Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is commonly diagnosed in school-aged kids and can impact people of all ages and backgrounds. Helping a child with ADHD focus in school can be tricky.
However, it is possible, and there's a range of things that you can do. In this article, I will outline eight strategies that can help a child with ADHD focus in school, such as providing feedback, rewarding positive behavior, and limiting distractions. Then, we will discuss why it's harder for children with ADHD to focus in school in the first place and what else can be done to support a child with ADHD who is struggling.
How To Help a Child with ADHD Focus in School: 8 Strategies
Whether your child is homeschooled, attends a public or alternative school, or goes to a private school, many parents of kids with ADHD want to know how to help a child with ADHD focus in school. With ADHD, the brain works differently. These strategies keep that in mind and are built to work with your child's brain, mental health, and wellness rather than against it (also try these non-stimulant ADHD medications).
It’s important that parents stay engaged in the learning process. Be willing to offer assistance and provide feedback. Make sure to focus on the positives; tell a child when they do something well. When you do need to point an error out, do so gently, and consider giving encouraging feedback alongside.
For example, you might say, "Great job getting this entire page done!" and proceed with, "let's take a moment to go back to this question; it looks like that one was tricky." You can adjust the way you talk with a child based on their age. Asking questions, offering feedback, and gentle check-ins can be just as helpful for tweens and teens.
Reward positive behavior
Reward systems for people with ADHD are a great tool. They can increase motivation and light up the reward system in the brain. Rewards can be small, but they should be immediate.
Rewards should be age-appropriate and may include things like experiences (IE, going to the park), stickers, and a set amount of time using technology (IE, screen time or playing a video game for an hour). Reward charts can be very helpful for school and learning as well as for other daily life activities, such as those related to self-care and chores.
Discover more ways to discipline a child with ADHD.
Just as it's important for adults to take breaks during the workday, kids need the same. First and foremost, it is shown that shorter lessons are more effective than long ones; multiple 10-minute lessons result in better learning than multiple 30-minute long lessons.
A break that allows for brain-stimulating activities (such as physical exercise) can be incredibly beneficial for focus, general learning, and curbing symptoms. With it in mind that physical activity can be wildly helpful for kids with ADHD, active break activities are something to consider.
Allow the proper tools (fidget toys, squeeze balls)
Although it may seem as though an item such as a fidget toy could be more distracting, the opposite is actually true. Because a child has something to do with their hands, some may find that it's helpful in curbing the need to move around or stimming, and it is indicated that for kids with both attention span and anxiety-related concerns, it can promote focus and a sense of calm.
Have a plan (504 plan, for example)
ADHD is a recognized disability. When someone in the K-12 age group lives with ADHD, they qualify for special education services. When students are eligible for special education services in the United States, they can get what's called a 504 plan.
A 504 plan refers to a blueprint for how a school will accommodate students with a disability like ADHD by removing barriers and providing support in areas where they need it. These are provided at no cost, as are individualized education programs or IEPs. With a 504 plan for ADHD, students may receive extra time on tests, and more frequent breaks.
Have open communication between teachers and parents
A teacher should be aware of your child's disability and challenges so that they know how to work with your child in the classroom environment and support them in meeting their overall educational goals.
Communicating openly with educational professionals is the best way that a parent can make this happen. Advocate for the needs of your child and touch base with school staff regularly. Don't hesitate to ask for a parent-teacher meeting or meetings with other professionals at your child's school if you need to.
Since people who live with ADHD can be both more frequently and more easily distracted than others, it's vital to limit distractions in learning environments. One common distraction is the urge to talk to other kids during classroom lessons. To avoid this, a teacher may seat a child next to quiet kids. It can also be helpful to seat kids away from doors and windows, which can be distracting due to the exposure to external stimuli (IE, people or animals moving outside).
Set clear expectations
It's vital for kids to have clear expectations, with or without ADHD. Goals should be clear, concise, and specific. They should not be loose or vague. For example, "I need you to finish every problem on this page of homework. Please come to me if you need help or feel frustrated; we can work together." You may use a chart (such as a sticker chart) to help remind your child of these expectations.
Why Is It Harder for Children with ADHD to Focus in School?
ADHD conditions in children can make it harder to focus throughout the school year. This is true whether a child lives with predominantly hyperactive/impulsive ADHD, primarily inattentive ADHD, or ADHD with a combined presentation.
Hyperactivity/impulsivity symptoms that might make it harder for a child to succeed in school can include but aren't limited to: Talking out of turn (blurting out answers before a question is finished), fidgeting, squirming, or tapping one's hands or feet, talking excessively, intruding on other people's activities or conversations, trouble remaining seated, and challenges engaging in activities quietly.
Inattention symptoms that might make it harder for a child to succeed in school can include but aren't limited to: Forgetfulness, being easily distracted by external stimuli, misplacing or losing important items, trouble giving attention to detail, making seemingly careless errors or mistakes, appearing as though one isn't listening when spoken to directly, and difficulty with tasks that require sustained mental focus (such being motivated to do homework or school work). People with ADHD can and often do experience task avoidance and difficulties getting started on or finishing tasks.
These symptoms make it quite common for ADHD and school avoidance to happen. If your child needs additional support to succeed educationally, there are many options. For kids under the age of 12, parent training can be beneficial in helping a guardian learn how to best navigate a variety of situations that may arise when a child has ADHD - including difficulties with learning or school success.
Often, a combination of medication and therapy is recommended for those who live with ADHD. Central nervous system (CNS) stimulants are effective for people with ADHD who take them. ADHD treatments can help people curb symptoms of ADHD and succeed in various parts of life.
Other treatments, such as games and apps, occupational therapy, and ADHD coaching, can be helpful. Sometimes, an ADHD coach might specialize in education and helping people succeed in school. This could be an option.
If your child lives with another condition or concern that can affect learning or school, such as a learning disability, this should be addressed in addition to ADHD. Some may find tutoring advantageous. Furthermore, accommodations, such as additional time to spend on tests or exams, can be provided for people who live with ADHD.
While children with ADHD can face additional challenges during the school day, it is possible to help kids with ADHD focus better. Helpful techniques can include regular breaks, feedback, fidget toys, open communication with your child’s teacher and other school staff, a 504 plan or IEP, and clear, concise expectations.
ADHD treatments can also help individuals who live with ADHD find success. Often, it is helpful to use a combination of various approaches. It's okay to try a variety of treatments and techniques until you find what works best.