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.

Self-Care is a Necessity for You and Them

What does self-care mean to you? Here is a definition I found on PsychCentral.Selfcare is any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health.“  I thought it was grabbing a piece of chocolate? Seriously though, during this busy winter season it is important to remember to take time to recharge and renew because it is when our reserves are low that we are most susceptible to colds and stress. So, self-care is not a luxury, it is a vital and necessary part of a balanced life.

What recharges you? Researchers have discovered that as little as 15 minutes in nature is enough to recharge the brain, lower stress levels and increase feelings of well-being. Or maybe you prefer a cup of tea, a good book, a nap, a 10-minute meditation or some music. Whatever makes you happy. Find something (a few things) that give you that “recharged” feeling that you can use every day. Do you have a hobby that can be easily picked up? Whatever it is, it is important to give the brain a break to regain some of its energy. There is also reducing stress, getting a good night’s sleep (adults need 7-8 hours….not 6), being active and eating healthy. If you struggle with ADHD, it is even more important to take time to recharge daily.

Help your child with ADHD recognize what makes them feel good too and instill an understanding for the importance of eating healthy, getting enough sleep (8-11 hours), and exercise in order to recharge their ADHD brain. Cultivate their interest in something that excites them and that they are good at to rebuild the self-confidence ADHD can sometimes whittle away.

Kids are working so hard at school, especially if they have ADHD. The constant stimulus and distractions can use up their physical and emotional reserves so that by the time they get home, the tiniest thing may send them out of control (or at least be more of an outburst than would be normal if they were at their best.) The brain uses the most energy of any organ in the body and those with ADHD have lower levels of dopamine, the “feel good hormone” needed for thinking and emotional stability. As soon as they get home it is time to refuel and recharge. Do not hit the homework before taking a 30-45 minute break for some active fun, and a protein snack.

Help your child discover the little things they can do to calm and recharge in a short amount of time. Going outside, building, coloring, shooting some hoops, or drinking a hot cocoa with marshmallows (yes, a bit of sugar and caffeine calms the busy brain). Notice TV and video games did not make the list as they tend to stir up the wake-up hormone, serotonin, rather than acting to calm. We want them calm and capable of managing their emotions before they start homework. They are more likely to be able to handle the problem solving needed when their emotions are in a good place. Stress and frustrations should not be part of doing homework.

Setting aside time to take care of yourself sends a positive message to your children that it is important to take care of yourself so you can be the best parent you can be and they should do the same. What a happier world we would live in, if everyone took time to take care of themselves.

5 Benefits of a Morning Robot Brain

Science says we all use our brains in three different ways. Although the names applied to these different ways may vary, they each have a specific role to play. Let’s use the terms robot, Yoda and monkey brain.

The monkey brain is of course the “out of control” brain that often gets kids in trouble. It is the brain that doesn’t think before acting and is often full of movement and impulsivity. It can take over in an instant yet be so subtle that the brain’s owner is unaware until it is too late.

The Yoda brain on the other hand is the calm, open brain used for learning and doing the right thing. It is wise and knows what to do and can create a plan to do it.  Unfortunately, it is the last to develop and involves a number of executive function skills.

The robot brain is the brain that uses habits and routines and does things on “automatic pilot” with little or no thought involved. This is the brain we are going to talk about using in the morning.

The robot brain does not create habits on its own, especially if ADHD is involved. It takes training and practicing and often some tweaking before a set of actions can become a habit. Once there is a habit, the brain can relax and just follow through the motions without having to use up its decision-making energy.

A brain with ADHD can benefit from using the robot brain. For the ADHD brain every day is usually a new day and the morning routine often changes daily as well. If there is no habit, then each task that needs to be done has to be thought of and then acted on. That is pretty difficult for an ADHD brain and even for neurotypical brains before they have had their coffee.

Here are just 5 benefits of using the Robot brain and creating habits and routines:

  1. Routines and habits are automatic so no real “thinking” required.
  2. Saves brain energy for important decisions
  3. Creates structure where there was none
  4.  Fewer reminders required to get kids out the door – means less stress all around
  5. Develops independence and self-care habits

Your brain has a limited amount of energy and it needs time to create more if it has used up its current amount. If you haven’t heard of “decision fatigue” then you probably haven’t experienced it. It occurs when you can no longer think or make a decision because you have used up the chemicals in your brain needed to make decisions. So, for example, a big decision at work might become impossible to figure out if you have spent the morning deciding what to do first, and what to wear, and what to eat, and which bag to bring to work, and what to do for lunch, etc. You get the idea. Too many decisions on trivial stuff, still uses those brain chemicals. If all of that was a habit or routine that you did on “automatic pilot” then you would still have plenty of “decision juice” for the important stuff. Same thing happens for your children although their brains’ have a smaller capacity of chemicals = less decision-making juice.

