Los Angeles Christian Counseling
ADHD Treatment: Tips and Tricks for Teaching Children with ADHD
One question we frequently hear comes from homeschool parents who are wondering how they can tailor their home education style to best meet their child’s needs. Whether you are a homeschool parent or you teach in a school setting, it’s important to always remember that children with ADHD yearn for both structure and stimuli.They will thrive with order and predictability, but they’re also magnetically drawn to anything that is highly stimulating. The more exciting the learning environment is, the less distracted they will be by off-task temptations.
How to Provide a Stimulating Learning Environment
Here are some ways to provide a stimulating, structured learning environment for a child with ADHD:
1. Use their interests as a launching pad
What naturally captures your child’s attention? What subjects fascinate them? Are they passionate about dinosaurs, or dolls, or action figures, or Legos? Base your math or science assignments on their favorite characters.
Find ways to incorporate their favorite characters or topics into as many subjects as possible. The Internet is a virtually endless resource for curriculum and lesson plans. If the learning material itself is interesting, it will help any child focus, and this is even more crucial for a child with ADHD.
2. Avoid asking them to memorize rote information
Many students thrive on memory work and repetition, even if it’s not immediately interesting information. For children with ADHD, though, memory drills can be frustrating and ineffective.
You can still do memory work, but try to approach it more creatively:
- Image-based content, whether drawn by the student or simply displayed, can help them remember concepts.
- Mnemonic devices often prove helpful for older ADHD students. (Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally is a well-known acronym for the order of operations in math: parentheses, exponents, multiplication, division, addition, subtraction).
- Music can be a captivating tool. A song, melody, or rap can be entertaining and educational at once.
Keep in mind that if you find a particular concept difficult as an adult, it will be exponentially more so for a child with ADHD.
3. Involve the five sensesIt can be easy to get frustrated with a child’s constant need for stimulation, but instead, let that be your driving force in their education. Their learning environment should be an exciting and engaging experience for them.
Which of their five senses most engages your child? The more senses you can engage at once, the better your chances of capturing their attention.
Here are a few suggestions:
- While saying facts out loud, incorporate hand motions. You can even make them up on the spot. (For example, make your fingers “rain” while reviewing a letter sound.) (Touch)
- Offer a fidget item such as a fidget spinner, squishy ball, stuffed animal, playdough, or some other tactile object that they can hold while learning. (Touch)
- Offer scented pencils for writing. Smell triggers memory, so this can be a useful tool to help your child retain what they’re learning. (Smell)
- Read out loud or use audiobooks, even with an older child who can read to themselves. (Hearing)
- Connect a difficult subject with snack time, or offer chewing gum at other times. Some children might like to sip tea or another special drink while listening to you read aloud. (Taste)
- Classical music, white noise, or other instrumental music can help your child focus on schoolwork. Music can also be used to convey information. (Hearing)
4. Keep a consistent schedule
Within reason, make your homeschool experience resemble a school schedule. Studies have shown that we as human beings operate best with consistent and predictable schedules (so, getting up at a certain time, breakfast at a certain time, lunch at a certain time, etc. – every single day). Kids with ADHD crave structure, so provide that for them as much as possible.
If you are homeschooling, structure your day as consistently as a school would. According to research, human beings function at peak capacity when we operate within predictable routines. Time blocking can be a helpful strategy.
With time blocking, you assign each task to a specific time in your day. When that block of time ends, you move on to the next activity. This helps your child stay on task and work on one thing at a time.
Time blocking can provide flexibility. If your time block ends without finishing a given task, simply return to the task on its next assigned slot. Be sure to leave margin in your routine for your child to recharge.
5. Set consistent rules and expectations
You might not realize it because a child with ADHD tends to rebel against rules, but they actually crave them. Use natural consequences to enforce your rules. You can provide rewards when your child is learning a new skill or routine, or when they go above and beyond with good behavior.Two books that can help with behaviors and consequences are Positive Discipline by Jane Nelson and Love and Logic by Jim Faye.
