A lot of parents have children with ADD or ADHD that struggle to learn in school because they can’t stay focused. It can be difficult! Sitting in a chair all day is not easy when you are not interested in the topics you are learning about. I have ADHD, and I struggled to learn in school because I felt like I was always distracted by the littlest things. I remember being distracted by the sound of the second-hand on a clock ticking. I remember I would start counting the ticks and I would get to 300 or 400 before I realized a missed a huge part of the lesson.
I didn’t care about being inside when I saw how sunny it was outside. I was thinking of all the games I could be playing and things I could be doing that sounded way better than being in a chair. To make matters worse, I had friends who would goof around in class and staying focused became almost impossible. I thought about recess because recess was my saving grace to get out of a chair and run around to burn some energy. Playing football with the teachers outside seemed to go by way faster than class ever did.
At the time, ADHD medications were all in the trial phase of testing, so I tried a ton of different medications and they all seemed to fail. I don’t remember the name of the worst medication, but my new doctor told me that its caffeine content was the equivalent of 10 cups of coffee. I guess the intent was to try and cancel out the wildness and energy of ADHD with even more caffeine and max the kid out until they calmed down. All it did for me was cause me not to sleep until I eventually got sick. But today we have a variety of medications that are more helpful to those with ADHD. If you do not want to resort to medication just yet, I have found some tips and tricks that could help your child focus more in school.
Tip 1: Do One Thing at a Time
As much as we think we are great multitaskers, we really aren’t that great at it. We can try to focus on two things, and we believe we are doing a good job, but it turns out that our performance on the tasks was not as great as it could have been if we had focused on one task at a time.
Don’t believe me? Check out this CEO trying to multitask on NatGeo.
With ADHD multitasking is basically impossible. You can’t focus on even one thing so trying to do multiple things at once is a train wreck. So when you are trying to help your child learn a new topic do it one topic at a time. If you are talking about history then just focus on one part of the history lesson. If you are doing math, then just do the addition and take a break, then do the subtraction. It sounds simple because it is. It’s easy to bounce around a bunch of different topics when learning a new subject, but for us with ADHD, please keep it to one thing at a time.
Tip 2: It’s Easier to Take on a Big Task if it is Broken Down into Small Steps
Try to have a plan when you are doing a big task. If you are doing a big homework project, then create a step by step process with breaks to allow them to burn some energy and refocus. Being organized and creating a plan is the easiest way to help a person with ADHD learn efficiently and will cause you less headache in the long run.
Tip 3: Try To Limit Distractions in the Classroom
As much as I hate to admit it, the best thing for me was sitting in front of the class. It really forced me to pay attention because I was staring at the white board or projector and not watching what the people in front of me were doing. When you sit in the middle or back row, it’s easy to get distracted by trying to listen to what other students are saying and watching what they are doing. Then you hear sounds outside and look out the windows which are promptly followed by the noise of a ticking clock and the tapping of pencils. Sitting in front of the class can be stressful for some students so try to help your child feel more calm about it by talking about it before school. If the teacher can’t get your child in the front row, then try to get them as close to the front as possible.
Tip 4: Focus on the Positive, Not the Negative
Learning can be hard enough, and with a learning disability, it becomes even more challenging. But it is possible. I made it through high school and college without any extra help or medication. But for some students, they need the extra time and medication to assist them in focusing. If they struggle in school, (they will) be sure to not be hard on them. Being positive about their situation is going to make them feel better about themselves, and they are more likely to try again or work harder to accomplish their goals. If you are negative about a failure, they will take it extra hard because learning is a sensitive and challenging subject for people with ADHD.
Tip 5: Exercise Before Learning
I credit my personal successes in school to exercise. I was on sports teams, and I had regular gym classes. In high school, I was in weights classes in every semester, and in the spring I would do an early morning sports conditioning class. It was the conditioning practices of multiple different sports. So for basketball, we would run ladders, and track we would do 200-meter sprints with 100-meter walking rest. I also had my regular weights classes later on in the day and a track practice at night after school. I was in the best shape of my life by far and being able to burn off all that energy helped me focus in classes.
A study has been done that shows regular physical activity has decreased the effects of ADHD and its symptoms while also improving cognitive function in children.
Dr. Betsy Hoza says that:
“As little as a half hour, a day of moderate to vigorous exercise had a positive, measurable impact on their focus and mood.”
I would also add that limiting sugary foods and drinks helps a lot because a sugar rush makes learning very difficult. We get hyper and harder to control when we get to much sugar and learning becomes almost impossible. If you think a normal kid is difficult on a sugar rush, a child with ADHD is ten times worse. I would also try to limit the caffeine intake as well. This is just my personal opinion as someone who struggles with ADHD.
If you are a parent of a child with ADHD, I hope that you found some value in this article. There is hope and I am an example of a person with severe AHDH who was able to graduate college with no help or medication. These are the steps that helped me, and I hope that they help you too.
If you have any other tips that have helped your child learn, please comment so other parents can try it.
For other resources from medical professionals, check out these resources.