This is a sponsored guest post.
In my practice as an ADHD specialist, I see a lot of parents who are at the end of their rope. They feel like it’s impossible to get their child to focus, follow directions, and complete tasks. If you’re anything like them, you may feel totally helpless. But there are real, practical steps you can take to see improvements.
Whether your child has ADHD or not, these tips will help you create routines and habits that increase engagement, improve focus, and make life a bit easier for everyone.
It’s one of the oldest tips in the book for a reason. Remember, ADHD doesn’t make a child unable to focus. Instead, it makes it hard for them to filter out extraneous stimuli, meaning that they end up focusing on a lot of things for shorter amounts of time.
For things that require sustained attention, like homework, try to set up a designated space that’s free from clutter and distractions like toys, screens, and loud noise.
Use the “Chunking” Method
Tons of kids, but especially those with ADHD, have trouble with multi-step directions and projects. “Clean your room” or “Do your homework” can feel overwhelming, leading to frustration and distraction.
“Let’s put away the books, pick up your clothes, and make your bed” is a lot less vague and more manageable, especially with mini-breaks or praise in between each task. You can try similar methods with homework by focusing on one subject at a time and by helping them break bigger projects into smaller steps. Use your own judgment to determine how many “chunks” and breaks are appropriate for your child’s age and development.
To increase your child’s engagement in these activities even further, I recommend using an app like EpicWin or TaskHammer. You pick an avatar, create a to-do list, and collect rewards as you complete tasks. They help to break down tasks and remind your child of the steps they need to complete in a way that’s actually fun.
Get Outdoors More
Several small studies have suggested that time outdoors can help reduce ADHD symptoms, and the results are even more pronounced when kids are in green and natural settings as opposed to playgrounds with no nearby greenery.
We still need larger clinical trials to determine exactly if and how spending time outdoors helps with ADHD. Most studies have been based on parents’ observations of their children’s behavior, which is helpful but not the most reliable method of collecting data. Still, we have a lot of evidence that natural settings have a real calming effect even for adults and people without ADHD, so it makes sense that there could be benefits for kids with ADHD.
In any case, it can’t hurt. At the very least, your child will likely get more exercise and less screen time, both of which have been shown to help with focus and attention span. Before beginning activities that require heavy focus, incorporate some outdoor playtime and make note of any improvements.
Tackle Sleep Issues
We’ve known about the correlation between ADHD and sleep issues for a long time. Kids with ADHD tend to be sleepier throughout the day and and have higher rates of sleep disorders. Determining whether ADHD causes the sleep troubles or vice versa can be a game of “the chicken or the egg,” but improving sleep has been shown to help decrease symptoms of ADHD.
Start with the basics. Enforce a regular bedtime and make a nighttime routine that helps your child wind down. Cut off screen time at least two hours before bed and aim to give your child 8-12 hours of sleep depending on their age. If they still don’t sleep well, it’s time to get your doctor’s input. If possible, seek out a doctor who specializes in ADHD. They’ll be more aware of the specific issues that come with ADHD and able to offer more targeted tips.
Praise Desirable Behaviors
Far too often, kids with ADHD get reprimanded for what they are doing wrong while rarely getting praised for what they are doing right. Especially for younger kids, this can cause legitimate confusion and frustration with authority— they know what behavior gets them into trouble, but that doesn’t mean they have a clear idea of what they should be doing instead.
When you notice your child engaged and focused on a task— even if it’s a not a difficult one and even if they don’t focus for as long as you think they should— be sure to offer encouragement. Praise is most effective when a child knows exactly what they are doing right. So something like, “Wow, I love how calmly you are playing” or “I’m so proud of you for focusing on your homework for a full 15 minutes” are a lot more effective than “Good job.”
With tools like these and the right treatments, kids with ADHD are capable of anything. I see it everyday at the ADHD Wellness Center. So take heart, parents. Real improvement in your child’s focus and engagement is possible.