Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a common neurodevelopmental disorder that affects many school-age children. Children with ADHD often find it challenging to sustain attention on tasks, leading to academic and social difficulties. Developing strategies to help these children pay attention is crucial to their social, interpersonal, and scholastic success. Here are five strategies that parents and teachers can use to do so:
First, implement a structured routine. ADHD can lead to struggles with motivation and problems with becoming easily bored, which can result in the children becoming more easily irritable and frustrated (Holthe & Langvik, 2017). Rather than open-ended tasks that can lead to increased distractability, it is recommended for children with ADHD to follow a structured routine. Specifically, create interesting and externally-organized, structured tasks can improve the children’s academic performance and behavioral outcomes. Structured routines can include regular mealtimes, set times for homework and play, and consistent sleep schedules. At the same time, adding short-term pressure/motivator such as small rewards can enhance motivation and productivity.
Second, apply behavoural reinforcements. There is a false belief that children with ADHD are less receptive than other children to social praise and attention. For these children, it is not that they are unresponsive, but that they experience behavioural reinforcements differently, which requires some unique modifications to their interventions. Positive behaviours can still be promoted using positive reinforcement and praise, but it needs to be more structured and salient (Stoutjeskijk et al., 2013). In particular, positive behavioural reinforcements combined with emotional support and high-powered rewards system have been shown to be effective in ameliorating behavioural problems and increasing attentive behaviours. Parents and teachers are encouraged to discuss appropriate praise and rewards for the completion of tasks and to strategize together to prevent the system from losing their reinforcing power.
Third, consider incorporating mindfulness principles and physical activities. Mindfulness meditation involves focusing attention on the present moment and observing thoughts and feelings without judgment. Because ADHD is a neurocognitive disorder characterized by executive-functioning deficits, it makes sense that mindfulness training and additional physical activity, both supported by research to improve cognitive functioning, may help. Preliminary studies have suggested mindfulness to be a potential intervention to reduce child self-control deficits (Siebelink et al., 2021). Although research results are yet to be conclusive, mindfulness-developing strategies such as emotional control, somatic awareness, sustained attention, and nonjudgmental awareness all seem promising in enhancing attentional focus of children with ADHD.
Fourth, provide accommodations and a supportive environment. Children with ADHD can present with poor time management, which negatively affects planning and, subsequently, leading to self-blame, stress, and disrupted work-life balance. They tend to do better when they receive academic accommodations such as extra time on assignments, help breaking down tasks, visual aids, and regular breaks to help adjust to academic and environmental demands. Antecedent-based accommodations and interventions such as clearly-established rules can be especially helpful in preventing the inattentive and disruptive behaviours from occurring in the first place (Dupaul et al., 2011).
Finally, incorporate physical activity into their daily routine. Halperin et al. (2014) have suggested that exercise interventions may improve neuropsychological functions in children with ADHD. A preliminary study by Benzing et al. (2018) that examined the effects of acute physical activity on core executive functions of inhibition, task-switching, and working memory showed promising beneficial effects on the reaction times of inhibition and switching. Regardless of whether or not it does help with core inattentive symptoms through improving the executive functioning of children with ADHD, participation in physical activity has robust research showing its benefits in terms of enhancing cognitive functioning (Benzing et al., 2018). Knowing the positive benefits of physical activities, parents and teachers are recommended to encourage children with ADHD to participate in sports, exercise, and other physical activities regularly even outside of gym classes.
ADHD can significantly impact a child’s ability to focus and pay attention. However, implementing strategies such as structured routines, providing a supportive environment, mindfulness meditation, physical activity, and academic support can help children with the condition to focus and improve their academic and behavioral outcomes. To enhance the effectiveness of the intervention efforts, it is ideal for the teachers and parents to coordinate efforts to support the children together so that the progress can be consistent across different environments and settings.
For more specific intervention strategies tailored to support your child’s individual needs, please feel free to reach out!
Benzing, V., Chang, Y-K., & Schmidt, M. (2018). Acute physical activity enhances executive functions in children with ADHD. Scientific Reports, 8(1), 12382. https://doi.10.1038/s41598-018-30067-8
DuPaul, G.J., Weyandt, L.L., & Janusis, G.M. (2011). ADHD in the classroom: Effective intervention strategies. Theory Into Practice, 50, 35-52. https://doi.10.1080/00405841.2011.534935
Holthe, M.E.G. & Langvik & E. (2017). The strives, struggles, and successes of women diagnosed with ADHD as adults. Sage Open, 1-12. https://doi.10.1177/2158244017701799
Siebelink, N.M., Bogels, S.M., Speckens, A.E.M., Dammers, J.T., Wolfers, T., Buietlaar, J.K., & Greven, C.U. (2021). A randomised controlled trial (MindChamp) of a mindfulness-based intervention for children with ADHD and their parents. The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 63(6), 165-177. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcpp.13430
Stoutjesdijk, R., Scholte, E.M., & Swaab, H. (2013). Behavioural and academic progress of children displaying substantive ADHD behaviours in special education: A 1-year follow-up. Journal of Attention Disorders, 20(1), 21-33. https://doi.org/10.1177/1087054712474687