Does Your Child with ADHD Need Help with Homework?

Are you looking for ways to help your child or teen handle the daily struggle with homework? The struggle (theirs and yours) is real. It may look like a lack of motivation, or defiance, forgetfulness or even a learning disability but in reality, it is probably their Executive Function skills.

The Homework Help for ADHD covers seven Executive Function skills that have the biggest impact on homework and includes information on what to look for and plenty of strategies to help compensate.

Laine Dougherty - Notebook - Homework Help for ADHD - blue #1

Due to the current circumstances and requirements for social distancing, our classes and individual services will be conducted via Zoom or Google Hangouts.

The “Next” Normal of Learning

As if the daily struggle with homework was not enough stress, now you are being asked to help your child learn online and complete work via a screen. How are you and your children adjusting to this “online learning?”

There are only a few weeks left, but do you feel that your child has really “learned” how to learn for themselves remotely? It is not necessarily about the content but have they learned to be a self-directed learner or are you guiding them throughout each day?

All brains may struggle with this new way of doing things. However, an ADHD brain may struggle with the new way of learning, and the different “schedule”, the distractions at home, the challenge of not being able to ask the teacher whatever pops into their heads and the sitting in one place for longer periods of time. All this can make 30 minutes of work take 3 hours instead. Parents can become frustrated at the amount of time and coercing this work can take. Please remember your relationship with your child is the number one priority. Don’t let the pressure of getting the work done interfere with your relationship. This is new for them too.

Next Normal: Learning

  1. Start with making a “work” zone. A place where your child can set up the iPad or laptop and has space to work if needed. Clutter increases distraction and can interrupt their focus. Make it a calm, clear space for work that has the tools they will need within reach. Put a clock or timer nearby so they can see how much time they have to finish. (If you give them all day, it will take all day. Set a limit.) Setting kids up on their beds is NOT recommended, it gives the body the wrong idea but give them the option to stand up while they work may help some kids focus easier. See what works for your child. If they choose to sit, be sure their feet touch the floor or put a box under them so they’re legs are not dangling.
  2. Remember this is a new way of learning for your kids. They are essentially being asked to teach themselves without the same type of interaction they would have in school. It is pass/fail for this term so let them do their best and leave it at that. It does not help the teacher to know where your child might need more help, if you are making them correct all their errors before turning things in. Find ways to make it fun, and pay attention to what kinds of things seem to be difficult for your child. Work together to find other ways they can learn. The summer will be a great time to reinforce their weaker skills but for now, help them get through this new experience.
  3. Break up the “work” time into small blocks. If the kids were in school, they would be going to specialists, having snack break or recess. Encourage them to move more and get outside during these breaks. Set a timer so they know when it is time to get back to work. We don’t want them having to work all day. Create a schedule everyone can agree on.
  4. Kids need time to adjust to transitions, especially if it is from play to work. Set timers for all breaks or give a warning when they have 5 minutes left, 2 minutes or 1-minute left. Then let them know how long they have to work. For younger kids, a time timer works to show the passage of time. It gives kids the knowledge that this “torture” won’t continue for too much longer.

Lastly, take time to connect with your kids throughout the day. Yes, it is difficult to balance the responsibilities of work with family life, but we are all experiencing this together. No one is expecting you to focus 100% on your job throughout the day. Take time for yourself and your family because when this is over – things will not go back to “normal.”  However, this “next normal” can be better for you and your family if you put the time in now.

With ADHD – Love is Not Enough

Although February is often thought of as the month of love and relationships, when it comes to ADHD and relationships, every month is important. All strong relationships are based on trust and love but also include, patience, understanding and open communication. The same things that are necessary in any relationship where there is ADHD.

Whether you are an adult with ADHD, live with an adult with ADHD, or are the parent of a child with ADHD, you need patience, understanding and open communication for everyone to thrive. Let’s take a deeper look at how these three things can make a BIG difference in your relationships.

