Ask the Experts

Q: “Can We Adapt the Pomodoro Technique for My Teen with ADHD?”

The Pomodoro Technique for time management breaks up work into 25-minute chunks. For kids with ADHD, these chunks should be shorter, interspersed with activity, and varied between high- and low-effort assignments.

Q: My son is 13 and needs constant breaks while doing homework. He tells me that he just can’t seem to focus too long on one thing and needs to shut his brain down for a little bit while he’s working.  What does he mean by this? Can you help me to understand?” — MominVA

Hi MominVA:

Kudos to your son for knowing that he needs to “shut down his brain” for short periods of time while doing homework. My feeling is that, if he is sitting in one place for too long without any breaks or effort-level transitions while working, he might be experiencing what I call “brain drain.”

Let me explain.

In my work as an academic/life coach for students with ADHD, I see first-hand that most students can’t keep their brain on a high-effort level (which is what is needed for prolonged homework and studying) for long periods of time. Actually, teachers know this and structure their class time with what I call “low-effort and high-effort” transition points.

Here’s what that may look like.

[Free Download: Smart Homework Strategies for Teachers & Parents]

Your student enters the classroom. They may pick up the “do now” at the front of the room or be given an assignment to work on at their desks while everyone settles in. This requires “a low effort level.” Yes, your student needs to focus, combat distractions, and use working memory skills, however, they don’t need to be listening to a teacher, processing new information, remembering important facts and details, and writing them down all at the same time. These are all challenging executive functioning skills that require a high effort level.

Once the “quiet time” is completed, the teacher transitions the class to high effort level and begins lecturing. This is when your student needs to bring their effort level up high and use all the executive functioning skills I mentioned above. After 20 minutes or so, your student’s teacher may ask the class to finish the assignment at their desk or work with their neighbor or group — another transition to low level. Because the class period is structured with effort level transitions, your student may not feel the need to “shut his brain down” for short periods of time.

The same can be modeled at home. Suggest he start off with an assignment that doesn’t require intense brain power such as simple math computations or vocabulary words. Then he can move on to something that requires more focus and effort such as a writing assignment or studying for an exam. Switching back and forth in this manner will build in those necessary transition points and help his brain stay alert longer.

In addition, make sure your son is getting plenty of breaks so his brain can refuel and refocus. Movement is instrumental for helping us re-energize our brains. If weather permits, have him take his breaks outside while doing an activity. Fresh air instantly adds active energy into his routine, which will keep him motivated and on task.

[Read: Make Homework More Engaging — And Boost Your Child’s Confidence, Too]

Good Luck!

Pomodoro Technique for Students with ADHD: Next Steps

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