I love my kids and their unique personalities and gifts. On most days, I love what ADHD adds to their personalities. My kids are funny, innovative, out-of-the-box kids who do everything in a BIG way—messes, noises, emotions, drama, imagination. It’s all big. While I told you last week about how I handle our top distraction (BIG emotions), I’m writing this week about our second biggest distraction: creativity. Yes, believe it or not, I have more than one highly creative distracted child, and one extremely creative right-brained child. While I do love this about my children and have a lot of fun with their creativity and out-of-the-box ideas, sometimes it makes completing the work of homeschool a monumental task. If you, too, are blessed with a creative distracted child, here are a few ideas to get through the day.
5 ideas for motivating your Creative Distracted Child
- Let them create first. Trying to set my creative child down to any kind of structured school while those creative juices are flowing is pretty nearly impossible. I’m setting us all up to fail. But I’ve noticed that if I give them the freedom to create first, to express some of that creativity, the release allows them to be able to settle in for the harder tasks. Sometimes all it takes is half an hour. For quite awhile, I gave them the whole morning and allowed them to start their discipline subjects after lunch when they were (a little) more mellow. Giving your child a time to expend that energy and creativity may help him to settle into the hard work later.
- Give both rewards and consequences. Of my three kids, my daughter is my most creative, right-brained (i.e. distracted) child. At times, to reward her and motivate her to finish her work, I’ve allowed her to have 5 min. to decorate her page with colored gel pens and stickers if she finishes the lesson in a set amount of time. For my son, allowing him to write a funny comic strip in the margins after he’s worked the exercise is lots of motivation. On the other hand, natural consequences are equally as motivating. “I’m so sorry you played today instead of getting your math page done. I always love to see what you create during your doodling time. How can we make sure this doesn’t happen again?” I’m their ally; I want to help them succeed, but I can’t make their choices for them.
- Set a timer. In our homeschool, I have always used timers. Early on, I noticed all my children go into an absolute panic if they were timed for something, so I used timers regularly to help them overcome their fears. But secondly, I’ve used timers as a tool to help them become aware of how much time has passed. Children in general, and ADHD children especially, have no concept of time. Time and time management are very abstract concepts; timers have helped my kids understand these abstract ideas. When we first began, I only used the timer in 5 or 10 minute increments, assigning maybe one side of a page; it was a short enough amount of time for them to stay focused and get a sense for how long that amount of time lasted. If they didn’t complete their page in the given time, I’d simply reassure them: “That’s okay. Now, you know how long 5 minutes is. Let’s try again, and this time I want you to try to get this much done.” Over the years using this method, we’ve worked up to about 20 minutes.
- Use creativity as a reward. Honestly, I should use this one more. But it is rather effective when I have used it. I’ve seen moms use video game time or minecraft as a similar motivator. Essentially, if my child finishes in a decent amount of time, that child has earned the reward of a larger art project. “If you finish all of your assignments by lunch, you’ll have time to paint or sculpt with clay.” Those big art projects take a lot of time, and we just don’t always get to them, which makes them a real treat. The work itself is not necessarily motivating for a creative child, but finishing school in order to tackle a big art endeavor is very motivating, at least for my artsy crew.
- Leave as many subjects open-ended as you can. This is my go-to. I love leaving assignments open-ended and seeing how they creatively approach the topic. The idea is to let your creative child decide how he wants to learn the material and complete the project. Does he want to write a story about a boy living in ancient Greece or a comic strip of the Trojan War? Would he rather sculpt a Grecian vase or clay models of the different types of columns? Would he prefer to make a display board or a diorama? If my kids are excited about the project, they are more motivated to tackle the harder aspects of learning (like reading and writing, for instance). We recently tackled display boards, and they were a huge hit! One of my all-time favorite homeschool moments last year was watching my daughter learn about Kandinsky’s art. I gave her a set of stickers and told her to copy the works as best she could, in whatever medium she wanted. She chose the stickers she liked best and had a blast with construction paper, tissue paper, crayon resist, watercolor, etc. And the results were brilliant! She did an amazing job, and I had very little to do with it.
I love having active, creative ADHD kiddos. And I really don’t want to be frustrated with such an amazing part of their personalities. This isn’t a distraction that goes away or that they will grow out of. This is a part of who they are, and it’s here to stay! I want to encourage the creativity while teaching them to manage and set boundaries for it. If you are at odds with your highly creative distracted child, start using that creativity to your advantage. It’s one of those rare distractions that can also be their greatest motivation.