Patience: The actions and behaviors of someone with ADHD can look intentional but weak Executive function (EF) skills and a chemical imbalance in the brain are often to blame. Executive function skills in the pre-frontal cortex are the skills that allow us to plan and execute our priorities. In kids, these EF skills don’t mature until around age 25 and in some adults, the problem is they never developed effective strategies to compensate for their weak EF skills. So, patience is important when a weak working memory makes it difficult to remember things (even if you just said it). Task initiation is a fancy way of saying they can’t get started on things – especially if they are tedious, unexciting or complicated. Which means they often don’t finish things either. But the biggest impact is often around a sense of time, especially the passage of time. Those with ADHD are often unaware of how long things take or how long they have been hyper-focused on something they enjoy.

You can help by:

  • Summarizing what you are asking in as few words as possible
  • Ask your child to repeat back what they are going to do
  • Set timers so that others are aware of the passage of time
  • Create a routine around getting started on a task

Understanding: Those with ADHD feel their emotions intensely and sometimes one little remark can cause them to spiral out of control. Odds are it had little to do with what was said but was the result of things building up over their day. Their challenge is to inhibit those emotions when they don’t match the situation. Planning and organizing their thoughts into actions is not a fluid process and can be challenging for those with ADHD. They may tend to jump around and have their “process” all out of order (in your mind) and that shouldn’t matter unless they don’t follow through. You can help by asking questions and getting them to think about some of the details they might tend to miss. Forcing them to do it “your way” will almost always fail. Getting stuck or being unable to consider other options can be a sign that they struggle to think flexibly and helping them see other perspectives or ideas can often help.

You can help by:

  • Stay calm and don’t get pulled in by their over reaction
  • Make a plan together but let them lead (Mind maps help to get all the info out)
  • Encourage them to use positive self-talk when working through a problem
  • Remember ADHD is neurobiological (chemical not intentional)

Communication: Working memory shows up here too. In communicating with someone with ADHD it is important to not put in too much “extra” information as they cannot remember all of it. They also often have difficulty “reading” facial cues and may miss important cues. It is important that you have their full attention before beginning to speak. For kids, CHADD suggests you be within arm’s reach and use their name before you begin speaking. Lead with questions that start with “what” and not “why” as why questions tend to imply guilt. Allow some “think time” so they have a chance to process what you just said. If you interrupt before they are done thinking it through, they may need to start the process all over again.

You can help by:

  • Gaining their attention before speaking
  • Use simple and concise language
  • Ask “what” questions to get them to think
  • Provide feedback to be sure you understand their message (It sounds like you were really frustrated when that happened.”)

I know it can be frustrating when someone you love has ADHD, but it is also frustrating for them. I hope these strategies/tips help but if you are still struggling check out our new classes for Moms and Dads.

 

 

 

What to Do When They Won’t Change Their Mind

I once had a student that was having difficulty turning in his homework. He would do it, but when it came time to pass it in, he could not find it. He had a “homework folder” where all of his finished work was supposed to go, but his work was not there. When asked, “Where else did you look?” He was unable to answer. In his mind (we later discovered), if it wasn’t in the homework folder there was nowhere else to look. Does this sound familiar?

This is an example of cognitive inflexibility – difficulty changing or shifting your mindset when the most logical answer does not bring results. Needless to say, upon further searching, other homework papers were found at the bottom of the backpack, stuffed inside a text book and also on his desk at home. All papers exactly where he had left them, yet he had no recollection.

Cognitive inflexibility is real. It is one of the Executive Function skills that develop in the pre-cortex of the brain. It can be measured on certain IQ tests and on the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Functions. It has two components: a cognitive shift and a behavioral shift. Simply put, if your child cannot change their thoughts or their behavior when they realize something is not working, then it may be from cognitive inflexibility.  You may have seen it when they get “stuck” on their math, or they don’t know what to do, but won’t accept your help because you, “don’t do it like the teacher.” Or have you ever noticed their perspective of what happened, does not quite agree with the other person’s perspective? All related to cognitive inflexibility.