A routine can bring much needed structure to your child’s day. How many times have you had to tell them to get their shoes, or brush their teeth? With a habit – that includes all the important stuff, they will develop the capacity to get out the door and take care of themselves in the process. That would mean much less stress for you and the family.

Creating the habit sequence is the toughest part. You will need to start slowly and with no more than three steps. It takes about 144 times of doing something for it to become a habit, so don’t give up if it doesn’t seem to be working. Slowly add what you think your child can handle but at the beginning walk them through the process each day. Yes, I said each day! Together you can create a chart, or checklist, or photo sequence of what they should look like and have before going out the door…whatever works (and keep trying until you find what works for them). You may have to add incentives and/or change things up a bit until they run smoothly. The extra effort will be worth it and you will be developing your child’s ability to independently get up and get dressed and be ready for school. Then you can look at setting up an evening routine and then of course the dreaded homework routine.

Kids with ADHD crave structure…. they just do not know how to create it for themselves. They need your help. The task of getting ready for school has at least 10 steps and if those steps could be in any order then there would be 3,628,800 possible combinations! Is it any surprise they don’t know what to do?

So, help your child and yourself by creating a morning routine and let me know what positive effects it brings. Enjoy the ride!

Together We Can!

“Together we can” is part of the tagline for the upcoming 2018 Annual International Conference on ADHD (St. Louis) but it struck me that a successful school year is also a matter of working together. The family as a team, educators and support personnel (coaches, therapists, babysitters, etc.) can do so much more when they work together. Here are three essentials for a happy, calm and successful year.

To make the magic happen:

Start with 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 it hasn’t been learned….. ”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 – 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).

Next, get organized! Creating habits and routines can save time and energy, especially brain energy. A routine can take the pressure off of having to think “what do I need to do next?” and saves your decision capacity for things that really matter. You can create routines for the morning, evening and for homework. You can set up systems to help also. For example, create a launch pad or drop zone. Do you leave things near the door so you will remember to take them with you? If you create a specific place that is large enough for all family members, then everyone can start their day organized. I recommend packing backpacks, gym clothes, library books, sports equipment and whatever else can be ready ahead of time (your stuff too) and placing them each evening, in the launch pad area. It makes it so much easier if everything your children need is all ready to go rather than trying to get them to get things together when they are half asleep. Give it a try and have a calmer morning. The one thing most people don’t realize is that being organized is an ongoing process. You need to maintain the systems and habits that you set up by daily or weekly fine-tuning. A weekly backpack clean out can save a lot of headaches over missing work or upcoming projects and start each week off organized and in control. One binder is really all your child needs and it should open easily with one hand. Attaching a three hole punch inside can also help papers get where they need to go before they get lost. For you, having a meal plan ready so you know what is for dinner in between pick-ups is also helpful.

Love your brain. Your brain needs energy to operate efficiently just like your car needs gas. It needs sleep, protein, water, and exercise to be at its best. You can help your child develop an effective homework routine by including an active break when they first get home (about 30 minutes); a protein based snack and some water or juice. Once their brain has been recharged they should be able to sit down and get started on their homework. For elementary age students working through one assignment at a time or working for 30 minutes and then taking a five minute break, has been shown to be effective. The break needs to be non-electronic and timed. Older students can work 45-60 minutes and if they haven’t finished an assignment, should leave themselves a note to remind them of what the next step is before they take their break.

It takes about 6 exposures to new information before it can be “learned” so students should review the information (by asking themselves questions) at least four times over several days. Spreading out the review makes it stick more than cramming before a test can.

Also acknowledge your child every day they sit down and get to their homework on their own. Rather than “that’s great!” try something that shows how responsible they are being or mentions the new habits they are developing that can lead to improved grades. This encourages them to put the specifics together with their feelings about what you said. This ignites a little intrinsic motivation fire that hopefully they will want to continue to fuel. When kids feel good about themselves and what they can do…there is no stopping them.

