Creating an Ideal Homework Environment for Kids with ADHD

Overhead view of preteen student does homework at kitchen table with school supplies spread aroundMost articles you read about helping children and teens with attention-deficit hyperactivity (ADHD) complete homework are likely to focus on having a structured plan. A structured plan—do homework in the same location, take breaks at specific times, etc.—can indeed be helpful, but often parents underestimate the importance of the actual environment in which the homework is done.

Here are five suggestions to help develop the ideal work environment for your child or teen:

  1. Make sure the work area is physically comfortable. This means having your child or teen sit in a comfortable chair. Ideally, they should be sitting at a desk or using a lap desk (as opposed to sitting on the floor or bed), but see what works best for them. Using a chair that reclines slightly or is padded may make it easier to sit and focus for longer periods.
  2. If your child or teen fidgets, harness the fidgeting. If they fidget with their legs, for example, provide your child or teen with something to keep their legs occupied. Try a bicycle or elliptical base that fits under a desk; exercise bands attached to the chair; tennis balls cut open and glued to the floor; or large, squishy shoe innersoles attached to the floor. For individuals who fidget with their hands, try something such as attaching a stress ball to a stretchy string that’s connected to the desk. Alternatively, attach something with different textures to the desk so your child or teen can rub their hand against something while working.
  3. Minimize shifting of attention. This can be achieved by decreasing the frequency with which your child or teen needs to switch between their book and the computer, documents on the computer, getting up to get materials, and so forth. To decrease shifting between materials, many individuals (adults included) do well with using a laptop and attaching an external monitor (or LCD television) to it. With two screens, they can keep documents they are referring to on one screen and write on the other. Using a laptop and a tablet for this purpose can also work well, especially if the tablet has a stand. To help with textbooks, using a kitchen book holder that props up the book and keeps it open to set pages can be useful. To avoid children and teens having to get up frequently, keep a few pens, pencils, highlighters, and basic school supplies within arm’s reach.
  4. Reduce visual and auditory distractions. Keep the walls within view fairly plain if possible, and if looking out a window is distracting, face the workspace away from the window. Auditory distractions can be minimized by being quiet around your child or teen, using a white noise machine, or using an app (with or without headphones). Some children and teens like noise while working. If they feel they need to listen to something while working, white noise or music without words might be best. While ideally music should be soft, if your child or teen insists on listening to popular music while working, have them listen to karaoke versions.
  5. Have different work stations for different types of tasks. Some teens may find it helpful to sit in a special chair just for reading, to use a desk for writing papers, and to use a reclining chair for proofreading. Sometimes a change in position or room between tasks can lead to increased focus and reduce fatigue. (For others, of course, it can lead to getting off task more easily.)

There are many things you can do to help your child or teen get their homework done. While a structured plan is key, so too is the setup of the actual workspace. Try the tips above to get the most out of your child’s study time.

© Copyright 2016 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Carey Heller, PsyD, ADHD: Inattention, Impulsivity, and Hyperactivity Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Spencer

    September 13th, 2016 at 10:14 AM

    For my son it has to be somewhere that has zero distractions. He can create enough of those by himself so it is never a good idea to add anything additional onto his plate when he is trying his best to focus and work. A little soft music playing in the background is about all he can manage, and I’m ok with that.

  • Calla

    September 14th, 2016 at 8:36 AM

    I really like the idea of different work stations for different tasks

  • Carey Heller, Psy.D.

    September 14th, 2016 at 1:21 PM

    Thanks for taking the time to read and sharing your thoughts!

  • TorieT

    September 14th, 2016 at 2:22 PM

    In my case, and this is just my own personal experience the silence was always so deafening to me that that in and of itself was very unnerving to me. I had to have a little bit of background noise, nothing too distracting, but maybe say the evening news that I could hear drone on in the background but I would not pay attention to it.

    I am still like that in some ways. I have to have a little music or something to fill that empty space.

  • Will

    September 15th, 2016 at 7:58 AM

    We try to stick with a schedule for the homework just like we do the school day, with plenty of opportunity for moving aorund in between. It can be a little overwhelming trying to sit down and do everything all at one time.

  • Lewis

    September 15th, 2016 at 12:47 PM

    I certainly do wish that there would be more teachers who would feel a little more free to not load their students down with so much homework like that teacher whose letter went viral earlier this school year. I think that kids have enough stress placed on them during the school day, so why not leave the evenings for time like family time and extracurriculars? I know that it is important to reinforce what they are doing in the classroom during the day, but it is equally important for them to have some down time that they don’t have to stress about. Anyway that’s off topic and just my humble opinion.

  • piper

    September 16th, 2016 at 1:52 PM

    The problem in my house is that we live in a small home with 4 kids, all close in age and some of them are ok with the distractionsand are pretty good at creating those themselves, and then the other two have to have complete silence to get anything done.

    Believe me, homework time can be a logistical nightmare figuring all of that out! And may times there are tears involved, usually mine.

  • Earle

    September 17th, 2016 at 9:12 AM

    all are great suggestions

  • sammi

    September 19th, 2016 at 2:28 PM

    I agree with Earle, all of these are great suggestions. But we can’t forget about the other students too, students that need accommodations as well but who may not necessarily fall into that ADD or ADHD diagnosis spectrum. Look, all kids are unique and and are going to need different experiences and different settings to help them learn and thrive. It is up to us as parents and teachers to know what these are for each individual child.

  • Caleb

    September 20th, 2016 at 2:08 PM

    Ultimately kids will all be different and we all have different needs when it comes to what kind of environment helps us to get the most done and get it done well. But I think that the one constant for any child especially is knowing that they have parents who are in the home who are willing to do what they have to do to help them do the homework and make sure that it is done correctly. I think that when they have that kind of support network and they know that there is someone there who has their back, there is nothing really that can ever beat that.

  • Zachary Sleeth

    January 23rd, 2020 at 3:35 AM

    I love your writing style truly loving this website .

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