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 his 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 her 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 she finishes each one. Add a picture of the clean room to the checklist so she 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 him 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 she spends cleaning.

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


Help With Time Management

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

Coach him into coming up with sensible time-frames for each piece. Help him figure out what he needs to do first and what can wait.

Give your child a timer or alarm, perhaps on a watch or phone, when he’s doing a task. Set it to go off every few minutes. If he gets sidetracked, the sound will remind him to focus.

Be Kind

If you get frustrated when your child doesn't follow through, remember that it's not her fault. It's just how her brain works.

Having ADHD is hard for her, too. She probably gets called out by teachers, peers, and maybe even you many times a day.

Don’t dwell on her mistakes. Focus on her strengths and play up her successes.

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



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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