Go Ask Mom

Go Ask Mom

Focus on ADHD: Five solutions to survive the homework nightmare

Posted March 7, 2013


It’s on the bottom of everyone’s list, right down there with scrubbing toilets and ironing collars. Everyone says that kids should complete their homework in 10 minutes per grade level without you reminding them or helping in any way. Everyone also says there should be world peace.

If your home is like most, homework time is marathon at best, and a combat zone on some nights. With four active and involved sons and a second shift husband, our family had to come up with some strategies that would make homework time go more smoothly on those night when I heard myself saying, “Do the next one. You’re on number 6. Math, son. You’re doing math.”

Here are five things that helped our family survive the homework nightmare. Try one or two of them tonight, and see your evening improve.

1. Prepare yourself. Before you start with your child, review the homework yourself. Go over every single thing on the list. Find out exactly what is expected, and what the answers are. Learn what you don’t know or remember how to do. Find out how to use a number line to express a word problem. Locate the "diagram of a water table" so your child can answer the related science question. Skim that chapter on Sir Walter Raleigh and read and copy the questions.

When you sit down to help your child, you want to be prepared, confident, and in charge. If you’ve ever tried to figure out how to “reduce these fractions to their simplest forms” while your son watched, you probably already see the logic. Go in another room and get prepared. It may take you 15 minutes, but it’s a great investment that will pay off.

2. Prepare your child. Gather all the supplies your child will need – all the books and worksheets, the ruler, calculator, poster board and dictionary. Get pencils and the sharpener, pens, erasers, index cards and sticky notes. Then gather four more pencils. Just trust me on this one.

3. Read with a purpose. We’ve all seen this assignment: “Read chapter 7 and answer the questions at the end.” Before you start reading, pull out the copy you made of the questions and read them with your child. Talk about each one. Is it asking for a short answer, a list, an explanation, or an opinion?

Keep the copy of the questions beside your book. As your child reads – or as you read aloud to your child, read with the questions in mind. If the answers are fill in the blank or multiple choice, go ahead and answer them as you go. If not, put a sticky note in the book where the answer is located. Gleefully mark off the questions as you find the answers.

4. Use graph paper to do math. It’s easier to line up numbers in problems and to draw number lines, charts, or graphs if there are already grids on the page. We always liked the 4x4 squares per inch. We’ve never met a math teacher who objected to this, but you might want to ask to make sure. If you’re fresh out of graph paper, Google ‘downloadable 4x4 graph paper” and print.

5. Transcribe and dictate sentences. When your child has to compose sentences or paragraphs, have her tell you what to write first. Then dictate the sentences back to her, and let her write them down. She’ll have to learn to do it altogether eventually, but this breaks down the steps. It’s like practicing one part of a piano piece or one element of a baseball swing. Besides, she’s tired and so are you!

If you wonder if you’re helping too much, remember that you are coaching your child to do tasks that don't come naturally. One day, you won't be in the middle of your kitchen leading a play by play, but for now, it's OK.

Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list. We had lots of other helpful homework hints. I’m sure your family has some as well. What has worked for you? Share your ideas below.

Kayla is the mom of four grown sons in Alamance County. Three have been diagnosed with ADHD-Inattentive. She is an author and runs the website She writes under a pen name to protect the identity of her sons.


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  • kennethgoldberg Mar 9, 2013

    The key issue with the ten minutes per grade per night rule is that you, as a parent need to insist on measuring time by the clock, not the assignment. I discuss this more in my book, The Homework Trap and on my website,

  • piety409 Mar 9, 2013

    Homeschooling is best for us. We love it!

  • jennifer23 Mar 9, 2013

    wonderful tips- copying this to hand out to parents :)

  • lilypony Mar 8, 2013

    Ceanothus and jonnraleigh - We mature, we learn how to better manage ourselves, and then we do it. What was once a hindrance becomes an asset. We fill out those pesky applications "all by ourselves". We graduate with multiple degrees and minors all at the same time. We open businesses. We excel under the stresses multitasking family life and work. Many (most?) people outgrow it. Some of us don't. Yes, it can be a challenge to stay on task and focused. We find a way to make things work in ways that work for us as individuals in our own lives.

    Great tips by the way. Teaching to understand how they think and how to get/stay on task is important with every child, especially those ADD/ADHD.

  • sduvall2 Mar 8, 2013

    Ceanothus, I'm a college professor and I can assure you that kids with ADHD/Inattentive can be very successful and independent in college. Why? Because their wonderful parents teach them to prepare, read with purpose, and break down things into steps. Moms of special needs kids ARE teachers - they are teaching by modeling. Thanks to articles like this, moms are reminded to make the most out of this homework time.

  • Terkel Mar 8, 2013

    jonraleigh, if these kids can't even do this much by middle school, their mommies will fill out college and scholarship applications for them. Then they'll sit with their arms folded for the next four years. Where are all these incapable kids coming from?

  • marimom Mar 8, 2013

    Reviewing his homework and getting prepared first has truly worked out for my son. Even though it can be time consuming to review and understand the new methods they use in math, it does pay out. Just think your son needs help and you can't remember how to figure out the answer. Your both sitting there reviewing books or online, wasting lots of time and confusing him even more while he watches you. However if you've prepared before hand you can help him with little (ok sometimes a lot) ideas or solutions to help him remember what he learned in school and apply it to complete his homework. It's not easy to do this every week but I feel I'm also preparing to help my younger children a lot quicker when there his age. Even though my girls will not need as much help as my son does. Every year I have noticed my son needs less help with his homework and applies himself even more to get the answers himself.

  • jonnraleigh Mar 8, 2013

    What will they do when they get to college?

  • katala97 Mar 8, 2013

    GREAT suggestions, I'll definitely put these into practice. I can personally attest to #5. One morning (yes, morning, because he had forgotten the night before), out of sheer desperation, I wrote out my son's sentences for him to copy, and I was shocked how well it worked. He knows what he wants to say, but getting it onto paper can be torturous. Facing the blank page seems to be much less daunting when he doesn't also have to come up with the words.

  • kcemily777 Mar 7, 2013

    love these suggestions, especially the graph paper for doing math. Having more than one sharp pencil seems like a simple thing, but I can't tell you how many times my daughter has gotten up to ask me a question only to return and have no clue where her pencil went! Reviewing the homework first is key. Math terms have changed since my days in the classroom, so re-acquainting myself with the new language helped me be more effective. Thanks for the tips! Keep them coming!