How to Help with Homework: Be a Body Double

Help with homework

At this time of year, our kids are getting tired of the routine of school and the expectations of “getting things done” all the time. My son likes to say, “I’m DONE, Mom!” — but there are still months left to finish the school year. “Body Double” is a personal favorite, a strategy to help your kids keep up their effort — maybe because it works for me, too! Here’s a great trick for everyone to get stuff done, now that Spring fever is starting to capture our attention.-Elaine

Tonight, I helped my daughter with her homework. She was studying for a history test. I didn’t quiz her. I didn’t use flashcards. I didn’t even talk to her much.

I just sat there, next to her. I was her Body Double.

Here’s what she said, afterwards. “Thanks, Mom. That was really helpful.” Seriously? I really didn’t do anything!

The “Body Double” is a great strategy for people with ADD/ADHD , and a reminder to parents that sometimes we don’t need to say or do anything in order to be helpful! Often, all our kids need to get the job done is another body present. That person can be working alongside on a shared task, or doing something completely separate – it just depends on the circumstances.

In this case, I was going through emails, texting my older daughter, and wrapping up loose ends from my day. When called upon, I would respond to a question or request for interpretation (“What exactly does that mean, Mom?”). Occasionally, I would point out when she got off task, or help her stay awake when the yawning started. It wasn’t exactly much of a challenge for me 🙂

My very presence was a calming influence for her. She got the work done in record time, and wasn’t nearly as stressed as she might have been.

When I first learned about the concept of the Body Double, I was skeptical. Just being in the same space, with an intended task, was really enough to get something done? It was time for the ADHD twins (that would be my husband and me) to put it to the test. Boxes and boxes of ‘stuff’ had been dumped into a work-bench area in the basement of our home. We had avoided the heinous task of cleaning it up for 10 years – yes, I said 10 years – certain that it would take extensive, concerted effort to dig ourselves out from under that pile of ‘stuff.’

Armed with the strategy of a Body Double, we made a commitment to each other, donned work-gloves, and planned for an entire day. After some dilly-dallying, we got ourselves downstairs and to the workbench. It took 1 hour – I kid you not, 1 hour – to complete the vast majority of clean up. All it took was the two of us, side-by-side, sharing a task.

Why does the Body Double work? Well, there are many reasons that the neurobiologists could explain, but here are a few that resonate for me.

  • First, if we are motivated by social interaction, then a Body Double fulfills the need we have for connection to others.
  • Next, there is something particularly useful (particularly in ADD/ADHD land) about setting a clear intention for a task. Just knowing what we are supposed to be focusing on can be quite helpful. (Bonus Tip: BTW, that’s why, “Are you doing your homework?” may not be as helpful as “How many math problems do you have left?” In ADD world, specificity is Queen.)

Teaching kids to use a Body Double offers a life-long strategy for all aspects of their lives. For example, I’ve often encouraged my kids to invite friends over when they are cleaning their rooms. Rather than holding that social time hostage, I use it to productive advantage. Sometimes their friends help while others act as DJ or local entertainment. Either way, they are helping to take an unpleasant task and turn it into something better.

Within the family, I encourage my kids to Body Double with each other – help each other with their chores such as folding laundry or putting away toys. It even works with homework – sometimes.

One more thing I want to say about this. In the past, I was resentful that my kids wanted me to be present to get their ‘stuff’ done. After all, I have my own responsibilities and they don’t really need me. Except, it turns out that they do. They need me to understand that it’s really difficult for them to:

  • Get Started
  • Get Motivated
  • Stay on Task, and
  • Complete a Task

If my presence makes a difference – whether it’s calming anxiety or a friendly attention-monitor – it’s worth it to help my kids feel successful. Over time, they’ll look to other bodies to serve as their double, and I’ll probably find myself wishing it were me. So I’m going to relish the time I have with them – especially when it helps me get my own ‘stuff’ done, too!

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