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.

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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Helping or Hurting? The Dilemma of Enabling vs. Empowering

groupphotoWe all want our children to grow up to be responsible, successful members of society. Isn’t that what you want for your child? So we “help” them at every turn so that they can make it to school on time, complete their homework perfectly, and get good grades. But are you really helping or are you hurting them?

Let me explain. If your child or teen has ADHD/ADD then you know that they struggle with routines, focus and remembering what they need to do as well as, doing what they know they need to do. You may feel that if you don’t remind your teen then they would never get out the door in the morning or finish their homework. And you may be right. However, providing them with the information they need before they have had time to consider what comes next does not help them develop the necessary skills to become independent instead it makes them dependent.

Think about these questions:

  1. Are you helping your son or daughter create a routine to get out the door (with everything they need) or are you telling them what to do each day? (Ex. get your shoes on, did you brush your teeth, do you have your homework? And on and on.)
  2. Are you empathizing and really trying to understand what they are feeling or are you just trying to solve their problem by telling them what they “should” do?
  3. Are you checking their homework and making them correct it so that the teacher doesn’t know that they are struggling with it?
  4. Are you reminding them of everything they have to do so that they don’t have to remember on their own?
  5. Are you waking them up in the morning?

If you answered “yes” to even one of these questions, please keep reading because although you may think you are helping your children, in reality you are not. When you take away your child’s opportunity to problem solve by either telling them what they should do, or by doing it for them, not only do you handicap them from learning the skills but you are chipping away at their self-esteem and self-confidence and fostering their dependence rather than independence.

For those with ADHD, learning routines and habits can take a bit longer than it does for those without ADHD. So it is important to start building the skills early so that by the time they get to high school, you have done your job and your teen is pretty independent. You want to feel confident that they can make it on their own at college. On the other hand, if you wait until they are a senior to start “letting go” and just drop the support you have been providing all along, they may not have the skills they need to succeed in college.

So, how can you empower them instead?

  1. Work on one thing at a time. Together decide what it will be. Empower your teen to come up with their own solutions just be sure to include how they want you to “support” them in this new process.
  2. Instead of saying you “should”…..try asking questions that lead to your teen figuring out their own solutions. Ex. “What do you think you could do to figure that out?” “How can you prevent that from happening again?”
  3. Learn about Executive Function skills so that you and your teen can better pinpoint which skill is weak. Is it getting started on things (task initiation), remembering (working memory) or finishing things (task completion) etc.? Weaknesses can occur in several executive functions but often there are EFs that are strengths as well. What looks like several areas of weakness could be the same EF showing up in a different context. How can you use the strengths to help compensate for the weaknesses?
  4. Change comes from within but here are three questions to ask that can help. Can the environment be changed to better accommodate for the weakness? Can the task be broken down into more manageable steps so that it is not so overwhelming? Does there need to be a system or a routine created to assist in solving this?
  5. Lastly, consider whether or not you are too close to the situation to really be able to help, or if you are finding it difficult to remain nonjudgmental then it may be time to find an Executive function coach or counselor to work with your teen. An EF coach will work with your teen to identify those weak EFs and together they will develop a plan/strategy to strengthen them and the coach will hold your teen accountable for taking action on that plan and meeting the goals that are set.

Jodi Sleeper-Triplett said this in her book Empowering Youth with ADHD:

…empowerment is about much more than helping the young person with ADHD accomplish goals: It’s about helping the young person identify strengths and resources; practice thinking about how to solve problems and meet goals; build skills; develop a positive self-image; and ultimately, lay a foundation for long-term success in the days, months and years to come. (p35)

And who doesn’t want that for their teen?

Our new summer classes teach the Executive function thinking skills your teen needs to become more independent. Click here for more info.

