ADHD and Finding Balance with Homework
As ADHD Awareness Month comes to a close, I wanted to share with you a blog that tackles one of a parent’s hardest challenges. Homework was the evil demon my child and I struggled with, especially after she spent a long day tolerating a classroom environment. If you feel the same way or know someone who is raising a child with ADHD, join me as I share our story with the homework tips that helped us!
On the hunt for my favorite pens, I turned a corner at Staples and nearly collided with another shopper. She whipped around and yelled after her child who was edging towards the end of the aisle. “Let’s go. It’s homework time.” The little boy frowned and disappeared out of view.
That would have been my kid, I thought. All it took was the mention of homework and Lee disappeared, stealthy like a cat when you wanted to take it to the vet. Not that I blamed her, homework was the evil demon Lee and I wrestled with together, every day after school. It took a diagnosis of ADHD to help me understand that homework was a mountain for my child to climb, especially after a long day of tolerating a classroom environment.
Lee’s struggles with homework started as far back as preschool. Even though it was optional, I tried to encourage her to keep up with the rest of the class who was turning the homework in. One night, I pushed Lee too far on a worksheet, and she ran out of steam. Screaming, she flew from the kitchen table to the couch. Bang! I cringed as she hit her head on the pillows. “I’m dumb!” Bang! She hit her head again. I threw the optional preschool homework out the window.
By third grade, homework was a well-established landmine. Lee’s teacher was giving problems in division, but Lee still couldn’t multiply. The IEP stipulated only thirty minutes of homework, but she could barely do math, let alone reading. One night, Lee banged her head on the couch pillows for fifteen minutes. Nothing I said could make her stop.
“I’m stupid. Stay away!”
After I coaxed her into my arms, I knew I had to take action. If Lee felt like a failure at nine years old, how would she ever gain the courage to cope with her challenges? The next day, I strode into her teacher’s classroom, trying to keep my temper in check and said, “As you know, Lee is on an IEP for her ADHD. She has an accommodation for fewer items on a page. But she still can’t keep up with the homework load you’re assigning.”
The teacher said, “A child who refuses to do homework needs to be disciplined. If I didn’t do my chores, there were consequences.”
I left the classroom, hot fury traveling in waves up and down my body. As if discipline was going to help my child remember math facts. Maybe the resource teacher would understand the problem.
She studied me for a minute. “Have you ever considered that Lee might be manipulating you to get out of homework? She’s doing all of her work in my classroom without any trouble.”
And she took off, leaving me behind, feeling as if a bomb had just gone off in my head. What kind of child would willingly bang their head as hard as they could to manipulate their parent?
Now, some thirteen years later, I know that kids with ADHD have short attention spans, distractibility, and problems with executive functions, like time management and organization. The decks are often stacked against them. But there are solutions.
Soon after my failed attempts to get help from Lee’s teachers, I requested an IEP meeting and got an accommodation for extra homework time in the resource room. Then, I found a tutor, a special education teaching assistant who helped me put a homework structure and routines in place. Here is what worked for us in elementary school:
- Homework time: Lee always needed a break after school to decompress. Other children might learn better by tackling homework immediately. In either case, it’s best to establish a time that works for your child and stick with it.
- Homework corner: Lee preferred the kitchen table, big enough for me to join her with snacks and keep her on task. Two separate folders, one for homework she brought home, and one for homework when she completed it, were left at the table to take to school. And, a file box for completed assignments the teacher returned on a nearby bench, in case we needed to refer back to them.
- Scheduled breaks: Lee needed a five-minute break every 20 minutes due to her hyperactivity. Setting a timer helped bring her back to the kitchen table.
- Respecting Limits: When Lee grew too frustrated to finish her homework, we stopped and wrote a note to the teacher, explaining the situation. Most teachers worked with us to limit the workload, but if they didn’t, we stopped anyway. Homework, to me, wasn’t worth Lee losing her self-confidence, the most precious gift for a child with ADHD.
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