Most importantly, remember that discipline is effective when it is consistent and includes both positive and negative consequences. Always be loving, empathetic, and respectful. Negative emotional consequences from you won’t help your child change; practical, natural consequences will.
6. Take frequent, predictable breaks
Most of us operate better if we have small breaks every so often, and the child with ADHD is no exception. You can use an actual timer to help them see when their next break is coming. 20 minutes is probably a good time frame to start with.
After the timer goes off, give them a 5 or 10-minute break. Encourage them to get up and move around or go outside. Try not to make screens be the break, or it will be harder for them to transition back into learning.
7. Break material into chunks
When assigning schoolwork, don’t batch too many tasks at once. Remember the adage that to eat an elephant, you have to take one bite at a time. With schoolwork, you have to help your child see and conquer each task in its most basic form.
For example, children with ADHD often struggle with math because there are so many problems on one page. All the other problems can distract them from getting the current one done.
They might be distracted by the type of paper, the way the words are written, or the way the problems form a pattern, rather than the actual content.
An ADHD child can struggle with perceived information overload in many situations. In the math example, you could cut a square of paper to cover all the problems but one. If your child is reading, provide a ruler of paper they can place under the line they’re reading.
Any tool that helps them focus will benefit their learning!
8. Switch subjects often
Instead of fighting your child’s short attention span, let them switch subjects frequently. If English is boring after a few minutes, move on to math. Plan your time blocks so that you’re not focusing on one subject for too long.
Gradually work to help your child focus longer on each subject, but always keep in mind that subject switching is an alternative to quitting or taking too many breaks.
9. Allow movement (within limits!)If your child has trouble sitting still or constantly fidgets, homeschooling is one of the best ways to handle that! Allow them to walk around and read (as long as they actually read). Let them sit on an exercise ball instead of a chair. But make sure they’ll still paying attention and being helped, not hindered, by the movement.
10. Model and teach calming techniques
Many children with ADHD are always on the verge of frustration. Going through the battle of completing schoolwork every single day can be very frustrating for a parent, but getting angry will not help the situation.
If you do find yourself getting upset, it’s okay to take a break. Realize that you have to be at peace and calm yourself before you can effectively deal with your child’s behavior. Prioritize calmness above everything else, even if that means you have to walk away for a few minutes.
Try to put yourself in your child’s shoes and realize what contributes to their discouragement. If your child does start to get angry, put the work aside and help them calm down before making them continue.
One effective method for ADHD children is to have them close their eyes, sit cross-legged, breathe slowly and deeply, and rock back and forth. Every time they rock, have them make their movement smaller. Eventually, they’ll hardly be moving at all, but reiterate to them that they’re still moving and they can keep making the movement smaller. This is a good calming technique for a child who moves constantly.
11. Give lots of TLC
As parents, we can be tempted to expect our children to automatically respect us. But it’s important to consider whether we respect our children. When we respect them, they are more likely to respect us.
Patience is perhaps the most difficult virtue when parenting a child with ADHD, but it’s also the most significant. Keep in mind that your child is a gift from God, and you are only given that child for a limited time. He has created you to be your child’s parent and to raise them up to love and honor him. Think about how much God loves you, and pass that love on to your child.
ADHD is a complex disorder and managing it day-to-day is equally complicated. Professional help can be an invaluable resource as you navigate teaching and parenting a child with ADHD.
Trying to wade through these waters on your own can be next to impossible, but you don’t have to do it alone. You might remember the quote that it takes a village to raise a child. That’s true, and it’s even truer when raising a child with ADHD.
We are not meant to live the Christian life alone; we are meant to live in community and fellowship with other believers in the body of Christ. Seek out a Christian professional who is trained and experienced in working with children with ADHD. We believe you will find the counseling experience both encouraging and helpful.
“Unsupervised”, Courtesy of Mike Fox, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Building a Rocket Ship”, Courtesy of Kelly Sikkema, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Driving Through Desert Terrain”, Courtesy of Carsten Stalljohann, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Map Reading”, Courtesy of Jeshoots.com, Unsplash.com, CC0 License