Attention 101

October is ADHD Awareness Month, so let’s talk about attention. Does your child take a long time to complete their homework? Have you heard things from the teacher like, “your child needs to pay more attention in class,” or “he/she is distracted and needs to focus more?”  Well, it turns out that it is not as simple as “paying more attention.” There are actually three different kinds of attention (according to the all kinds of minds website). I’ve summarized the three types below and added some strategies that might be helpful below that. (I used the pronoun, “they” rather than “he/she” to simplify.)

1. Mental Energy is really about how awake the brain is and how consistent the energy level stays.

  • Alertness –can they concentrate when necessary?
  • Sleep habits – do they get a good night’s sleep and wake rested?
  • Mental effort- do they have enough energy to finish what they start
  • Performance consistency-is their work of the same quality from day to day?

2. Processing Energy is about how well your child can put the pieces together.

  • Can they separate important from unimportant?
  • Do they connect new information to what they already know?
  • How deep do they concentrate?
  • Can they concentrate until they get through the task?
  • Can they put the pieces together even when not interested in the topic?

3. Production Energy is about the consistency and quality of their work.

  • Do they think ahead to what the end result should be?
  • Do they consider different options before proceeding?
  • Is the quality of their work consistent?
  • Do they work fast, slow or just right?
  • Do they learn from previous mistakes?

Mental Strategies:

  • Clear their working memory (use our “brain dump” technique)
  • Get some exercise
  • Create a sleep routine
  • Have them do their homework at the same time daily
  • Help them find what is interesting about their work
  • Let them get creative

Processing Strategies:

  • Use different colored highlighters to separate multistep directions or to highlight important details
  • Use graphic organizers with topic headings so facts can be written in easily
  • Actively preview before getting started and ask why is this important?
  • Work in short blocks of time
  • Discuss what they already know about a topic before beginning (Use kwl charts)

Production Strategies:

  • Start with the end in mind. Have them sketch out what the finished product will look like and work backwards (consider at least two approaches)
  • Design a rubric for homework together and use it to review (students should rate and then explain their scores)
  • Create “strategy sheets” that show the steps of the process to free up working memory space
  • Use graphic organizers to plan
  • Review all work for errors and omissions (work from top down, don’t skip around)

If you’ve had success at using a different strategy and would like to help others struggling with the same challenges, please let me know below so we can learn from each other.

Homework Hassles

I can still remember it as clearly as if it happened yesterday. My son, frustrated at my hovering over his homework, looked up and said, “Mom, you are on me like a shirt!”

I was shocked! I thought I was being helpful. In retrospect, I was doing the opposite. I wasn’t allowing him to learn on his own, to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills, to become responsible and accountable to his teacher (rather than to me), or to learn self discipline. I was preventing him from learning all the skills I thought I was “teaching” him.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think it is important to be supportive of your child if they are having difficulty with their homework. Helping them problem solve without giving them the answers by getting them to “think aloud” through the process they went through can get them to figure out the next steps on their own.

The problems arise when we let our emotions get in the way of our relationship with our child. If your child has ADD/ADHD or executive function challenges then you face the added challenges of getting them to start their homework or to stick with it long enough to finish. This often leads to tension and frustration for both of you and ends up being worse than the homework itself.

Whether your child is in elementary, middle or high school, you want them to succeed and often that means trying to support them without nagging or helping them too much. As parents we get caught up in the “getting it done” mode and not the” how can we make this easier so it doesn’t happen again” mode. For example, by not teaching your child how to plan out a project but instead making his attempt to redeem himself at the last moment rather unpleasant. Then it should be no surprise that he will associate anger, frustration, and aggravation with a long term project that given the right circumstances, he might have actually enjoyed. End result: nothing learned.

Wouldn’t it be nice if someone else could teach them how to plan out that project and get it done ahead of time or learn how to study for a test so that a good grade was practically guaranteed? I don’t think it can be a parent because we are too close and too emotionally involved to be neutral. But a program that systematically teaches skills that are needed to be successful in school directly to your tween or teen through daily email lessons, now that is…..brilliant!

Watch for the launch of our new E-Learning Homework Course coming soon at: www.endhomeworkhassle.com