How to Help Your ADHD Child Finish What They Begin

Community Member

If your child has problems staying focused and paying attention, one result can be that they find it difficult to finish tasks. You may find that your child has problems finishing homework, completing projects or doing all of their chores. It is a common challenge for children who have ADHD to stay on task in order to finish what they begin. If you are the parent of a child with these types of challenges, you may feel frustrated by what others may deem as laziness or irresponsible behavior.

What the rest of the world may not quite understand you know all too well as a parent. Your child may, in fact, have to put in twice the amount of energy than other children just to focus enough to complete a given task. We are going to give you some tips and suggestions of how to make things a little easier for your child to be more successful in completing tasks they initiate. These successes, in turn, will boost your child's self confidence that they will be able to be productive and get things done.

  • Break up a larger task into smaller manageable parts.
    Some tasks may seem overwhelming to your child because they appear to be too much work at once. For example, telling your child to "clean" their room may seem daunting because they might not know what you expect in terms of concrete behaviors. But if you break up the chore into smaller tasks then they will feel more confident to know exactly what you want. For example, cleaning their bedroom can include: Empty the wastebasket, take all laundry to the washer, make your bed, and vacuum.
  • Break up the task by time increments.
    If your child has a big project for school, for example, it may be wise to not only break up the project into smaller tasks but also designate a certain amount of time to spend on those smaller tasks each day. This way your child is not scurrying around at the last minute to finish something in one evening which really requires several evenings of work.

  • Write it down.
    Some children have difficulty processing verbal language. It can be very helpful if you write down what you want so they can have time to process the instructions. One of our members spoke about helping her son understand how to clean his room by posting the written steps on his bedroom wall. Your child can then refer to the written list to remind them of what to do next following each step of the process.

  • Use a visual schedule.
    For younger children who cannot read yet, or for children who respond well to visual cues, a visual schedule can be the key to successful task completion. For example you can take photos of all the steps necessary to finish a particular chore or activity. Let's say you wish your child to be more independent with their morning routine. Tape pictures of children washing their face, brushing their teeth, flossing, and combing their hair on the bathroom mirror.

  • Provide tangible structure.
    If you have a child who not only has ADHD but is also on the autism spectrum, the TEACCH method may be a valuable resource for assisting your child to complete tasks. One idea based upon the TEACCH model for learning is to set out containers or baskets marked with numbers for each task. For example, if you want your child to finish their homework, you would place the materials they need for each homework assignment in each basket. There would also be an empty basket labeled with the word "FINISHED" for the child to place all their finished assignments or tasks. This way the child can visibly see what they are to accomplish and when they are finished.

  • Give your child breaks.
    Most children who have attention deficit problems will not be able to work productively for an unlimited amount of time. Assess how long your child can usually last before becoming too distracted and give them a break to unwind. Let them get up and burn off the excess energy through play.

  • Give your child verbal praise or rewards for completing any of the steps towards completion of the task.
    If you wait until your child has totally finished with a particular task you may be waiting too long to give them positive reinforcement. You want to reward both effort and outcome at set intervals during the process. An example might be, "I really like the way you finished all your math problems. You have worked really hard. Now all you have to do is write your vocabulary words and you will be all done with your homework for the night."

  • Teach your child to self monitor.
    For tasks that your child must complete frequently on an on-going basis, it may be a good idea to give them a way to judge their own progress. For example, if your child has math problems to do during the week provide a laminated check off list. Use an index card where you write down the steps to finish the homework such as: Completed math problems, checked answers, and fixed any mistakes. Your child can then use a magic marker to check off the steps as they complete them. Wipe the card clean after you provide feedback as to how accurately they monitored their progress, and then re-use the card for the next day.

Hopefully the tips and suggestions given here will be helpful to both you and your child. But now we also want to hear from you. Do you have any methods for helping your to child to finish what they start? We want to hear them Through our shared experiences we can all help each other.