As an Executive Function skill, cognitive flexibility will continue to develop but, in the meantime, it can cause some issues. Try to help your child see other people’s perspectives. You can explain how things are not always “black and white” (another sign of this underdeveloped skill and often related to ADHD), and that there are always other possibilities. They can help themselves by starting with some simple questions.  A research study indicated that there was a close relationship between cognitive flexibility and inner speech among both children and adults.  It appears as though inner speech may increase top-down control during shifting of thoughts (i.e. flexibility). https://mentalhealthdaily.com/2015/07/26/7-ways-to-increase-your-cognitive-flexibility/

Try having your child ask themselves these questions:

Before starting:

“What do I already know that will help me?

“What should this look like when it is done?”

“What should I do first, second and third?”

During: “How am I doing?”

“Am I on the right track?”

“Is there another or better way?”

“What do I do if I get stuck?”

After: “What strategies did I use?”

“Did I get stuck or have to change my thinking?”

“What did I learn from this?”

Developing this ability to shift thinking or shift behavior can also be improved through games and activities. Games to encourage the development of cognitive flexibility include: Set, Othello, Connect 4, Mastermind, and Gobblet. Activities include: Stroop (where color words are written in different colors and they must say the color they are printed in), optical illusions, maps with multiple ways to the destination and Tower of Hanoi. Other activities include changing up routines, learning a new skill, exercise, getting out in nature, and video games that have multiple streams of information that have to be manipulated simultaneously.

For more strategies: Check out our blog, Stuck? 12 Ways to Encourage Cognitive Flexibility


 

 

The Pros and Cons of Talking to Yourself

Do you talk to yourself? It’s okay to admit it, it is perfectly normal and research says it can even be helpful. Talking to yourself can help you focus.  For example, if you are looking for your keys and you keep repeating “keys” “keys” you are more likely to find them than if you did not say anything.  Talking to yourself can help you slow down your thoughts so that you are able to process them more completely and come up with better solutions to problems. It can also help you process strong emotions and lessen their impact. Of course, listening to what you are saying to yourself is important too. That inner voice pulls from a knowledge base that is often hindered by the noise of everyday life. Used in a positive way talking to yourself can be your cheerleader, motivator, problem solver, self-esteem booster or devil’s advocate.

However, if that voice is negative, it can eat away at your self-esteem and actually have more of a negative impact on whatever it is that went wrong and on your feelings about yourself. We may not think that it has an impact but when your brain hears it, it cannot discern whether it is true or not, so it tries to justify it -often making the real solutions difficult to see.

So, listen to the words you use and how you communicate with yourself. Keep it in the positive and the results will be positive. Let it go negative and you may need several positives to cancel out the effects of that one negative. Don’t let others impact that voice that you hear and help your children learn how to best talk to themselves.

Use this information to guide your child/teen into thinking about what they are saying to themselves and pay attention to the tone and words they are using.

  • If they are talking in a negative way their brain is listening to what they are saying and it often seems that it tries to “justify or make” it true
  • Negative talk can interfere with their growth mindset by taking away that focus on effort and learning and focusing on what they can’t do or on failure instead
  • Negative self-talk impacts your child’s self-esteem and can have long lasting effects on how they feel about themselves and their abilities.

Instead, help them listen to themselves and redirect those negative voices.

  • Name that negative voice. Maybe Negative Nelly or Disappointing Dan will help them recognize when that voice shows up.
  • Have a mantra or saying they can use to rid the voice of its influence.
  • Teach them the power of the word “yet”. I am not good at math….yet, but with more effort I can be.
  • Encourage them to speak positively to themselves and to use that inner voice as their own cheerleader.

Self-talk can help us become more creative, it can solidify memories, and it can help us problem solve. Of course, if you are talking out loud and there are others around you, it may also cause people to look at you strangely:-). Do not worry about them, they probably haven’t experienced the positives that can come from talking to themselves – but if they call the “white coats” – run:-)

5 Gifts to Give Your Child For School

magic smallIt’s getting close to the start of school and you can feel the emotions in the air. There is excitement, fear, uncertainty, anticipation, restlessness, and worry and that’s just from the moms! I am guessing that some students are feeling the same emotions. Yes, there is always a bit of fear of the unknown but for kids that have had a “bad experience” going back to school can be scary and demoralizing. As a parent you hope this year will be different and that your son or daughter will get a teacher that understands him/her and can actually help them develop strategies that will get their homework done in a reasonable time and teach them to learn. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

