Secrets to Helping Kids with ADHD

ADHD, is it a superpower or kryptonite at home or at school? The truth is, it is probably both depending on the situation. All students want to learn, they often feel a great deal of pressure to “learn” and be able to show that learning when it is called for. How can you help your child learn to use their ADHD as a superpower and minimize the effects of kryptonite? Here are three ways to ensure better outcomes.

ADHD and the Brain

    1. Understand that ADHD is a chemical imbalance in the brain. That means that without enough dopamine and other neurotransmitter chemicals, messages are disrupted on their way from one side of the brain to the other. When everything is working the messages make it, but often they make it half way or more likely, they vanish – sometimes temporarily and other times, without a trace – forgotten.

Probable causes: interruptions, distractions or brain and body are trying to make their needs known. Working memory is responsible for holding onto all the information we need at the time to complete a task or solve a problem. When it is working at capacity and something or someone interrupts, something has to go. Sometimes it is easy to get it back and other times, your child has to start back at the beginning adding more time and stress to whatever they were doing.

When an ADHD brain is hungry, thirsty, tired or fidgety, it is best to stop and give it what it needs. The brain is always monitoring and sends out signals to get noticed until the problem is resolved.

Suggestions: Make sure your child or teen gets enough sleep, eats healthy, is active and has a snack with protein before beginning homework. Praise their effort. Remove distractions that you can and save your questions for later.

2. Impulsivity is often a kryptonite side effect of ADHD. It is like the pause button is broken, or that little voice in your head that warns you before you get in trouble or hurt, is asleep. I have also heard that it is a way the brain seeks out more stimulus because it is feeling like it doesn’t have enough. Impulse control is an executive function that isn’t fully developed until age 25, yet we ask children to control it long before then. Whatever the reasons, kids need a way to help themselves before they get in trouble.

Suggestions: One way to separate the impulsivity from the child is to call it something. Give it a name that you can refer to that separates it from your child’s sense of self. (Ex. The Cracken, Kevin (from the movie UP, Wacko Willy, etc.) Use humor when they show up and discuss what else Wacko Willy might have done instead.

Set clear expectations on behaviors before going somewhere. Make sure your child has a fidget in their pocket and use this 3-step model taken from Sarah Ward called: Stop, Think, Act.

When you notice emotions are building up, your child needs to: Stop (Take a few breaths, walk away, go outside, or chill in their room). Then have them think what started that, or what happened right before they got upset? Now, problem solve and brainstorm ideas that are more appropriate and use them to act next time.

3. Motivation is a challenge. An ADHD brain struggles with tasks that are boring, complex or difficult. If you are trying to motivate your child to complete something that falls under one of those categories, it may be as frustrating for you as it is for them. No one wants to mess up but, often those with ADHD are seen as messing up more often than their peers. The most common ways teachers and parents try to motivate is to take-away privileges. Or promising rewards so far in the future that the child feels they will never get it anyway. Rewards or punishments have little effect other than making children feel “bad” about themselves. This causes the brain to become stressed and a stressed brain cannot think clearly. That seems like a no-win situation.

Suggestions: According to Additude Magazine, “When you praise your child, it creates dopamine — the neurotransmitter his or her brain lacks, which causes the ADHD symptoms — and the dopamine helps to better control behavior. So, he or she can do more wonderful tomorrow.”  Increase the positive/negative ratio as it takes 3-5 positives to outweigh 1 negative.

Learning happens when students are willing to learn, and have strategies that work for them. However, most important is that they feel good about themselves. So, use lots of praise (about their effort), humor and help them understand how they learn best. If school is a positive experience, then their superpower may one day make the world a better place.

Want to learn more strategies to help your child or teen succeed with ADHD? Then join our next Thriving with ADHD in the Family Parent Class.

Where Oh Where Is My Motivation?

Motivation is that “intangible thing” that drives us to do something willingly. I’m sure you have felt it when you get into a project and the time flies by and you are making great progress. You may also have experienced motivation’s evil twin “procrastination.” That’s when no matter how hard you try you cannot seem to make progress. It is often accompanied by feelings of guilt, frustration, stress and anger.

Motivation has been defined as the purpose one has for taking action. It can be an internal or external push but many people believe that you either have motivation or you don’t. What do you think? On a scale from 1-10 how would you rate your level of motivation for the next “to-do” item on your list?

