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ADHD in Children Health Center

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Tips to Teach Kids With ADHD How to Get Stuff Done

It's a common complaint: ADHD makes it hard for your child to focus on a task long enough to start it, let alone finish it. While picking up that dirty sock on the floor yourself would be a lot easier, your child needs to learn ways to do tasks and get things done -- eventually, on their own.

These tips and ideas could make both your lives easier.

Explain What You Mean

Telling your child to go clean their room probably won't work. The task is too big for a kid who's easily distracted. And the meaning is hazy: What qualifies as "clean" anyway?

Break down the job into smaller, specific tasks with your child: Put shirts in the drawer, put toys in the basket, put books on the shelf, make the bed. Write them down, so your kid can check off the tasks as they get each one done.

Make Reminders Obvious

Use large and colorful sticky notes. Put them where they'll do the most good, in places where your child needs to remember something. "Brush your teeth" on the bathroom mirror, or "Do you have your backpack?" by the door, for examples.

For ongoing weekly tasks or projects that will take a while, use a calendar. Get a big one. Hang it somewhere your child will see it many times a day. Let them fill in and check off deadlines. For some kids, writing with brightly colored markers will help grab their attention.

Give Rewards

Kids with ADHD need motivation, so try giving a reward when a task is done. You don't have to spoil your child with money, expensive gifts, or food. Rewards can be small. It's more important to give rewards often.

Use something your child wants as a reward. Young kids may be happy with stickers or trading cards. Older kids may prefer time to do something they enjoy, such as using the iPad or their cell phone.

Make rewards as directly related to the chore as possible. For instance, you could give your kid 5 minutes of video game time for every 5 minutes they spend cleaning.

Avoid big, long-term rewards, such as a camping trip if they can keep their room clean for a month. That kind of goal can be too abstract, not concrete and connected enough, to inspire a kid with ADHD.

Help With Time Management

When your child says they'll walk the dog, do their homework, and clean their room in the half-hour before dinner, they're obviously not aware of how long all that will take.

Coach them into coming up with sensible time frames for each piece. They might need your help to figure out what's more important and what can wait, too.

Give your child a timer or alarm, perhaps on a watch or phone, when they're doing a task. Set it to go off every few minutes. If your child has gotten off-track, that sound is a reminder to get back on track.

Be Kind

As frustrating as it can be when your child doesn't follow through, remember that it's not their fault. It's just how their brain works.

Having ADHD is hard for them, too. Your child probably gets corrected or criticized by teachers, peers, and maybe even you many times a day.

Rather than dwell on your child's shortcomings and mistakes, try to keep the focus on their strengths and successes.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Patricia Quinn, MD on July 25, 2013

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