Gift 1: First up is to decide whether or not to tell the new teacher all about your child’s struggles and challenges before she even meets him or her? Or do you wait a bit and then provide the teacher with the effective strategies your child developed with last year’s teacher? To tell or not to tell, that is the question. Is it better for your child to have a clean slate and to make their strengths and weaknesses known on their own terms to the new teacher or to provide the teacher with the outside testing, recommendations, and a record of their failings from the past year? Having taught for over 18 years, I just want to say that your child deserves to be recognized for who they are….right at this moment and not who they were last year. As hard as teachers try, they cannot help being overwhelmed by the start of the new year and the many notes and emails from parents tends to “cloud” their perception.

Gift 2: Instead of waiting for the teacher to figure out what your child needs, help your child figure it out. For those students with ADHD and/or Executive Dysfunction challenges it is imperative that they understand that there is nothing “wrong” with them – their brain just thinks differently. They should have a basic understanding of how their ADHD “shows up” and begin to recognize what works and what doesn’t work for them. That way they can advocate for themselves or at least help the teacher figure out a better way to help them. Remember to tell them that it is neurobiological – about the level of the chemicals in their brain and not about them not being smart. ADHD brains are some of the smartest brains around (Richard Branson, Will Smith, Michael Jordan, Albert Einstein, Emma Watson, Zoey Deschanel, etc.) they are just wired differently. One caution, the simpler the strategy, the more likely it is ADHD friendly.

Gift 3: Another gift to give your child is that of a growth mindset. A Growth mindset as defined by Dr. Carol Dweck, “is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts….everyone can change and grow through application and experience.” So, if something is hard, it is only because they haven’t learned it…..”YET!”  With effort they will be able to get it and that leaves their self-esteem intact. Whereas a fixed mindset, according to Dweck, ““Believing your qualities are carved in stone – the fixed mindset – creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. “  So you strive for the good grades in order to feel good about yourself. Then when you do poorly on something, you feel like a failure. Your motivation dwindles because in this mindset, nothing you can do can improve your grade. You’re stuck in a fixed mindset.  (Click here to watch a YouTube video of Dr. Dweck)

With a fixed mindset and a few bad grades, a student will begin to believe that they are not good at a subject. They may carry that perception all through school when in fact they may have missed some key concepts early on, didn’t take the time to memorize their facts or had a teacher they disliked. None of these things should prevent them from succeeding but a fixed mindset may cause them to give up and not try. If they can develop a growth mindset and see failure as an opportunity to put in more work and figure it out, then they can succeed. (Gift 4) They will need to learn how to learn and to develop a toolbox of strategies they can rely on. This puts them in the driver’s seat of their academic life which is ultimately where we want them to be.

Your patience and understanding that ADHD is indeed neurobiological and that all the prodding and why questions will not help them get what needs to be done, done. Gift 5: Your help in getting them to become aware of how their ADHD is showing up and then together….let me repeat that….together figuring out a strategy that can help solve or at least compensate for that weakness is the best way to help them thrive. Set it up as an experiment so that it can be tweaked or tossed depending on its effectiveness. Not judging but evaluating its success helps kids try different strategies until they find what works. An example might be putting a huge sticky on the back door with a list of what they need to bring to school, or having them write test dates on a central calendar and together checking it each day so they build that sense of what’s coming up (help them study at least three days before).

By giving these gifts to your child, you are building their self-esteem while still supplying the support they need without the blame. The biggest problem with ADHD is that the low dopamine level in the brain makes it very difficult to get things done that are boring, difficult or confusing (ie.homework). Kids don’t have the push to just get through it…they need your help.

If you feel that you are too close to the situation and can’t provide your child with the unemotional support or strategies they need and would like to learn how to best support your child then contact us about our “Parenting your Child with ADHD” class or individual coaching services. We are here to help.

