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If you work with kids with ADHD you’re probably familiar with the high levels of energy, the difficulty sitting still, and the challenges of getting students with ADHD to focus. I am familiar with this, so how do you get a child who is hyperactive to sit down, do their schoolwork and work during interventions? Today we are going to go over my strategies for kids with ADHD and how I manage their high levels of energy.
Can I be super honest? I sometimes get frustrated when working with students with ADHD. It is my weak point.
At one point I was spending most of my time on cases with kids with ADD/ADHD. I’d come to my roommate, who also had ADD, and watch her play Legend of Zelda: Breathe of the Wild.
If you’re unfamiliar it’s an open-world game that is wonderful and you should go play it instantly, but seeing someone with ADD play it is so frustrating. She would chase down every little bug and butterfly she saw. She would be halfway through doing something and then send Link to flit off and do something else.
I remember sitting there thinking, “Why can’t anyone in my life focus?”
I have been where you are, at the complete end of my rope.
The most important thing to do is to keep your cool. Children with ADHD often feel like everyone hates them, and the word they hear most often is no. So take a deep breath and try some new strategies for kids with ADHD.
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Remember the Root Cause
I’ve written about this in previous blog posts, so I’m not going to go too in-depth here. But the root cause of ADHD is not an attention problem.
Children with ADHD have weak executive functioning skills and tend to act impulsively when the work they are doing becomes too hard or challenging for them.
To learn more, check out this blog post.
So if your student is acting out and getting up from the table to grab things, it probably has more to do with their confidence in being able to complete their work than with their level of distraction.
They’re showing you that they’re overwhelmed.
Give them More Scaffolds
So if your student is constantly getting up and trying to run around to grab things instead of doing their work, it’s probably because they don’t understand the work.
Duh, it’s why you’re working on it with them.
But you can also adjust how you’re working with them and add in more supports and scaffolds. Break the work down into very small steps and focus on achieving one step at a time, giving breaks in between as needed.
Like I said before, children with ADHD normally only hear that they’re doing a bad job from adults.
They don’t hear praise or celebrations of their effort often, which is sad, because they are probably trying harder than anyone else.
So find one tiny thing they’re doing right and make a big deal about it. Just yesterday, I was working with a student with ADHD who I’ve known for years.
He was having a bad day and was all over the place, refusing to do work.
It was looking like it was going to be a wasted session until I found something to praise. I made sure he knew that I saw all the effort he’d put in and reminded him of all the progress he’s made.
We went from getting nothing done to finishing half the writing intervention I had planned in less than thirty minutes because he was feeling more confident after I celebrated him and his efforts.
A lot of the success of an intervention depends on how your students feel, and if they feel successful and confident then they’ll work harder.
Ideally, you should be giving more positive than negative feedback, but if that seems too hard right now, set a goal to have it be divided evenly at 50/50.
Set a Pausable Timer
I’ll be totally honest, out of all my strategies for kids with ADHD, this one is my favorite.
I used to set a timer for anywhere from five to ten minutes and tell my student that we would take a break after working for however many minutes.
I would then proceed to watch them widdle that time down to nothing with distracting behavior. The amount of work done would be almost identical to before the timer, and now I owed them a break.
Then I got an android phone (completely by coincidence) and it came with a pausable timer and that flipped everything around.
Now before I set a timer, I remind my kids that it has to be however many minutes of solid work. If they go off task, that’s fine and allowed and I’m not going to get upset with them. However, I am going to pause the timer.
Going off task will get them no closer to a break.
This serves two purposes.
- I no longer have to yell at them about staying on task. I can just say, “the timer is paused.” And that decreases the number of times they’re criticized in the day.
- They actually have to engage with their work meaningfully before getting a well-deserved break.
I have been using this strategy for over a year, and it did take some time for my students to adjust to it.
Some of them still have bad days where they ignore all reminders to get back to work. Then get angry when I say that the timer is paused, and they haven’t earned a break.
But everyone has bad days, and I actually can’t remember the last time I had to pause a timer with a student who is adjusted to this strategy.
If the timer on your phone is not plausible you can probably find an appropriate app on whatever platform you prefer.
Children respond wonderfully to exercise and studies have shown that the brain is more primed for learning after a purposeful exercise routine.
John J. Ratey has a great book on the topic called Spark. Click here to learn more (affiliate link)
I do not recommend letting your students run wild, as that can be overstimulating. However, having purposeful safe, and engaging exercises for your students can be wonderful to calm their bodies down and get their brains ready to work.
I once worked with an occupational therapist who swore by weight exercises before learning to improve brain function, and animal walks were always a big recommendation by her that I found the kiddos engaged with best, as it was like a game.
My favorites are frog leaps, bear walks, and donkey kicks. There are some wonderful instructional videos on YouTube you can do.
Dance patterns can also be wonderful and fun.
If my students are into it, I’ll teach them a few salsa moves. Then we’ll put on a song, and I’ll call out different moves for them to do to the beat.
Think of ways you like to exercise that can be fun for the kids and share with them. If they sense this movement is a part of your life, it will be more meaningful to both of you.
I know I listed a lot of strategies for kids with ADHD, and you might be feeling overwhelmed. That is okay. You can just pick one or two and integrate them into your day.
I always say it’s better to achieve one small meaningful goal than trying to do everything and getting nothing done.
The most important thing to remember is to be kind to yourself and your students. Particularly with your students who have ADHD.
Remember these are the kids who hear mostly criticism, and if you want to help them and have a meaningful impact be the adult in their life who offers compassion, praise, and assistance.
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