Homework Help for the Distractible Child

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Updated on May 15, 2014

It’s your child’s first week back to school and her first homework assignment is, let’s say, missing. You try to guide her on assignments, but she has such a hard time paying attention you feel like you’re the one doing the homework. Does this sound like a common scenario in your household? If so, psychologist Jeffrey Bernstein, Ph.D. wants you to know that you’re not alone. He says there are many parents struggling to meet the challenges of parenting a distracted child. Punishments don’t work, and many parents wonder if their child has a problem or is just plain lazy.

Bernstein, author of 10 Days to a Less Distracted Child (Marlowe & Company, 2007), says distractibility means poor attention, not laziness. The most common cause of distractibility is attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)—a neurological disorder. But, distractibility can also be related to anxiety, depression, learning disabilities, or stress.

Your job as a parent is to help your child work through his distractions, especially during homework time. No student relishes homework, but it’s an important component of school success, and it’s especially challenging for the distractible child. But, Bernstein says there are ways to keep homework headaches under control. Here are a few of his tips, from 10 Days to a Less Distracted Child:

Be Calm, Firm and Noncontrolling

Make sure to keep your own emotions in check as you work with your child on completing his homework. Share that you understand his frustration and resistance to doing his homework. Don’t get into a power struggle with your child. Instead, encourage him to sit down and give it his all.

Getting Past the “I Can’t Do Its”

When you get this stock response from your child, you should act, “as if.” That is, encourage your child to act as if he can do it. Tell him to pretend that he knows, and see what happens. Then leave the immediate area and let him see if he can handle it from there. If he keeps telling you he doesn’t know how to get his homework done, here are a few supportive probes that may help get past the “I can’t do its”:

  • “What parts of the instructions don’t you understand?”
  • “Can you give me an example of where and how you are getting stuck?”
  • “Tell me what you think the answer is.”
  • “How could you find out?”
Establish a Schedule

You will all benefit from knowing that a certain time every day is reserved for studying and doing homework. The best time is usually not right after school. Most children, and especially distracted children, need time to decompress and unwind. The predictability of a schedule keeps distracted kids in a routine.

Know How Your Child Learns Best

If you understand your child’s learning style, it will be easier for you to help him. For example, does your child tend to be a visual learner? Does he learn things best when he can see them? If so, drawing a picture or a chart may help with some assignments. Does your child learn things best when he can hear them? In this case, he may need to listen to a story or have directions read to him. Does your child understand some things best when he can handle or move them? For example, an apple cut four or six or eight ways can help a younger child see spatial relationships.

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