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Habits – Good or Bad?

good habits for EFsWhy did you do that? “I don’t know” is often the response. Sometimes we are on automatic pilot and our actions are the results of a habit. Other times our actions can be the result of a lack of impulse control. What is a habit? A habit is “an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary” (Source: Dictionary.com). Think about the things you do every day without having to think about them. What would it feel like if you could change just one “bad” habit or could add one “good” habit?

If you are not sure if a habit serves you or not you may want to look closer at it. Monitoring an action or habit is a great way to figure out what the true impact is on you. You would need to be able to measure it. For example, keeping track of how much TV you watch (hours/day) instead of just deciding to “watch less TV.” See the difference?

Good habit or bad habit they both have three things in common. According to Charles Duhigg in his book, The Power of Habit, a habit consists of a cue, a routine and a reward. Add in a craving for that reward and you’ve got yourself a habit – whether it is good or bad. To change it you would need to interrupt the cycle. Change the cue (ex. ding of a new email), the routine (checking your phone as you pick it up) or the reward (quick dopamine rush that happens in your brain and makes you feel good when on Facebook). You didn’t start out craving it, but after several times your brain started liking the feeling and ta dah! A habit was formed.

Changing just one habit can have a profound effect on your life. Where to start? Gretchen Rubin, in her book, Better Than Before, suggests that starting with habits that will help strengthen our self-control can serve as the “foundation for forming other good habits.” “They are: sleep, move, eat and drink right and unclutter.” Do you need to create a new habit in one of these categories? Start slow and look at the three parts of the habit (cue, routine and reward) and design an experiment to help you figure out the plan that will work best for you and the way your brain works. Tweak it if it doesn’t work but don’t give up – the long term reward will be worth it.

Now for your kids, they need help establishing habits that serve them. Some examples would be a morning and evening habit of what to do in what order. Often those with ADHD don’t have consistent habits and every day is a “new” routine. This puts extra pressure on their working memory and makes it very brain intensive to think through the steps of what to do next. Help your kids figure out a routine and a reward and then link the cue to something they already do automatically. It is easier to start that way. Other options for kids are homework habits; the habit of using an agenda, backpack habits, studying habits….the list goes on. We can help them take a look at their habits and figure out what is and isn’t serving them so they start the new school year off strong. Check out our Academic Coaching Classes for Middle School and High School.

Executive Function Skill Building Fun – From the Archives

readerSummer is a great time to help your kids strengthen their learning skills. The more they use them the less they will “lose” them.  Summer learning doesn’t have to be pages and pages in a workbook but with a little creativity you can have fun and learn at the same time.

Most schools now expect students to read at least one book over the summer. (Check your school’s website). Whether your child is just learning to read or reading to learn, finding books that interest them is the key. Don’t just send them to their rooms to read but show you are interested in what they are reading. Be curious and ask them about what they are reading, have them summarize, compare or simply talk about what they liked about the book (don’t just accept it was a good book). Reading increases vocabulary, critical thinking skills, problem solving skills, comprehension and increases their knowledge base. I think it is the number one skill for learning. If your child is a strong reader, then they can learn anything. The executive function skills are the other piece of the learning puzzle. These are the skills that enable your child to plan, organize, problem solve and follow through to completion.

In Massachusetts, the standardized testing is undergoing some changes. Schools realized that memorizing facts did not make better learners. Many did poorly on the PARCC test where they had to use their thinking skills to problem solve.   You may also hear reference to the “common core” which refers to specific grade level skills that students are expected to achieve at each grade level. The biggest difference is that rather than taking in large chunks of facts, students will be asked to think critically, problem solve and use those higher level thinking skills that they haven’t been using. You may also see more projects. The goal is to prepare students for college and career by developing those skills.

To help your child learn to learn you can develop reading, math and executive functioning skills while “playing” school, planning a vacation or a day trip (give them a budget and have them make a plan), grocery shopping, or making something in the kitchen (with supervision of course). One of my favorite activities was a competition with my Dad and my sister to list the 50 states in five minutes or less. We still talk about those nights at the dinner table racing to see who could list them the fastest. (Fourth grade is all about the states). We also tried the capitals, countries and the presidents (which I did not do well at). The ideas are unlimited.

