting on the floor at home in the living room. The mother teaches her daughter the concept. Flat design vector illustration
Mother and daughter with a laptop and digital tablet in hand sitting on the floor at home in the living room. The mother teaches her daughter the concept. Flat design vector illustration

I need help! Can you come here? I can’t do this on my own!

This was the siren song of remote learning for many ADHD households. Adults working from home, kids doing school from the bedroom or kitchen table, and a well-worn groove running from one space to the other. Parents became on-call tutors, and many kids — with and without ADHD — suffered significant setbacks in their independence and problem-solving abilities.

Weaknesses in executive function skills — such as cognitive flexibility, organization, and planning — often leave students with ADHD feeling overwhelmed during the best of times. During remote schooling, these essential skills rarely got the workout they needed. Now that students are returning to the classroom, it’s time to shore up these essential tools of learning.

Strategy tip: Before moving forward with new homework strategies, talk with your kids. Compliment them on the hard work they have accomplished during this difficult time and explain how you want to work together to help them become a stronger and more successful learner than ever before. Be sure to teach just one or two strategies at a time and allow for mastery before adding the next skill. This will ensure a better chance of success.

  1. Make lists. Most adults I know make a daily to-do list of one kind or another. So why shouldn’t kids? The first thing I teach students is to write out their day’s schoolwork in list form, crossing out each task as completed. While some kids enjoy using a whiteboard or notepad for list making, many teenagers prefer the Stickie Note function on their laptop and/or a paper planner.
  2. Preview and carefully read all assignments before beginning. Like putting together Ikea furniture without reading the handbook, starting schoolwork without previewing the directions can be a recipe for disaster. Previewing allows students to predict whether they will need help with an assignment and ask important questions before they begin. If you have a child who is quick to say, “I don’t get it!” teach them to read information twice — once silently, once aloud — to themselves and then underline key words that give important information before they ask for help.
    [Free Download: Proven Homework Help for Kids with ADHD]
  3. Schedule specific ‘help’ times that you are available. Bookend your child’s work time with support — before they start and when they are nearly done — then nudge them toward independence in between. If they don’t know how to do a math problem or can’t figure out a question on an English worksheet, have your child star or circle the problem and then keep working. Once they finish the work they can do independently, have them circle back and work on the difficult problems again. Only then should they call for help.
  4. Set limits and encourage risk taking. This is often the toughest skill to instill — the ability to stick with a difficult task and try to work it out independently before calling for help. But this is also one of the most rewarding areas for growth in kids. The key is to start small. If your child is used to calling for help only minutes after sitting down, require them to do five math problems or work on their English essay for 15 minutes before asking for help. (Some kids even enjoy making a ‘beat the clock’ game out of assignments!)
    Fit the work/time requirement to the child’s temperament and the task at hand. The key is to push kids just past their comfort zone, but not so far that they feel overwhelmed. Then ask them, when you do come to their aid, “What did you do to try and problem-solve first?” Finally, offer frequent praise when your child problem solves on their own!
  1. Establish peer support. Many teachers like the saying, “Ask three, then me.” If possible, have your child identify two or three friendly peers in each class who could reliably answer questions about schoolwork when they arise. (Discuss with your child how to identify a ‘reliable’ student who’s responsible, serious about school, and willing to share information). Kids should create a network of ‘study buddies’ to whom they can go with questions before they ask you or the teacher.
    [Smart Homework Strategies for Teachers & Parents]
  2. Create incentives and rewards. For most of us, bad habits are hard to break and new skills are difficult to learn without incentives. Because new work skills require repeated practice, keeping kids on target is essential. Setting up daily, weekly, even monthly rewards can go a long way toward Brainstorm with your child an effective and motivating “currency” — what will help them push through the tough work of learning new strategies and what a fair goalpost looks like.
    Start with small rewards for daily successes — extra screen time or their favorite snack. A weekly incentive might be a family movie night of their choice, their favorite take-out, or a special outing with mom or dad (teens may not go for this one!). Once kids begin to feel successful with these new skills, and absorb them into their routine, many of the external rewards can be phased out as the internal reward of self-satisfaction and pride takes over.

Building self-confidence goes a long way toward encouraging feelings of success and self-efficacy, so frequently remind your child of how much you trust them to be an independent learner. Thankfully, the skills and strategies we teach kids now translate to even greater independence and confidence in high school, college, and beyond.

Homework Help for Students with ADHD: Next Steps

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