Use the Pomodoro Technique to Help Your Child with ADHD
ADHD Awareness & Support
You’ve likely been there yourself. A big household project or work deadline is looing and you’re strugging to find the motivation to see it through. Waning focus with long tasks is something most of us have to deal with from time to time, but for a child with ADHD the struggle can feel downright impossible.
Enter the Pomodoro Technique, an approach to time management that helps gradeschoolers and CEOs alike. Incorporate this strategy into your child’s homework and study sessions to elicit better cooperation and learning. Here’s how to use the Pomodoro Technique to help your child with ADHD – or any child – focus on academic tasks and give their best effort.
What is the Pomodoro Technique?
Founded by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s, the Pomodoro Technique is named after the tomato-shaped timer Cirillo used in its design. (“Pomodoro” means tomato in Italian.) Cirillo was a stressed college student looking for a better way to manage his schedule, understand how he was using his time and stay on track while studying. Since that incarnation, his unique timed interval technique has been adopted around the world to boost productivity.
By following timed intervals with planned breaks, you can get better “buy-in” from your child and help them grow to understand how long certain tasks take for them. Cirillo offers a free web-based pomodoro timer to use at home.
Over time, you’ll both become better at gauging time needed for projects, and your child will gain experience planning study sessions and tackling homework.
How Does the Pomodoro Technique Work?
According to Cirillo himself, there are 6 main steps in the Pomodoro process. It’s quite simple!
1. Choose the task to focus on, whether it’s leftover math problems or research for an upcoming essay.
2. Set the timer for 25 minutes. Commit to spending this time on just your chosen task, without interruption.
3. Work on the taks until the timer goes off. Cirillo recommends: “If you suddenly realize you have something else you need to do, write the task down on a sheet of paper.”
4. When the timer sounds, make a checkmark on a piece of paper or in an academic agenda. Congratulate yourself on staying focused!
5. Take a short break of 5-10 minutes. Enjoy a quick stretch or put on a song and dance! Remove yourself from your desk and fire up some completely different mental and physical muscles.
6. Take a longer break of 15-20 minutes after four intervals, or “pomodoros,” as Cirillo calls them. Take a shower, have a meal or go for a walk. You’ll need this time to assimilate what you’ve learned and feel refreshed to come back to work afterward, if needed.
How Does Time Blocking Help Kids with ADHD?
The Pomodoro Technique might sound familiar, even if you’ve never encountered Cirillo’s branded process before. This technique is a form of time blocking, where a calendar is visually broken down into task-based intervals. You may even use time blocking in your own work day or team calendar.
Time blocking can improve study and homework outcomes and reduce stress in a number of ways:
📙 It helps us understand how much time we will truly need to complete a task and not over-commit or overestimate the capacity we have to complete assignments.
📗 It helps us stay focused and reduce time lost on task-switching and distractions.
📙 It reduces friction at the outset of a study session; with a clear plan of what to do, and for how long, we can get right down to to work.
📗 It helps us learn what our natural work speed is and get better at estimating how much time we’ll need to compltete a task or project.
How to Use the Pomodoro Technique for Kids with ADHD
The Pomodoro Technique is a strategy your child can retain throughout their lives for school and work. With a few tweaks this process can be customized to their current needs and grade level; here are a few suggestions to get you started.
Make It Visual
Create a visual representation of that day’s study session on a wall calendar, or in an academic planner or digital calendar for older kids. Using different colours for different tasks/projects will help your child understand what work lies ahead and when breaks are coming.
A gradeschooler might have a purple block for today’s assigned novel reading and a green block for continued work on a science project, with blue blocks between for breaks, for example. Filling in other activities on the family calendar, like dinner afterward or “free time” after two blocks can give greater perspective.
It likely goes without saying but leaving your child to manage distractions themselves is risky business. Help your child shut down all applications and close all other browser windows if working online. Even better, spend a few minutes yourself implementing a parental control app you can easily turn on at the outset of each study session. Remove devices and assign siblings to their own academic tasks to reduce interruptions, in separate spaces if needed and with an adult in earshot to intervene if things go off track. Having everyone read, work on projects or engage in some “quiet” time at the same time each day is a great way to help a child who has homework feel less like they’re missing out.
Head into your first few Pomodoro attempts with an open mind. It will take time for you and your child to ascertain how much work can reliably be completed in one interval. Over time you’ll both get a grasp of approximately how long studying for the weekly spelling test takes, as compared to doing online research for a geography report.
Expect to over- and underestimate some tasks. Be ready to call a Pomodoro session quits if your child finishes earlier than expected and use remaining time to review answers or award an early break and bump the schedule forward. If a task is taking longer than expected, don’t despair; take breaks as planned and help your child use their new planning skills to add additional time in the needed area later that week in their calendar.
Adapt the Intervals
While 25 minutes might be a sweet spot for a student in grade 11 facing a final exam, it could be completely unrealistic for a younger child cleaning up a few leftover math questions or fulfilling a nightly reading requirement. Younger students may need shorter “pomodoros” (work intervals) and/or perhaps longer breaks. As you experiment, you might adapt the intervals to the scope of your child’s assignment, to their ability to stay on task, or both.
Regardless of your child’s age and ability to sustain focus, consistency is important so they don’t come to expect it’s possible to complain or argue their way out of homework obligations. That said, some days might present less time for homework and you might choose to focus on just one task or shorten the intervals in order to complete a portion each of several assignments, in the case of an older child. Be flexible while keeping consistent whenever possible.
Have you heard of the Pomodoro Technique? Do you use it or similar time blocking or timed intervals to help your child stay on track with school assignments? Share below!