Ask the Experts

Q: I Need Scaffolding Strategies for Homework Time!

“Scaffolding is all about strengthening the executive functioning muscle. It provides structure and support so your son can stretch beyond his capabilities and develop new skills. And to do that he needs to feel safely supported.”

Q: “In helping my ADHD child with homework, what are the specific steps to building scaffolding? Do I walk away for longer periods? Stop answering him when he repeats questions? Specific detailed steps to build the scaffolding, please!” — Laura


Hi Laura:

Trust me when I say you are not alone! I get this question from parents on a regular basis. And my answer to them is that there are no specific step-by-step instructions for building scaffolding. No clock or calendar to know when you are “done” or a limit on how many times a question can be asked.

Let’s look at scaffolding this way: Scaffolding is all about strengthening the executive functioning muscle. It provides structure and support so your son can stretch beyond his capabilities and develop new skills. And to do that he needs to feel safely supported. There’s a reason why a net is strategically placed under the trapeze artists at the circus. How else would those acrobats feel confident and capable to soar to new heights? Or land softly if they fall?

I understand your goal is to increase your son’s independence while slowly relinquishing control. We all have that goal! ☺ But before you back away, we need to make sure your son has the tools to forge ahead… on his own.

[Related Reading: How Do You Teach Independence Without Risking Failure?]

I’ve developed a few questions over the years that I use whenever my students are pushing back on homework. I have found that asking the right questions can help change their mindset, stretch their thinking, and uncover the answers they need to get unstuck on the road to independence.

  1. What’s your first step for… starting your science project, studying for your test, writing your essay? Perhaps trying to visualize a whole project or homework assignment leaves your son unable to see the first step. This question can help bring focus to a manageable starting point.
  2. What’s the smallest thing you’re willing to do or can do? Helping your son eliminate all barriers to entry can help him get into gear.
  3. Do you understand what is being asked of you? Most of us ask “Do you know what you have to do tonight for homework?” That question is an invitation to recite a to-do list. You want to know if your son REALLY understands the assignment. Perhaps there is too much information on the page, and he can’t break it down to read the instructions. Or, perhaps he understands what to do, but the actual work is too difficult.
  4. What does “DONE” look like to you? I love this question. Why? Because if he is having a hard time initiating; looking at the end and working backwards creates a road map for him to follow.
  5. And I saved my favorite for last. My secret weapon when a student says to me, “I don’t know.” I turn it around and ask, “Tell me what you do know.” This helps to pinpoint the breakdown. And seeing the breakdown often reveals a natural answer or solution.

If you are looking for more questions like these, please check out my new book, “How To Do It Now Because It’s Not Going Away.”(#CommissionsEarned)

Scaffolding: Next Steps


ADHD Family Coach Leslie Josel, of Order Out of Chaos, will answer questions from ADDitude readers about everything from paper clutter to disaster-zone bedrooms and from mastering to-do lists to arriving on time every time.

Submit your questions to the ADHD Family Coach here!


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Updated on October 8, 2020

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