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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 learning.

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 while listening.

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 them.

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 involved:

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 long lectures.

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

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