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 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!

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.

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.

Change 2.0

change buttonThere are only a few weeks left until the new school year starts and we all transition into the start of fall. If you had the power to change one thing about this time of year…..what would it be? Think about that for a few minutes and maybe write down a few things. Now pick the one that would make the biggest impact on your life. Stop dreaming about things like losing 20 pounds, getting organized once and for all, finding a new job, being less stressed or anything else that is on your mind and start changing your life TODAY!

I know from experience that sometimes, no usually, change is hard and often we don’t try until we reach a breaking point. That’s what happened to me almost 32.5 years ago when I “got organized.” What I have learned in the years since then has made a bigger impact on my life than getting organized did.

  • No one succeeds instantly
  • Change takes time
  • Relapses are normal
  • You CAN succeed!
  • You have to be flexible
  • It is worth the effort – no matter how many times you have failed before
  • The end result is better than you could ever imagine!

Often times we get so caught up in the moment that we don’t take the time to think through and problem solve what it is we are struggling with. I see this all the time with my clients, they “don’t know why x happens”, and they just accept it as if it is out of their control. But they ARE the one in control – with every decision or lack of decision. If you are ready to make a change, these steps can help:

  1. Analyze what it is you want to change? How is this impacting your life? What would your life be like if this wasn’t bothering you? Dream big!
  2. What would this change look like? Start with the end result and work your way backwards to the smallest step you can take today.
  3. Make space in your life for this change. How long do you need to work on this new “habit” in order to see a change? Where in your day can you find the 10 or 15 minutes you need to build this new habit? Link this time slot to a habit you already have like brushing your teeth, etc.
  4. Set reminders on your phone, put up sticky notes, find an accountability partner, or whatever else will help you remember this new time slot.
  5. Keep track of your success by using a chart, app or tick marks on a whiteboard, whatever will show you how you are doing. Reward yourself after “X” number of positive successes. Don’t expect perfection. New habits can take up to 300 practices before you “own” them.

Lastly, don’t forget that new habits, systems and routines need maintenance. Life interrupts but it doesn’t have to derail. Forgive yourself and get back to it. If you find you are starting over frequently, go back and take a look at steps 1-5. If it is important to you…..it’s worth fighting for, don’t you think?

Good luck with whatever it is that you want to change. I am working on getting to bed at a consistent time each night something I am constantly struggling with. Please share your struggles and successes in the comments below.

7 Steps to a Successful Day

late clockEver have one of those days when everything seems to go wrong? Well research now says that a chemical change occurs in the brain when the first thing goes wrong in the morning. Then our reaction to that one thing can set the tone for the rest of the day – even after the chemical change is over. Bad days happen to all of us now and then but here are seven steps that can turn those days around. Start tonight!

1. Set a bedtime! This is first because it can make the difference between having enough energy to get through a busy day or feeling sleep deprived and self-medicating with caffeine or food all day long. Make sure you get enough sleep (7-9 hours for adults) to wake up refreshed.

2. Make a plan the night before. What are your priorities, list appointments and/or meetings and think about what you need to get done and also what is coming up in the next two days?

3. Decide what you’ll eat tomorrow. What is for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks? By thinking about it ahead of time you are less likely to make unhealthy choices. Having a weekly meal plan takes the stress out of thinking about what to prepare for dinner each night.

4. Load the launch pad. That area near the door where you keep all that you need to take with you will take the stress out of your morning rush. Make sure keys, pocketbook, cellphone, id and anything else you need is ready to grab at the door. Put out tomorrow’s clothes and jewelry as well. No thinking in the morning required.

5. Plan when to “move it” for 30 minutes tomorrow. If you try and wait to see what “feels like” a good time to workout, you probably won’t. By setting the time ahead of time, you can set out your clothes, call a friend to meet you for that walk, or just wake up ready to exercise and know that you have started your day off on a positive note.

6. Drink more water. According to the CDC we don’t drink enough water. So bring a few bottles with you so that you have them ready and space them out throughout your day. Getting the bottles ready the night before, makes it just a matter of grab and go. (Or get yourself a large refillable, non-plastic bottle.)

7. Allow extra time in the morning. If you don’t like to jump out of bed as soon as the alarm goes off then allow for extra time. You want to be able to get ready for the morning at a leisurely pace and not have to be rushing here and there. Stress can affect your entire day. Do whatever you can the night before to make your morning run smoothly and you’ll feel so much better at the end of your successful day.

Goal Setting for Teens IV

Follow the road to motivation
Follow the road to motivation

Now that you have separated your goals into actionable steps and put them in your calendar, it is time to add in some reinforcement to help you succeed (please see previous posts). We all know how hard it is to start a new habit and maintain it. Sheer willpower does not work! You have probably heard the saying that it takes 21 days to change a habit. Writing down your action steps are the first step but that does not guarantee that when the time comes you will do it.  I think that by leveraging your environment you can increase your consistency and create a new habit in less time.

By leveraging your environment you can reinforce the habit you want to establish. The physical aspect of leveraging the environment would be putting things in place that would serve as reminders for the action you want to take. Reminder cards on your bedroom door, signs in the bathroom, or moving furniture around to better support your new habit are all examples of ways to use the environment to help you. You can color code your calendar or create a vision board that shows you and your life with your new habits established.

You can also link a new habit to something you automatically do now. For instance if your morning routine of getting ready for school is the same each day then you could link your new habit to some part of that routine that is already automatic. For example if brushing your teeth is automatic, you could review flashcards for those two minutes. By hooking something new to something already established you increase your odds of doing it.

You can also use your family and friends to help you. By asking for them to call you at a specific time or meet you somewhere only if you have done your action helps you become accountable. Just that little added pressure of having to explain your action to someone makes you more likely to do it.  That is one reason why coaching is so effective with teens. If you’d rather keep track of your progress yourself, then I recommend using a simple chart you can check off or what Darren Hardy calls a rhythm tracker. This will allow you to see how you are doing. Sometimes we give up because we missed one or two times. A rhythm tracker gives you the bigger picture. Save them so you can compare and try to increase your consistency each week.

There is also the use of technology to help you stay on track for working on your goals. Using your smartphone for alarms and reminders from your calendar or devices such as a Time Timer (clock that shows the passage of time in a more visual way) or MotivAider (vibrates like a pager but goes off as frequently as you want) can supply the external reminders you may need to establish that new habit. I know that if you take the time to think about ways you can put reminders out there, you can come up with those that will work for you – and that’s what’s most important.

Don’t try to do it on willpower alone. Put at least two of these accommodations into effect and see the impact they have. I’d love to hear about it. Please use the comment box below.