For outdoor fun, try geocaching. Geocaching is finding hidden “treasures” that other people have hidden in local parks and recreation areas. Google it and you can get coordinates to use with a GPS (or smartphone) or written directions to use for a treasure hunt walk. Take along the digital camera and have the kids photograph plants, bugs and wildlife that they can identify once they get home. Play tourist in your own town, or head into Boston or south to Plymouth and make history come alive. Have your kids send postcards to their friends.

Using math, reading and executive functioning skills throughout the summer will help to strengthen your child’s skills but it will also show them how often we use those skills in the “real world” and not just in school. If you find your child struggling to plan, problem solve, remember, or follow through to completion, the summer is a great time to build those executive functioning skills. Contact us today!

I’d love to hear what you do to make learning fun over the summer on my Facebook page.

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions!

ADHD and DecisionsDecisions, decisions, decisions! For the ADHD brain, making a decision can be quite the process. First, you will need to collect some information, but how much information? When do you know when you have enough information? Is it the best/most informed information for the decision you need to make? Has this ever happened to you?

If the decision is made quickly, we may be called impulsive. Yet, if we take longer than expected we are accused of procrastinating. What makes making decisions so difficult?

Every decision or choice we make uses up willpower according to Dr. Nowell, Ph.D. Since we have a limited amount of willpower it can be more challenging to make a decision because of our lower level of willpower. The brain is the organ in the body that requires the most glucose to keep it running. Each decision uses up a bit more of that glucose which can then deplete the reserves in the rest of the body. The less energy the harder even the simplest decisions can become.

Simplifying certain decisions can free up what I call our “brain bandwidth” and can translate into more freedom and less stress. One strategy for simplifying is to make decisions ahead of time about the little things you don’t want in your life or don’t need to think about each day.  Darren Hardy of Success magazine calls them your “non-negotiables” – those things you no longer have to think about because you have already made a decision about it and are sticking to it.  It could be setting a specific bedtime or deciding a no cookies after 6pm “rule” or a 30 minute walk you “must” take each day. Then you no longer have to ask yourself, “Should I take a walk today?”  The decision has been made and you just need to follow it.

Creating routines and habits can also save you from using up your brain’s energy.  The ADHD brain struggles with routines. You may have noticed that each morning things can happen in a different order or get “forgotten” or distraction gets in the way and adds its own complications as you or your child are trying to get out the door. Creating a morning routine that is practiced enough to become a habit (automatic) can save hours of frustration and allow you to leave the house with EVERYTHING you need.

For kids with ADHD, think of how many mini decisions they have to make each morning starting as soon as they are awake. Without a routine here, every day they will do things in a different order or leave things out unless you remind them. You end up trying to keep them to some kind of a routine but they probably don’t realize it. That’s why you may catch them staring off into space without a clue of what to do next. Work together and create a simple routine that will get them out the door without constant hovering from you. They will thank you later.

Creating a routine around the evening process and the arrival home process or homework routine can also be helpful.  What other things could benefit from a routine?  Other ideas might include organizing, or maintaining your organizational systems, packing up sports equipment for practice, or bill paying, laundry or car maintenance.  You get the idea, think of how it could change your lives and eliminate the drain on willpower if you eliminated the simple decisions so you can focus on the bigger ones. Imagine what it would be like if decision making was easier because you and your family were coming from a place with more than enough brain energy and willpower to make the decisions that are right for your family.

14 Things Your Kids Need to Know

clrtestAs an Educational Consultant for Deaf and Hard of Hearing students I have the unique opportunity to observe different grade levels, schools and districts. Although I am observing the student’s ability to access the curriculum being presented I also look around to identify those with ADHD and watch how they are accessing the curriculum, communicating with their peers and maintaining their focus.