If you don’t have it, then what can you do to get it? It is not like you can order it or buy it at your local motivation store – although that would be sweet. No, you have to dig deep or figure out some strategies that will work for you. Everyone has to find what motivates them but there are some strategies that everyone can benefit from.

Know Your Big Why

“Motivation is a set of habits and routines, guided by your values and your identity, that you carry out every day.” “When you combine purpose, energy and small simple steps, you get sustainable motivation.” says Jim Kwik, author of Limitless (the book I am currently reading).

It seems that knowing your purpose or your big WHY for doing “x” plays a big role in your motivation. If you don’t know why you are doing something or it is not important to you, then it is no surprise that you cannot get motivated to do it. I am thinking of all the students that get “busy” work to fill their time without ever being given the reasoning behind the work. No wonder it is so challenging for students to do homework.

Once you understand the purpose (your purpose) for doing the task then Jim Kwik talks about managing your energy. It is easier to be motivated if you are feeling your best – but what does that entail? Kwik talks about…

  • the 10 healthiest foods for your brain
  • the importance of sleep, water and exercise
  • controlling those automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) that tend to sneak in when things aren’t going well.

When you are motivated – extremely motivated, it is often referred to as being in “flow.”

Find Your Edge

Another author, James Clear (of Atomic Habits fame) also mentions that whatever you are working on needs to provide a certain amount of challenge – but not too much. He refers to the Goldilocks rule this way, “humans experience peak motivation when working on tasks that are right on the edge of their current abilities – not too hard, not too easy, just right. Now look at what you are trying to do, is it within that range?

Make sure that you are not losing motivation because you are looking at a “project” with multiple steps vs. just the next step in the process. The smaller the step, the more likely you will be motivated to do it. James Clear also suggests that you schedule when you will work on it because you are more likely to work on something that has been scheduled rather than waiting until you feel motivated to work on it. Waiting for that feeling – rarely happens but you can help encourage motivation by setting up a routine that tells your brain it is time to get working on “x”. Clear calls it a “pregame routine” where it starts a series of motions that are simple to do but moves you in the direction of actually working on whatever it is. It’s a bit like Newton’s law of a body in motion stays in motion. So, once you get moving on it, make sure you are getting some feedback about the progress you are making. Look for successes in the smallest bits of progress so that you can feel good about the action you are taking. This will help feed your brain the dopamine it craves to keep working.

Motivation then becomes more about something you DO, rather than something you need to FIND. It’s not missing – you had the power within you all the time Dorothy.

Three Keys to Being More Productive – From Our Archives

What does productivity mean to you? Yes, it is about getting things done, but more importantly it is about getting the right things done at the right time.  It is also about making decisions. I am sure you know the feeling of being busy all day long only to wonder at the end of the day what you actually did.  Being busy is not necessarily being productive.  Today’s reality is that we are constantly being bombarded by stimulus (ex. cellphones, internet, social media, news, blog posts, emails, texts, electronic billboards, pop up ads, etc.) we have to be vigilante that all that stimulus doesn’t distract us from the important things. It’s a bit like that dog in the movie UP that yells “squirrel” and runs off after another distraction.

According to two online dictionary definitions, Productivity is “the quality state or fact of being able to generate, create, enhance or bring forth goods and services.” Or it means you “do a lot.” Both of those sound like being a robot; preprogrammed to action without thinking about whether or not what we are doing is important. How do you avoid that?

  1. First step is to set clear boundaries. That word has been overused somewhat but if you think of yourself with a fence around you and only one gate to get in that you control you will get a better idea of what I mean. All this outside stimulus just finds its way to our attention which takes our focus off of the important things or even just the things we want to do. With you in control you get to open the gate and let in only that which is important to you at the time. Or you can be standing in the middle of an open field with no fence and have all that “stuff” assault you from every direction. Which would you prefer?

Ways to set boundaries:

  • Handle or prevent those interruptions that you can control and find a way to limit or cut short those that have you at the mercy of someone else.
  • Turn off your alerts and decide when you will be available.
  • Check email three or four times a day, not constantly
  • Decide if “x” is worth your time, energy or effort before you say yes. Sure, you may want to do it all but at what price?
  • Make/take time for yourself
  1. Taking care of yourself is the next key. I understand you want to do all and be all but you can be of no help if you become ill or feel resentment. Self-care means making the time to exercise, eat healthy, get enough sleep, socialize and do the things that lower your stress level. Being organized makes your life easier too, why do things the hard way when you don’t have to?

