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.

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.

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!

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.

Working Together with ADHD

groupphotoWorking together in small groups is a common occurrence in middle and high school classrooms these days. Teachers have noticed that students learn, share and cooperate when they have a common goal or purpose. In the “work” world many projects are team or group projects so it is a skill necessary for a student’s present and future.

Group work:

  • Encourages the development of communication skills
  • Develops alternative ideas and perspectives (and conflict resolution skills)
  • Enhances social skills and interactions (and provides a safe environment to test ideas).
  • Boosts critical and creative thinking skills and develops active thinkers

If you have ADHD then a group’s lack of structure, unclear expectations, and multiple “leaders” can be either a distraction or a blessing. A teen’s ADHD brain loves stimulus and as long as the ground rules have been clearly understood, then the novelty of a group approach can help feed that brain. It is quick to think in novel ways, is open to other perspectives and able to make connections quickly. Of course, they can also take the group off topic and off schedule if not carefully monitored.

Although some teens want to keep their ADHD and its challenges a secret, others have accepted it as part of who they are. A group can provide a smaller, yet safe environment for them to experiment with their ideas and to practice their social skills of cooperation, problem solving and conflict resolution. It can also provide peer role models for communicating, while monitoring and inhibiting their own (often impulsive) behaviors. Others in the group can help keep themselves and the teen with ADHD on track through accountability and setting deadlines with clear expectations for effective time management and project completion.

Imagine the possibilities of having a group of teens with ADHD encourage, share and problem solve together. It could change their world and yours.

What is Executive Function?

Thinking skill posterExecutive dysfunction or executive function deficit is defined by Web MD as a “set of mental skills that help you get things done.” It is a simplified definition but when you break a task down into all the components needed to complete it, it is easier to see how having one or more weak areas can stop the progress. Just take a look at the processes and skills that are needed for “thinking” in the graphic to the left. That does not take into account the other skills needed to actually get something done. These executive function skills develop in the prefrontal cortex of the brain which continues to develop until around age 25. However, these skills seem to be really important during the teen age years, yet are not quite developed enough to be depended upon.

Executive function skills help you:

  • Manage time and be realistic about what you can and cannot do in the time available
  • Regulate your emotions and behaviors to avoid saying or doing the wrong thing
  • Determine what you should pay attention to and what you should not
  • Switch focus based on the feedback you receive about the effectiveness of what you are doing
  • Plan and organize in a logical, methodical way to complete tasks and thoughts.
  • Remember what you need to remember at the right time
  • Allows you to make decisions based on your past experiences and avoid repeating your mistakes

In school, executive dysfunction can look like missing homework, forgetting to study for tests, doing poorly, spending hours on homework, or not being able to find things they know they have. One thing executive dysfunction is not, is the attitude of not caring. Most students really do care and cannot understand why they can’t “remember” things. They are frustrated and feel less capable than their peers. Self-esteem suffers and unless they get some help they can spend their school years continuing to do things the same way….and getting the same (lower than they are capable of) grades.

The worst part is that they may continue to think that they are not “smart” and avoid opportunities to stretch themselves for the rest of their lives.

What’s a parent to do? We often try to “show” our children how they “should” do things, or we wonder out loud how they could have done…x, y or z (how could you…what were you thinking…why didn’t you….etc). Although well meaning, these approaches are often met with resistance and your teen may internalize the guilt and judgment that you didn’t realize came across.

It’s time to take you out of the picture. Get students to take a deeper look at what is happening and then coach them to design strategies to work for the way they think. Traditional methods often do not work because the habits are not built into them. Teens are “told” what to do and often do not take the time to think about whether it works for them or not.

The most common executive skills that affect academics are:

  • planning/organizing thoughts, ideas and processes – difficulty writing essays in a thoughtful, organized manner, or completing projects, developing a study plan
  • working memory – holding onto all the information needed
  • cognitive flexibility- ability to shift thinking and or behavior when stuck
  • focus – determine what to focus on and what to ignore
  • controlling emotions – keeping them in check even when frustration builds
  • taking action – doing what you know needs to be done
  • getting started – taking the first step is often the toughest
  • task completion

If your teen struggles with any of these skills, it may be time to try coaching. Coaches believe that individuals have all the skills and knowledge they need to solve their own challenges by guiding them to think deeper and more creatively about them through guided questions. Teens often don’t take the time or feel they have the power to make changes that will work for the way they think. Isn’t it time they took back that power? Our group coaching classes help students become proactive, design strategies and test them, and learn about how they think with a small group of like-minded peers.