Here’s what I have noticed:

  • Students are asked to focus for anywhere from 45-90 minutes without breaks.
  • Many adults cannot focus for that long especially if they are only listening
  • Often they don’t know what is important to focus on – so they try to focus on all of it
  • Students either do not take any notes or try to write down everything that is said
  • They wait for the teacher to say things like, “This is important.”
  • They trust that they can remember the information
  • They do not try to put the details together to get the bigger picture and end up trying to memorize random facts that don’t go together
  • They do not realize that studying for a test begins in class
  • Students do not know how to study
  • Teachers are providing study guides that have “fill in the blank” answers and students think that if they memorize the sentences they will do well
  • Students do not look at their textbooks unless specifically told to
  • Often students only get a few days notice of upcoming tests or quizzes
  • Students are shocked at how poorly they do on tests that they think they prepared for.
  • 90% of my students think that 20 minutes is enough time to study for a test
  • Students are not given the chance to learn from their mistakes
  • Tests are collected after 2-3 minutes
  • If no one raises their hand with a question about the test, nothing will be reviewed
  • Students develop an “I can’t” attitude rather than an “I need to do more” attitude

So how can you help your son or daughter learn how to focus?

  • Those with ADHD tend to get bored quickly and when that happens the brain shuts down or switches to other off task thoughts. Teach your child how to get themselves back on track by using examples that happen at home. Using a non-judgmental tone you can point out when you see them go off topic before you are finished with it.  Ex. “I can see how you might have thought I was done talking about “x” but I really wanted to say two more things ….are you ready to listen to me again?” Then ask them to summarize what you were talking about. Be sure to give them time to share their thoughts without interruption as often their working memory can only hold onto the thought for a short amount of time.
  • ADHD brains also shut down when there is too much information to focus on. Skip the details and give them the bottom line first so they don’t miss it.
  • Allow them to fidget with things and don’t insist they make eye contact as often that is too much distraction for them especially if they are being reprimanded.
  • Ask them how they stay focused in school and offer suggestions like taking notes, doodling related drawings to the topic, counting how many times they get distracted and pull themselves back or fidgeting quietly with something inconspicuous

We’ll combine taking notes and studying together. Here are ways to help:

  • Most information for tests comes from class lecture and discussion. Students need to realize that taking notes about the key points can help tremendously when it comes time to study. From 6th grade and up, students should be taking some notes. If they are given a copy of the Powerpoint presentation they should add to it.
  • Looking ahead in the text book can often give clues as to what will be presented in class. If the brain already knows what to expect it is better able to make connections and tie new information to old.
  • Students can create a study guide by writing questions in the left margin about the topic in the notes. If they can answer those questions without looking at the notes, they probably know the information.
  • It takes 4-7 exposures to the information before it can be “learned” so students should review the information (by asking themselves questions) at least three times over several days.
  • Reviewing class notes after homework is done especially in their weakest subject is a great way to get extra exposure to the information. Or choose to write the questions in the margins the same day as notes were taken.
  • Study guides don’t always have all the necessary information on them. Students should reread their notes and check the text. Turning the statements on a study guide into a question will help them understand the information better.

The biggest mistake teachers are making is to be more concerned about their test questions getting out than in helping students learn the information. Collecting tests 3 minutes after students get them back is a major disservice to students. I have heard about only one town that allows students to take the test home, correct all incorrect answers and receive added points.  That motivates students to find the answers rather than just hearing them reviewed in class (which doesn’t seem to happen often unless someone asks a question). Help your student learn better by developing as Carol Dweck says a “growth mindset.”

  • Teach kids that their intelligence is not fixed, it is malleable. Push them to roll up their sleeves and try again. Avoid saying things like, “you’re so smart” as it implies that intelligence is fixed and sends a conflicting message to them when they fail.
  • Build resiliency. Focus on the positive.
  • Level the playing field by helping students learn to use the tools, strategies and technologies that work best for them and not necessarily what the teachers want
  • Bottom line – do whatever it takes to keep your child’s self-esteem intact. It’s how they feel about themselves that will determine how well he or she succeeds.

Change Your Mindset – Raise Your Self-Esteem

Mindset, EF's and Self Esteem

What would you do? Things are not going your way and you are having one of those days. You know, the kind of day that you struggle to write that report, meet deadlines, you burn the new recipe, or fail at something that should be easy for you. You have messed up and you and everyone else know it.

