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. Sure, you could pick up that dirty sock on the floor yourself, but your child needs to learn ways to get things done on their own.

These tips could make both your lives easier.

Explain What You Mean

You can't just tell a child with ADHD to go clean their room. That chore 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 small, specific tasks:

  • 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 finish each one. Add a picture of the clean room to the checklist so they can see the goal.

Make Reminders Obvious

Use large, 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.

Use a calendar for ongoing weekly tasks or projects that will take a while. Get a big one. Hang it somewhere your child will see it many times a day. Let them fill in and check off deadlines.

Give Rewards

Kids with ADHD need motivation, so reward a job well done. You don't have to spoil your child with money, expensive gifts, or food. Prizes can be small. It’s more important to give them often.

Give something your child wants. Young kids like stickers or trading cards. Older kids want time on their iPad or cell phone.

Relate the chore to the reward. For instance, give your kid 5 minutes of video-game time for every 5 minutes they spend cleaning.

Avoid big, long-term rewards, like a camping trip if they keep their room clean for a month. That kind of goal is too abstract and too far off to inspire a kid with ADHD.

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Help With Time Management

Does your child promise to walk the dog, do their homework, and clean their room in the half hour before dinner? They are clearly not aware of how long all that will take.

Coach them into coming up with sensible time-frames for each piece. Help them figure out what they need to do first and what can wait.

Give your child a timer or alarm, perhaps on a watch or phone, when they are doing a task. Set it to go off every few minutes. If they get sidetracked, the sound will remind them to focus.

Be Kind

If you get frustrated 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. They probably get called out by teachers, peers, and maybe even you many times a day.

Don’t dwell on their mistakes. Focus on theirstrengths and play up their successes.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on November 13, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

Stephen Brock, PhD, NCSP, school psychologist; school psychology program coordinator, California State University, Sacramento; president-elect, National Association of School Psychologists; author, Identifying, Assessing, and Treating ADHD at School, Springer, 2009.

Jeremy Didier, group coordinator, ADHDKC, Overland Park, Kan.; mother, 9-year-old son with ADHD.

Jennifer Helm, coordinator, San Dimas/La Verne Satellite of CHADD; mother, two children with ADHD, La Verne, CA.

Massachusetts General Hospital School Psychiatry Program and Madi Resource Center: "Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)."

Richard Lougy, LMFT, school psychologist, Sacramento, Calif.; co-author, The School Counselor's Guide to ADHD: What to Know and Do to Help Your Students , Corwin, 2009.

Kristine J. Melloy, PhD, past president, Council for Children with Behavior Disorders; instructional coach, St. Paul Public Schools, St. Paul, MN.

Ratey, N.A. The Disorganized Mind, St. Martin's, 2008.

Richard Root, EdD, Twin State Psychological Services, VT and N.H.

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