Last Modified: November 25, 2023 | Published: April 25, 2023
Are you worried about your child’s ability to focus but nervous about using ADHD medication? While it may not always be possible to avoid medication if your child has ADHD, these strategies can help.
16 Ways to Help Your Child Focus Without ADHD Medication
Here are the 16 ways the experts at Cadey recommend you help your child focus without ADHD medication.
1. Create a daily schedule and establish step-by-step routines.
For your child, create a daily plan that your child can see. In your child’s schedule, include things such as regular times for meals, homework, play, and bedtime. Consistency can help your child develop good habits and reduce distractions. Breaking tasks down helps tasks seem less overwhelming and can help your child focus on one task at a time. For example, with your child’s bedtime routine, create a poster that lists each step in the routine. List things like showering, brushing teeth, and putting on pajamas. Check out our video on creating schedules to learn more. If you want other strategies around bedtime routines, check out Cadey’s ADHD Toolkit.
2. Teach organizational skills.
Teach organizational skills. Teach your child how to use a planner or calendar to keep track of assignments and deadlines. When your teen has access to a personal cell phone, link your Google calendars and teach your child how to use reminders to keep track of deadlines. If you would like to learn more about how to help your child with organization, check out Cadey’s entire library on organization.
3. Offer positive reinforcement.
Praise your child when you notice positive behaviors. For example, if you notice your child sitting in their study space working on their homework, say, “Great job, I love how you are focusing and completing your schoolwork.” If you would like to learn how to do this, check out our short one-minute video on praise.
4. Teach in the moment.
Asking your child to pay attention today is not helpful. ADHD is a performance disorder and not a knowledge disorder. This means the problem happens in the moment, being distracted by a sibling or getting lost in thought. Instead of reminding them to focus in advance, you must help your child in the moment. In the moment, help your child focus by using a cue word, a timer, or a visual aid. Say to your child, “Nice job picking up your toys. You have 2 minutes to finish and then we can do something fun.” Praising what you notice your child doing well can help your child stay motivated. By teaching and prompting your child in the moment, you can help your child stick with a task.
5. Use timers.
With your child, use a timer. First, have a designated time for completing different tasks. Next, tell your child how much time they have to complete the task. Finally, set the timer and place it near your child. Provide 2 reminders at 5 minutes and then at 2 minutes. When your child is off task, gently get their attention and then point to the timer. A visual timer like the Time Timer works well because it shows time passing. This is great for a child in the 4-8 age range who is still developing a sense of time.
6. Use visual aids.
For your child, visual aids can help your child remember what is expected of them. You can say to your child, “It looks like you have completed task number two; now it is time for you to complete number three.” We share how to use this strategy in our Recent Advances in ADHD course.
7. Remove distractions.
With your child, create a quiet and clutter-free environment that can be used for studying and homework. Use the same space everyday as you can. Have your child give you their electronic devices during homework time. Children with ADHD struggle with putting off immediate gratification for a longer-term reward. When you remove distractions, it helps minimize the temptation to engage in a more rewarding activity.
8. Provide immediate rewards.
Allow your child to earn a desirable activity by completing less desirable activities such as cleaning their room and finishing homework. If your child works in their designated homework space for 30 minutes, allow them to take a 10-minute snack or lego break. Set a timer so your child knows how much time they have for their reward. When the timer goes off, direct your child back to their homework.
9. Try white noise.
For your child, have a white noise machine your child can turn on when completing tasks that require sustained attention. The white noise machine can drown out other noises allowing the environment to be less distracting. Noise-canceling headphones may also work well for your child, depending on the setting.
10. Schedule movement breaks.
Allow your child to take five-minute movement breaks. You can try gonoodle.com and find an activity that your child enjoys or you can move along to music. It may be important for you as the parent to pause homework time and put on a movement activity for your child to follow. Once your child has taken their movement break, turn off the device and set a timer for the next task.
11. Make screen time a reward.
If your child is always on their devices, it can be hard to get them to focus on other activities and responsibilities. Instead, try this, have screen time be a reward they earn for completing tasks. First, create a chart of what tasks your child needs to complete and next to the task, the amount of screen time your child can earn. Lastly, set a designated time your child can use their earned screen time. It may help to allow for a larger chunk of earned screen time to be used on weekends.
12. Don’t take away rewards your child has earned.
If your child has earned a reward and then they start to misbehave, do not take away a previously earned reward. As clinicians, we have found the number one reason rewards fail is the taking away of an already-earned reward. If you take away a reward that has already been awarded, your child will lose faith in the system. They will no longer be motivated to earn rewards if they think those could be taken away.
It is also important not to reward your child if they don’t earn it. For example, if your child did not earn screen time, giving it to them weakens your reinforcement system. When you are exhausted, can you have another go-to for your child? Maybe you allow a learning app like Starfall instead of free screen time. If you allow your child to play on their devices without earning it, they will lose motivation for the system.
13. Encourage physical activity.
Have your child exercise or participate in physical activities that they enjoy. Children with ADHD often have excess energy, and daily movement and exercise have been shown to improve focus and cognitive function. Can you walk or bike to school? Have a dance party in the playroom? Can your child bounce on a small trampoline? These are all quick ways to get physical activity.
14. Teach mindfulness techniques.
Work with your child and help them learn how to refocus their attention. There are many mindfulness activities that can help your child learn how to be the boss of their attention and body. This can feel difficult to both parents and children alike, but with daily practice, you and your child will improve. Check out Cadey’s video on teaching your child how to take deep breaths created by Dr. Willard. Taking deep breaths sounds simple in theory but can be hard for children and adults to master. This video will make it easy.
15. Promote healthy sleep habits.
For your child, have a consistent and regular sleep time free of electronics. If you would like to learn more about how to create a healthy bedtime routine for your child, check out Cadey’s ADHD Toolkit.
16. Provide healthy foods.
For your child, offer them fruit, vegetables, and protein. Supplements such as fish oil can be a healthy addition to your child’s diet though it is not a known cure for ADHD. Minimize the amount of sugar your child eats each day. If you would like to learn more about diet and ADHD, check out Cadey’s ADHD Toolkit, where you will receive helpful tips about ADHD and your child’s diet.
Note: Medication might help. When it comes to ADHD, there are many treatment options that can help your child, including stimulant medication. If you notice your child is struggling and strategies are not working, seek the opinion of a child psychiatrist or your child’s pediatrician. Remember, you are in the driver’s seat when it comes to your child’s health. You can gather information and then make a decision that feels best for your child and family. For some children, medication is life-changing. If you would like to learn more about ADHD and prescription medication check out this article on ADHD medication.
Try Cadey’s Mobile App to Help Your Child Focus
Try the CadeyLite mobile app to discover specific ways you can help your child. Created by a team of child psychologists, the Cadey mobile app is for parents like you who want to help their children. From hyperactivity and impulsivity to sensory seeking and other concerns, ask a question and get an answer. Available in the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store.
Cadey is a new kind of child psychology: immediate, inexpensive, impactful.