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Tips for Teaching ADD/ADHD
Most ADD/ADHD children are highly distractible-a
frustrating quality to try to teach to. Here are some
ways to keep ADD/ADHD children involved, attentive, and
1. Don't automatically assume ADD/ADHD! Children
can behave inattentively, hyperactively, or impulsively
for many, many reasons. Go to our series of checklists
and think about whether the child is actually having other
problems. Be sure to check out the Tactile Checklist!
Tactile Problems frequently look very similar to ADHD.
2. Talk to the parents. Has the child actually been
diagnosed? What does his/her doctor recommend? Is he/she
receiving some sort of treatment? What works best at home
for keeping the child on task?
3. Don't threaten. Parents of ADD/ADHD children
often say "Well, he does what he's told when
I threaten him." And, yes, he does, but at a high
price. ADD/ADHD children have trouble focusing and paying
attention because their brains are working too slowly.
Threatening the child speeds up the brain by releasing
neurochemicals like adrenaline and norepinephrine-- neurochemicals
that signal danger. This has the very negative side effect
of making the child hate schoolwork. The connection in
the child's mind is: when I do schoolwork, I'm
always panicky . . . schoolwork must be the problem. There
are better ways to teach a child than fear.
4. Silly Putty. ADD/ADHD children listen and think best
when doing 2 things at once. Sitting quietly and looking
at the teacher is painful for an ADD/ADHD child and almost
ensures that they are not listening. Let them quietly
play with something like silly putty or an art-gum eraser
5. Give them a Checklist. ADD/ADHD children usually
do well when they have a checklist of items to accomplish.
It helps remind them what they are supposed to be doing.
6. Clearly define your expectations. ADD/ADHD children
function best when they have concrete behavior expectations
set for them.
7. Clearly define rules and reprimands. ADD/ADHD children
need to know what is expected of them and what will happen
if their behavior is unacceptable. Always explain to the
child what rule he/she broke, why it is a rule, and why
it is important they follow that rule before reprimanding
8. Provide advance warnings. Telling ADD/ADHD children
that they have 20 minutes to finish, then 15, then 10,
then 5 helps them stay focused on what needs to be done.
9. Tell them "good job." ADD/ADHD children
really want to do well, like everyone else-they
just have a harder time. Make sure to make "good
job"-type comments when you see them behaving appropriately.
10. Be consistent. ADD/ADHD children do well with a
sense of external structure. Changes in schedules or routines
are just too over-stimulating.
11. Ask them where they would like to sit. Some ADD/ADHD
children do very well in the front of the class, where
they can concentrate. Others, however, do horribly in
the front of the class, because their tactile sensitivities
are heightened (see the Tactile Checklist).
12. Let them know what comes next. Kids with ADD/ADHD
like to know where they're going, when it will happen,
and what comes next.
13. Use highlighters. Lots of ADD/ADHD kids are very
right-brained learners. Highlighters help them focus their
attention on the important stuff.
14. Send them on errands. Sending them on errands is
great because 1) it makes them feel important and special,
2) it lets them move around, which they need, and 3) it
gives them a quick break before they have to focus again.
Focusing when you have a focusing-disorder is exhausting.
15. Encourage sports and other activities. Most ADD/ADHD
students thrive in a busy environment.
16. Make lessons novel. ADD/ADHD kids get bored fast.
Try new things to keep them interested . . . just nothing
so new as to over-stimulate them.
17. Try to keep them personally involved. ADD/ADHD students
(and most students in general) like to have some sense
of personal involvement in their work. Said more simply,
they like it to relate to their lives. This can mean trying
to make the subject matter apply to them, or trying to
get them personally involved in the teaching. The next
few tips are examples of how to keep ADD/ADHD kids personally
18. Involved: Use the child's name often. Hearing
your name tends to snap you back into attention, even
if you were off in La-La Land. Try using children's
names when asking a question or talking in class.
19. Involved: Questions. Ask frequent questions of ADD/ADHD
students, even if they're simple yes or no ones.
It helps keep them mentally "present" during
20. Involved: Running jokes. A good way to keep ADD/ADHD
kids involved in the classroom is to make them feel your
personal interest. If they tell you once that they were
chased through a farmyard by chickens (and they were not
traumatized by it!), try inserting small comments about
chicken chases into lessons and lectures. Just one more
way to keep them personally involved.
21. Involved: Incorporate their interests into lessons.
If you know an ADD/ADHD student loves her Girl Scout club,
try using Girl Scouts as examples here and there to make
the child feel more connected.
22. Involved: Use rewards! Even simple rewards like
smiley-face stickers help keep ADD/ADHD students involved
and attentive in class.
23. Let them have quiet time. When feeling tired, stressed,
or pressured, ADD/ADHD children often do not behave well.
If you notice them getting too stressed out, try giving
them some quiet time off.
24. Use easy-to-understand behavior language. When explaining
why an ADD/ADHD child's behavior was inappropriate,
try this formula: "When you . . . they feel/he feels/she
feels . . . I want . . ." For example: "When
you throw the ball hard at the other kids, they feel hurt.
I want you to throw the ball softly in the future."
Or: "When you shout out the answers without raising
your hand, I feel irritated. I want you to remember to
raise your hand."
25. Always use the positive tense when discussing behavior.
Say "do this", not "don't do that."
For example, if the child keeps throwing erasers at his
neighbor, try saying "I want you to keep all your
erasers on your desk" instead of "don't
throw erasers at her." A child can imagine all the
erasers still on the desk, but has a harder time imagining
himself not throwing things.
Do you have a tip for teaching children with ADD/ADHD?
Please let us know! Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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