Kids Health Info

ADHD – ways to help children at school and home

  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) can affect children's learning and social skills, and the way a family functions. Ways to help your child with ADHD include behaviour modification, home and classroom strategies, and sometimes counselling.

    Strategies for school and homework

    Verbal instructions

    • Keep instructions brief and clear.
    • Say the child's name or tap them on the shoulder to make and keep eye contact when giving important information.
    • Ask the child to repeat the instruction to make sure they understand it.
    • The child may need prompting, monitoring and encouragement to keep them focused on tasks.

    Written work

    • Highlight important points in written information using asterisks (*), capital letters or bold text.
    • Limit the amount of information that needs to be copied from the board. Instead, give handouts with this information.

    Physical environment

    • Keep the work area as uncluttered as possible.
    • Sit the child near the front of the classroom.
    • Plan seating and furniture carefully to minimise distractions, e.g. sit the child near classmates who will be good role models.

    Other learning strategies

    • Provide one-to-one instruction as often as possible.
    • A class buddy, who gets along well with the child, can be helpful to reinforce instructions and directions.
    • Make sure activities have plenty of hands-on involvement.
    • Schedule the most important learning to take place during the child's best concentration time(s). This is usually in the morning.
    • Give the child a checklist for what they need to do.
    • Keep choices to a minimum.

    Reducing over-activity and fatigue

    • Build rest breaks into activities, e.g. a five-minute break for each 30 minutes of activity.
    • Alternate academic tasks with brief physical exercise, e.g. the child could do structured tasks or errands such as delivering notes.
    • Prepare a number of low-pressure, fun activities for when the child needs to spend a few minutes away from a task.

    Keeping structure

    • Children with ADHD can struggle with changes to routine and need to know what to expect. The following strategies can help:
    • Have a fixed routine and keep classroom activities well organised and predictable.
    • Give the child advance warning when activities are changing, e.g. 'In five minutes you will have to put your work away', and remind them more than once.
    • Display the daily schedule and classroom rules, e.g. attach a flowchart to the inside of the child's desk or book.
    • Tell the child in advance of a change in the schedule whenever possible.

    Self-esteem

    • Set achievable goals and encourage the child to take part in activities where they will experience success.
    • Acknowledge the child's achievements by congratulating them verbally and in written ways, such as notes or certificates.
    • Focus their attention on the good parts of their written work, e.g. use a highlighter pen on the best sections of the child's work.
    • Help them feel important in the classroom, e.g. acknowledging their effort to do a task even if they don't succeed.
    • Near the end of the day, review with the child their accomplishments for that day.
    • Attend to learning difficulties as soon as possible to restore self-confidence.

    Social skills

    • Involve the child in smaller groups of no more than two other children, instead of larger groups, whenever possible.
    • Reward appropriate behaviour such as sharing and cooperating.
    • Teach the child appropriate responses when they feel provoked. For example, teach them to walk away or talk to the teacher.
    • Encourage the child to join activities where 'supervised socialisation' is available, such as Scouts or sporting groups.
    • Talk with the child about the consequences of their actions upon themselves and upon others.
    • Use visual prompts to remind the child to think before they act, e.g. 'STOP, THINK, DO'.

    Communication between home and school

    • Use a school–home daily communication book. Communicate both positive and inappropriate behaviours.
    • Teachers, be sensitive to parents' feelings. Find positive things to share with them about their child on a regular basis. This can be done in front of the child.

    Homework

    • Make the work environment attractive, but it should be a quiet place without clutter so it is not too distracting.
    • Have a regular scheduled time for homework.

    Strategies for home

    It’s often easy to focus on the negative aspects of a child’s behaviour, and you may feel that at times your child's behaviour is out of control. Their behaviour at home is likely to improve through a combination of rewards and reinforcement for positive 'good' behaviours, and consequences for negative behaviours.

    • Consider implementing a positive behaviour system in your home. A reward chart for younger children or token economy for older children can add incentive for your child to increase desirable behaviours. Change the rewards frequently so that your child doesn’t get bored. This strategy can help switch your focus to times when your child is behaving well. 
    • Have a set of family rules that are written down. Be explicit about what happens when these rules are followed (e.g. rewards) and what happens when they are not (consequences) and try to be consistent with this approach.
    • Try to ‘catch’ your child being helpful, friendly or respectful and give them positive attention and praise for this behaviour. Make sure you are specific about what behaviours you really like and want to encourage.
    • Ignore common minor attention-seeking behaviours. Turn away from your child or walk away, and respond only when they speak appropriately. Constantly attending to negative behaviours can teach a child that this is the best way to get your full attention.
    • Use logical consequences for poor behaviours, e.g. homework should be completed before television, and if they take too long to complete the homework, they may miss out on watching their favourite show.
    • Try to keep any consequences immediate, and ensure that they are consequences you can follow through with. For younger children, consequences should be linked to something happening that day, not on the weekend. If consequences are removal of privileges, ensure it is short-lived and the child is aware when it will be returned to them.
    • Set aside small, regular sessions of one-on-one time with your child doing an activity your child wants to do. This helps to send the message that you love them and enjoy spending time with them.

    Key points to remember

    • Acknowledge and reward achievements and positive behaviour often.
    • Attend to learning difficulties as soon as possible.
    • A quiet place without clutter is important for homework.
    • Talk with the child about the consequences of their actions.
    • A positive behaviour system at home can help increase desirable behaviours.
    • Ignore smaller negative behaviours, and use logical, immediate consequences for poor behaviours.

    For more information

    Common questions our doctors are asked

    My child's teacher has said that my child frequently disrupts the class. How can we manage this?

    Make an appointment with your child's teacher and run through the strategies given in this fact sheet. It is important that your child is rewarded and encouraged when they behave well (e.g. they work on a task without distracting their classmates). If your child's behaviour is causing significant problems at home and school, and the strategies in this fact sheet have not helped, you may want to discuss this with your doctor. See our fact sheet ADHD.

    My child has problems getting along with other children in the playground. What can we do to help?

    Children with ADHD sometimes have problems following playground rules, and other children may not understand the way they behave. This may lead to social isolation or conflict in the playground. Talk to your child's teacher about what can be done to help. 


    Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital Centre for Community Child Health. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.

    Reviewed March 2018.

    Kids Health Info is supported by The Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation. To donate, visit  www.rchfoundation.org.au.

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    Disclaimer
    This information is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your doctor or healthcare professionals. The authors of these consumer health information handouts have made a considerable effort to ensure the information is accurate, up to date and easy to understand. The Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne accepts no responsibility for any inaccuracies, information perceived as misleading, or the success of any treatment regimen detailed in these handouts. Information contained in the handouts is updated regularly and therefore you should always check you are referring to the most recent version of the handout. The onus is on you, the user, to ensure that you have downloaded the most up-to-date version of a consumer health information handout.