And lastly, take time for fun and self-care. Remember to take care of yourself too because keeping yourself happy and healthy allows you to be at your best for those you love.

10 Ways to Shake Things Up and Build Your Brain Too

pail and shovel beachAugust is known as the back to school month. It is usually a month of anticipation and anxiety. Parents are out purchasing school supplies and clothes for kids that are both excited and nervous about the new school year. College students are getting ready to head to school this month and so you may notice a bit of an “attitude”. It is really just their excitement and anxiety building as they try to define their evolving relationship with mom and dad. What about you? How do you feel now that the summer is coming to an end?

If you have kids then the switch back into the school calendar is a jolt to your child’s routine. It is smart to start “practicing” some skills now before the mad rush begins. Maybe you start working the bedtime back, insist they get dressed before coming downstairs, have them lay out their clothes the night before….all simple things that will help create positive habits for the school year. What new habit would you like to create that will make your life better? You can’t expect this year to be any different if you don’t DO anything different.

The fall is a great time to take an evening course, pick up a new hobby or sign up for an exercise class with a friend. Check out what is available in your area and fits your schedule. Stepping out of your comfort zone and learning something new is a great way to keep your mind active. It builds new brain synapses (or connections) and that’s a good thing. Changing up the daily routine helps too. Here are some ideas to shake things up a bit.

  1. Take a different route to/from work (maybe stop at the beach for some quiet time before heading home).
  2. Eat with your non dominant hand (it will slow down your eating and make you more mindful).
  3. Change up your morning routine and turn off the auto pilot
  4. Go to bed earlier
  5. Watch less TV (or make one or two days TV free)
  6. Shut down electronics an hour before bed (the blue light they give off messes with your sleep hormones)
  7. Get up and move every ½ hour for at least two minutes during your workday. Better yet walk for 30 – 45 minutes every day. Wear a pedometer and try to beat each day’s steps.
  8. Learn something new or challenge yourself in some way. New recipe? New language? New hobby? New vegetable?
  9. Check email only three times a day (unless it is work related) and never before your first “to do” is done.
  10. Use a planner or calendar app to actually plan out the night before the top 3-5 things you will accomplish tomorrow. Start each day fresh; don’t just move items to the next day. Pick the things that you really want/need to get done.

We often become so programmed that we are on autopilot throughout a large portion of our day. There’s one month left to the summer, make the most of it and “shake” things up. Your brain (and probably your family) will thank you.

This is from the Laine’s Logic Newsletter Archives. If you would like to get our monthly newsletter, you can sign up here: http://www.laineslogic.com/children

Exercise and Your Child's Brain

Exercise makes the brain work smarter

March usually marks the middle of the third term of the school year. For some children the winter months are the most challenging. With shorter days and cold, sometimes snowy weather, they are less able to get outside and burn off their extra energy. This makes it difficult for them to “settle down” and get working on their homework.

There is actually a neurobiological reason for this and it has to do with the neurotransmitter chemicals in the brain. I won’t get technical here, but there are three main chemicals in the brain that influence learning. They are serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. These chemicals work together to focus, motivate and improve learning in the brain. In his book, Spark, John Ratey, says that exercise improves learning in three ways. I’m paraphrasing but it helps to improve alertness, attention and motivation, helps the cells hold onto new learning and spurs the development of new brain cells. All of which are necessary for new learning and of course for homework.

Here’s how you can help. If you notice that your child is struggling to settle down to do their homework don’t force them. That tends to shut down the brain making it harder to work. Instead, encourage some activity for 15 to 30 minutes. Set a clear time frame so that your child is not surprised that they have to get back to their homework. Provide a five minute and a two minute audio and visual reminder to help with their transition back to homework.

Most middle school students can focus for 30-40 minutes and for elementary age children it is about 15-20 minutes. It’s important to break up your child’s homework time with 5-10 minute activity breaks after a period of focused work. Also providing a snack of lean protein can increase your child’s level of dopamine. Dopamine helps the brain carry the messages from one side to the other. (For children with ADHD, medication helps to increase the level of dopamine allowing the brain to feel “comfortable” and to process the information more efficiently.)

So get your kids active and watch their ability to focus increase and the amount of time they spend on their homework may decrease.

This was originally seen in our Laine’s Logic Newsletter last month. To sign up, go here: Newsletter sign up

Parents of Children with ADHD Support Group Meeting April 5, 2012 at Hingham Public Library at 7pm. All are welcome.