Getting Stuff Done with Your Child with ADHD

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If you have a young child with ADHD, you know that getting through non-preferred tasks – that is, anything that is not a video game, iPad, running outside, or watching TV – is difficult. How many times have you wanted to pull you hair out trying to get homework done, or get through the morning or bedtime routine?

On one hand, your child doesn’t want to engage in something so boring. But, on the other hand, your child struggles with sustaining attention and focus long enough to complete the three tasks you just asked him to do (1- go upstairs, 2- put on your pajamas, 3- brush your teeth). Even though tasks may be routine and familiar, your child is so easily distracted by all of the other things in the bathroom and his bedroom, or a thought about a game, that it just doesn’t get done.

In the classroom, I’m sure you’ve gained feedback from your child’s teacher that getting through a worksheet is hard. She is able to complete a few problems, but then gets involved with the other child walking in the hall, or distracted by the fact that a peer’s pencil just rolled on the floor.

So, what can you do to help your child get through everyday life routines and tasks that just have to be done?

Pair it Up
Not like a pair of shoes, but pair up a preferred task with a non-preferred task. For example, “Brush your teeth and get dressed, and then you can go downstairs and watch a TV show while you eat breakfast.” Or, “Get 5 problems done on your math worksheet and you can have a snack.”

Pairing up something pleasant with something unpleasant gives your child an immediate reward for completing a task. Giving a reward at the end of the day after following a long list of rules and routines is just not immediate enough. A short-term reward for a short-term task is the way to go.

Turn it into a Game
Putting dirty laundry into the washing machine is tedious, but playing a quick game of baseball using dirty laundry is much better! Cleaning up toys by setting a 30-second clock and asking your child to get as many cars into the toy bucket is far more enjoyable than saying, “Time to clean up your cars.”

Homework can also be turned into a game. For example, “Let’s see how many spelling words you can write in one minute!” or “Today’s theme for writing spelling sentences is soccer. Your first spelling word is slow. Tell me the sentence out loud and then write it down – go!”


Build on Your Child’s Strengths
Your child clearly has areas of strength. It may be math or visual reasoning. In fact, those areas of strength can be used to work on other tasks. For example, if your child is good at understanding math concepts, then liken other academic subjects to math. If you are trying to teach about a particular war in Social Studies, draw numbers on a whiteboard to represent soldiers, years, places, etc. to help her visualize and understand the war using numbers, which are reinforcing and motivating.

If your child is strong in a particular academic area, encourage his teacher to allow him to re-teach or help other peers in the classroom who are not grasping concepts as easily. This serves to build your child’s self esteem as well as build his identity and social persona with peers as the one who is really good at math or being the math helper!

Trying to get through the daily boring tasks of life with a child with ADHD can be tough because of the lack of interest your child has with that particular task, and/or because of poor sustained attention. However, by using some of these strategies, you may be able to get through your child’s day with a little bit more ease… and maybe even some fun!

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Dr. Liz Matheis is a licensed clinical psychologist and certified school psychologist who specializes in treating children with ADHD, Autism, Anxiety, and learning disabilities. She created the ACHIEVE program to coach students with ADHD to create organizational systems that work for them. Dr. Liz serves as Parent Coach, in which she helps parents develop boundaries and maintain consistency in the home environment. She has been effective in helping to decrease anxiety in children, adolescents, and adults using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques. She is also a sought-after contributor to numerous publications, blogs and radio shows!

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