Self-Care keys:

  • Create morning and evening routines that serve you that include a specific bedtime and wake up time.
  • Filter out the extraneous stuff. Let go of commitments you are no longer interested in or are of a lower priority.
  • Set aside some time for yourself. (Sometimes that means locking the bathroom door – do whatever it takes).
  • Organize so that you have efficient systems to handle the everyday stuff. Your home needs to serve you, not make your life more difficult. Make sure you can find what you need quickly and return it to that place when you’re done.
  • Choose wisely grasshopper, as you are trading away time that can never be regained.
  1. Planning and Prioritizing will keep the important things on the top of the list. Having a plan will keep you on track. By creating your list the night before you have time to think about how important those tasks are to you. Without a plan your day can go in any direction but often it is not the direction you want it to go in. Priorities should be based on your goals and dreams as you work towards creating the life of those dreams.

Ways to Plan and Prioritize:

  • It’s okay to not be able to do it all – some things should never be done, and some can easily be put off as long as you are the one that decides. Delegate what you can.
  • Prioritize tasks in a way that honors who you are.
  • Schedule in even the tiniest tasks. If you color code your calendar you can see where the majority of your energy and time is going.
  • Estimate how long you think a task will take and then time yourself. Don’t forget to include commuting time, prep time and clean up time.
  • Be realistic in the amount you can accomplish in one day. Start small and build your momentum by getting the higher priorities or the more distasteful (but important) ones done early.

Keeping these keys in mind will help you live the life you dream of. Good luck.

How to Increase Motivation

motivationMotivation – is what drives us to do something willingly. As Google says, “motivation is the reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way.” It can be an internal reason or an external one. If you are motivated by internal or intrinsic rewards then the motivation comes from within you; like the feeling of a job well done, pride in yourself for reaching a goal, etc. This is what we would like to foster in our children and ourselves.

However, if you are motivated by external or extrinsic rewards – then things that can be bought or received (games, toys, $) will motivate you. This would be the “carrot” type of motivation. The opposite is the “stick” type of motivation where task completion is based on avoiding a punishment of sorts. There is a time and place for this type of motivation too but it has a downside.

In Daniel H. Pink’s book, Drive, he mentions that the carrot and stick type of motivation only works for simple, and/or uncreative type activities. Once a reward or a punishment is introduced it tends to narrow the focus and limits creativity. Pink says, “The drive to do something because it is interesting, challenging and absorbing – is essential for high levels of creativity” (p45). So if we are to become more creative and motivated at work, school or home, then the task/project needs to have three things. Pink refers to them as autonomy, mastery and purpose. The first as Pink calls it is “autonomy.” Autonomy means that you get to decide about the task, the timeframe and/or the method/approach you want to use. When you have this option, you are more willing to keep at something until you master it provided it also has a purpose – which are the other two necessities.

Think about a project or report you need to do for work. When you are given all the specifics and it is just a matter of putting the pieces together, are you inspired to do your best? Or do you just go through the motions in order to meet the deadline without even considering adding some creativity to it?

The more we know about what motivates us, the more opportunity we have to design our own projects and develop that inner creativity. We can also use what we learn to help our kids motivate themselves. Think about how hard it must be for them to do boring, busy work type homework. They have no power over decisions (i.e. no autonomy), are more interested in getting it done, than mastering the content and I am pretty sure they don’t see the big picture (purpose) in the homework either. Without motivation, kids are not developing an interest in learning for the fun of it, nor are they developing their creative problem solving skills. What kind of world will we have without creativity, motivation or a love of learning?

Effort or Grades – Which Means More?

080814-brainEvery day scientists are learning more and more about the brain. Research is proving that the brain can continue to grow new synapses (connections) no matter the age providing that it continues to learn “new” skills. Do you believe that your brain can grow or were you born with a certain amount of intelligence and that’s all there is?

I’m reading the book, Mindset, by Carol Dweck, Ph.D. Dweck believes that it is more important what you and/or your child believe about the brain and not what they believe about a grade or an IQ score. (Click here to watch a YouTube video of Dr. Dweck) 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.

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. They are motivated to improve and believe there is no limit to what they can do with enough effort.