What does that internal voice say to you when that happens? Do the ANTS (automatic negative thoughts) come marching in or are you understanding and patient with yourself? Will you pick yourself up and try again or resign yourself to not being “good at” X? Things like this happen throughout our lives and based on your level of self-esteem and your mindset you may either never attempt that again or jump back in with both feet and push through it until you get it.

Imagine that two students have received low grades on their test. Their initial reactions are similar as they are confused and disappointed in themselves. What happens next determines which of them has a stronger sense of self-esteem and a growth mindset. Student A is frustrated and discouraged and hides the test in her notebook and refuses to even look at it. She makes excuses about not having enough time or not understanding because of the teacher. (Empty)Promises to do better will likely not work out and her confidence in that subject will continue to decline.

Student B takes the oppsite approach. Although she is upset, she tries to figure out what she did wrong. She asks a friend about one part and goes after school to ask the teacher about the rest of the test.

How each had studied for the test, really doesn’t matter. They both felt confident going in. Student A takes the failure as an attack on her intelligence rather than on the effort she did or didn’t put in. Student B understands that whatever happened is a matter of the amount of effort she put in.

So if self-esteem according to Webster is: “a feeling of having respect for yourself and your abilities” what would you say about the amount of self-esteem demonstrated by Students A and B? There is a more important piece to this puzzle and it is responsible for that level of self-esteem…..mindset.

Dr. Carol Dweck’s premise is that there are two kinds of mindsets; fixed and growth. “Believing your qualities are carved in stone – the fixed mindset – creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. “  So you strive for the good grades in order to feel good about yourself. Then when you do poorly on something, you feel like a failure. Your motivation dwindles because in this mindset, nothing you can do can improve your grade. You’re stuck in a fixed mindset.  (Click here to watch a YouTube video of Dr. Dweck)

On the other hand, “The growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts….everyone can change and grow through application and experience.” Same failed test causes the student with this mindset to study harder and to work at it until they get it (like Student B in our example). They are motivated to improve and believe there is no limit to what they can do with enough effort. While Student A may tend to give up before they even get started, blame circumstances or others for their failure rather than accept that they are in charge.

Here’s a chart from Dweck’s book, Mindset that clearly shows the differences between the two mindsets.

Fixed Mindset

Growth Mindset

Wants to prove intelligence or talent.

Wants to improve intelligence or talent.

Avoids challenges for fear of failure.

Engages challenges to improve.

Gives up in the face of tough obstacles.

Persists in overcoming obstacles.

Avoids hard labor.

Sees labor as the path to success.

Treats criticism as an attack.

Treats criticism as an opportunity.

Feels threatened by others’ success.

Feels inspired by others’ success.

So, what’s a parent to do? Here are three things you can do right now:

  1. Understand that students do not “try” to fail. Clearly their strategy for studying or learning in class needs help. Rather than taking away privileges, grounding or punishing, which will further encourage a fixed mindset, help your child figure out what went wrong and what they can do to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
  2. Stop telling your kids how smart they are. I know it sounds counterintuitive but the smarter they think they are the less likely they are to take risks and so will make excuses to save face if they fail. Notice instead, the effort they are putting in, the attention to details, the creativity and the process.
  3. Once kids are familiar with the two mindsets,(and feel free to talk out loud when you can use yourself as an example) they can give a silly name to the fixed mindset so that it acts like a reminder to switch their thinking. Ex. Oh no Nervous Nelly is here, I need to dump Debbie Downer, etc.

Wouldn’t it be great if we started the new year by focusing on having a growth mindset? There would be no end to what we could accomplish knowing that it isn’t a matter of our intelligence but of our mindset. We could make excuses and run from challenge or we can stand firm understanding that it is all about the effort we put in and the courage to keep at it until we get it. That boost in our self confidence could be felt throughout the day in everything we do and in everything we think we might want to do. You have to believe in yourself (that’s actually the definition of self-esteem) and your abilities in order to succeed. A growth mindset is not just for kids – it’s for everyone!