Helping Kids with ADHD Stay on Task

When I was student teaching, we had a second grader with textbook ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder). At first, it seemed as if he didn’t want to do anything he was supposed to do. When the students were supposed to be turning in their homework, he was finding random objects in his desk. When they were supposed to be putting their lunch boxes in the bin, he was trying to get his friends to laugh about a spinning trick he’d learned to do with his eraser. At first, it was exasperating, and could be quite annoying because he’d not only lag behind, but distract others in the process. As I spent more time with him though, I realized he was extremely intelligent, and really wanted to do well in class. He simply couldn’t focus. He hadn’t been diagnosed with ADHD officially, so there was no official paperwork to tell us how we needed to work with him. The more we watched him, however, the more we realized he needed help. That’s when my Master Teacher did something that changed the way he got ready in the morning and in the afternoon. She gave him a personal checklist for each part of the day.

Morning Routine

This list is much like the one she gave to our student. There are three important tips I want to mention when successfully creating this kind of checklist:

1)  The directions are simple. The fewer words there are, (especially for a child who doesn’t read much yet) the more affective it’ll be. Just think about it from the child’s perspective. If there are lots of words, it’s likely that the child will get distracted before he finishes.

2) The pictures should be as straightforward as possible. This particular list was created as a simple Word document. (Word has a ton of great Clip Art available for this.) You don’t want pictures that the child has to decipher.

3) It’s great if this list is laminated. That way, the child can use a dry erase marker to check off or cross out each action as he does it. It’ll keep him from having to read the whole thing over again each time he looks at the list. At the end of the day, the list can be wiped clean and used again.

Take a look at some more examples:

Wake Up Routine

After School Routine

Bedtime Routine

I’m not saying your child’s life should be run completely by checklists. My point in sharing all of these is that you can utilize this tool in a vast variety of ways that fit your child’s needs. Although my student wasn’t officially diagnosed with ADHD, his mother used lists like this to benefit him at home as well. She said she kept a list on his bathroom mirror so he could see it when he got ready in the morning.

Now, these lists aren’t a “cure all” for inattentive children. Rather, they make it easier for the child to stay on track when he’s redirected. For example, if I walked up to my student and found him distracted, all I had to do was call his attention and point to the next step on his list. Usually, it would only take him a few seconds to realize what he was supposed to be doing, much less time than if I had lectured him over and over again about following directions.

Adult Morning Routine

These lists can benefit adults as well. I don’t have ADHD, but since I love to multitask, I find that I get off-task a lot simply because I’m doing so much. Lists help me remember what I really need to do and help me prioratize. I have a favorite app on my iPad that allows me to set due dates for my errands and chores, and allows me to check them off so I can see what I’ve done. Whether you have ADHD or not as an adult, lists can really help with making sure you stay focused on what’s most important at the time. Honestly, you could even use pictures if you think it would help you focus more. Living with ADHD or simply having the tendency to do way too much at a time (That would be moi.) doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice lots of time and energy trying to stay on track. It simply means you need to find the tools that help you the most.

Posted under: ADHD, Education

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  • Mati Martin on October 27, 2015 at 4:01 pm said:

    Thanks for the templates. My son is 10, a fifth grader.
    Homework alone takes a long time. Should I break it down for subjects, every 15 or 30 minutes, or how? Doing homework in one seating would be an improvement.

    How about when there are activities? Sports, games, practice… All at different times.

    Because he goes w a focus pill to school which suppresses his appetite, I know. He’ll come back wishing to FULLY eat, call it an eRly dinner, first dinner, light dinner or 2nd lunch, heavier late lunch, etc. rather than a snack.

    I have more but have to go

    • on October 29, 2015 at 10:07 pm said:

      Do you have Microsoft Word? I could create a blank document and email it to you so you can personalize it. If you need, make one for each day. Just hving the visual reminder can be much more helpful than having him try to memorize it.

      As for the time increments, unfortunately, there’s no magic number. I would test out smaller increments and if he can handle those, extend them. Each child is different. If you’re looking for more ideas, though, I highly suggest ADHD and Me. It’s a quick read from the perspective of the boy with ADHD and tricks he’s used to help him manage.

      Please feel free to email me if you want at I may not have all the answers, but I’d love to be a soundboard or listening ear.

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