So, as parents, do you praise your child for their grades or for their effort? One (grades) will lead to a fixed mindset whereas; praising their effort will encourage them to continue to strive for excellence. Dweck says, “The view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life.” What do you think? Let me know in the comment box below.

Motivation Holds the Key

This month’s student strategy is actually written for your child. It is an example of one of the messages in the End Homework Hassle (EHH) E-Learning course. EHH is a program that sends daily emails to your child/teen’s email inbox with tips, strategies and information about learning. Please feel free to copy it into an email to your child.

Motivation is that hidden power that gets you to do something that you might not have otherwise wanted to do. It has been defined as an “incentive, drive or desire to do.” It is the inspiration that pushes you to score that goal, or ace that test. It can help you keep at something when you would prefer to quit.

Now I know that it can be difficult to motivate yourself when it comes to school stuff. I get that. But without understanding the “why” behind what you are doing, you may never find that extra motivation to get you through the tough times.

They say there are two types of motivation, extrinsic and intrinsic. Some people are motivated by external or extrinsic rewards – things that can be bought or received (games, toys, $). Others are motivated by internal or intrinsic rewards. Intrinsic motivation is like the special feeling an “A” brings, or that feeling of pride in yourself when you make the honor roll. I think there are two other types of motivation – pain and pleasure. For those that are motivated by pain, they work harder to avoid the “pain” (getting grounded or losing the computer). Those motivated by pleasure are motivated to get things done in order to be rewarded like extra time with friends, or staying up later. So, once you know which motivates you, you can create options for increasing your own motivation.

Today I’d like you to think about what motivates you. What gives you that extra energy or incentive to push harder when you really don’t want to? Is it extrinsic, intrinsic, pain or pleasure motivated? Why are you working hard to get good grades and what helps push you to work your best? Share with your parents and get them on your team. You are half way through the school year… knowing this and using it, can help you through the rest of the year.

What is your key to motivating yourself? Finding your “why” and making it important. That will help you push through when the homework or the studying gets tough because you have a reason that is important to you. You have found what motivates you.

Motivation holds the key!

New Season, New Start: Goal Setting for Autumn

Happy AutumnHappy Autumn! It is now officially autumn and I can see some of the leaves starting to change color here in the northeast. I love fall but I sometimes feel that it is the shortest season of all. Before you know it the cold temperatures will be here with the excitement (notice I didn’t say stress) of the holiday season.

A new season for me means a new start but also serves as a reminder that the year is coming to an end. In fact there are only 98 days left to the year. Isn’t that scary? The reason I know that is thanks to Gary Ryan Blair who runs a “100 day challenge” program. I love the concept that it is not time to give up but rather time to push harder to get those goals off the list so come January 1st you are proud of what you have accomplished and motivated to keep going.

So, I’m taking a different approach this season. I am not going to go crazy (please hold me to that) by taking on EVERYTHING I want to get done between now and winter. Instead I am going to focus on three goals for October, three for November and maybe one for December. The reason I say three is because you can’t just look at one piece of your life without realizing how everything else is related. For instance, if you have low energy, then you can’t possibly be as effective at work or at home. Coaches may use different names for each category but the basic “parts” of your life can be broken down into categories such as; health, money, career, relationships, fun and recreation, physical environment, family, spiritual and personal growth. So I picked three goals for October in the areas of health, home and business. I know that announcing them publicly is the way to make me more accountable. You will check in on me, won’t you?

Here are my SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time specific) goals:

1. Health: I will work out or be physically active three or more days a week for 30 minutes or more for the month of October.

2. Home: I will redo my son’s room by the end of October.

3. Business: I will keep track of the hours I work and separate “work” from “my time” throughout October.

There! Now I am committed to those three goals. I deliberately made them easy to do so that I could be successful without killing myself. If I had said I will work out 5 or 6 days a week for 45-60 minutes, then once I failed, I wouldn’t want to keep going. So, make your goals not so tough that life events could cause you to fail, but also not so easy that you aren’t stretching yourself.

Now please use the comment box below to share your October goals (I’m giving you the last week of September to get ready) and let’s hold each other accountable.

If you’d like me to hold your son or daughter accountable for staying organized with their homework, then check out my End Homework Hassle E-Learning Course.



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.

