Executive Functions

How to Improve Working Memory in Children with ADHD

Improve working memory in children with ADHD by using these 10 exercises that lighten the mental load by externalizing reminders. Here’s how to remember.

working memory concept - illustration of a child with multiple question marks surrounding him

Working memory is the ability to temporarily hold information in the mind so as to recall it when needed. It’s an executive function that allows us to store and use items on our “mental shelf” to get things done. In school, students rely on working memory to answer questions about a text they’ve read, and to solve multi-step math problems. At home, working memory helps a child follow directions and stay on task.

Working memory fails when the volume of information to juggle surpasses storage capacity. The best way to improve working memory is to lighten the mental load by following the 10 strategies below.

Build Working Memory in School

1. Break tasks into small steps. Too much information is overwhelming and quickly forgotten.

2. Provide written information. Do not rely on oral instruction alone to deliver important information about homework, projects, tests, and more.

  • Write assignments in the same spot on the classroom blackboard and/or post them in your online education portal.

3. Use visual aids. Hang posters that cover important information and concepts that students can easily reference.

[Get This Free Download: Executive Skills Checklist for Parents and Teachers]

4. Provide a framework for information.

  • Prime students by saying, “I want you to remember this” before giving details.
  • Provide a count of the details to be remembered (e.g. 10 vocabulary words).

5. Experiment with memory. Use music, poems, visuals, and other mnemonic devices to increase recall.

Build Working Memory at Home

6. Develop routines. Following the same schedule eliminates guesswork and eventually becomes automatic, freeing the mind from having to remember.

  • Develop a visual timeline or checklist of morning tasks.
  • Stick to the same bedtime routine even in summer and on weekends.

7. Assign a designated space for your child to put important items – keys, backpacks, sports equipment, etc. – as soon as they get home.

  • Use a reward chart to increase motivation to use the system.

[Read: 15 Memory Exercises for Forgetful Kids]

8. Use checklists. These versatile lists are useful for jogging the memory and reducing nagging. Parents use them to codify and illustrate

  • Weekly chores
  • Daily schedules
  • Morning and evening routines

9. Keep directions simple. Avoid quickly listing tasks, especially if your child is in the middle of one. Simplify instructions or wait until one task is done before listing another.

10. Maintain a healthy lifestyle. Your child’s memory will falter if they’re tired, hungry, and stressed. Make sure your child is eating nutritious meals, getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and practicing mindfulness.

How to Improve Working Memory: Next Steps

Schoolhouse Blocks: Foundational Executive Functions

Access more resources from ADDitude’s Schoolhouse Blocks: Foundational Executive Functions series exploring common learning challenges and strategies to sharpen core EFs at school.

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