Set Three and Be Free: End Multitasking

multi-taskingAre you “crazy” busy all day and then come home exhausted wondering what did you actually accomplish today?

No matter where you work or what you do you are exposed to the “instantness” of technology. The cellphone rings, the email dings and the fax hums. People want information or solutions instantly and often that means interrupting others, including you, to get it. You could spend an entire day responding to emails, phone calls or interruptions and never get a single thing crossed off your to do list. Sure, you may be accomplishing a great deal but is it the important stuff or just the “urgent” (louder, more in your face type)?

The facts are in from several studies indicating that we not only lose time when multitasking but also efficiency and mental capabilities. Some estimates indicate 20-40% decrease in our IQ when truly multitasking. If that is interfering with our ability to get things done then it’s no surprise that we often feel that nothing significant gets done. So, the first step is to determine what is important.

Usually, we wait until some deadline or time limit (usually imposed by another) puts pressure on us to complete the task before we force ourselves to focus long enough to complete it. Needless to say, this adds stress to our lives and possibly to others that we need to get information or help from when they are forced to adhere to our time table.

So, determine what is important before you start each day. Be realistic and list only 3 tasks that you deem important. If only those three things were done, would you go home happy feeling like a success?

Next find a block of time in the morning that you can work on the first task. Do not check your email before starting on this task. Julie Morgenstern, an organizing expert has written, “Never Check Email in the Morning” with lots of tips on how to be more effective at work. During this block of time which can be as short as 20 minutes or as long as 90 minutes, turn off audible notifications and do not answer the phone, or check email. Each time you switch between tasks you lose your focus and studies indicate it takes 15-25 minutes to regain that same amount of focus.

Lastly, if you are interrupted or must stop unexpectedly, then write yourself a note explaining what your next step is. This will decrease the amount of time it takes you to get back into the “flow”. Continue with each task until completed, then check email or return phone calls. This puts you in control and not technology in control. Dr. Edward Hallowell suggests that, “…despite our belief that we cannot control how much we’re overloaded, we can. “We need to recreate boundaries,” he said. “That means training yourself not to look at your email every 20 seconds, or turning off your cellphone.”

There is no way to escape the onslaught of technology unless you make active choices. Start today and list your three most important, manageable tasks for tomorrow’s success. There, I finished my first task for today by publishing this blog. Next up the treadmill and then visiting a sick friend. Wishing you a successful day that you control. Let me know how you do.

Week 7: One Day At A Time Towards Health

            I know you have heard it before. We all know we should but then, why don’t we? Exercise regularly that is. I recently stepped back to “people watch” and discovered how many people have difficulty moving about. I take my ability to walk, ride a bike, snowshoe, ballroom dance and swim for granted. I wonder if those I see shuffling along or using a cane or walker thought about what their bodies would be like 10-20 years in the future. It got me thinking. If you don’t have your health or your ability to move then your options are limited and your quality of life may suffer.

            A quick Google of the “benefits of exercise” results in over 22,600,000 hits. To summarize, it prevents certain types of cancers, lowers risk of Type 2 diabetes, improves cardiovascular health, may help you lose weight, the list goes on and on. Now who wouldn’t want any one of those – better yet, all of those?

            So, as part of this 12 week plan I think it is important to consider fitting in regular exercise. Take a look at your schedule, could you get up a bit earlier and work out or walk before going to work? Yes, I know you are already getting up early and it is very dark still and will be even darker next week when the clocks jump ahead but try it for a week and see how you feel. Or try doing something active for 30 minutes when you get home. Take it one day at a time. Sure at the beginning you won’t see any big changes but maybe you’ll notice a bit more energy or a better night’s sleep. If you keep at it you may notice your clothes fitting differently and that I think is a great motivator. Feeling thin and fit reinforces your willpower to continue. Change it up, don’t stick with the same type of activity every day or if you do remember to push yourself a bit extra each time. The body is designed to be worked (I read that somewhere) and you’ll notice that the more you work it, the better it will feel. Of course always check with your doctor before beginning an exercise program.

            Picture yourself 10 years from now, are you active and mobile or are you limited by what you can do? I for one do not wish to wait for someone else to push my wheelchair off the plane. I have been doing this for two weeks now and need another notch in my belt. Just typing that puts a smile on my face. I feel good knowing I am headed in the right direction. I wish all of you, the same success. Please let me know how you are doing.