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.

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Due to the current circumstances and requirements for social distancing, our classes and individual services will be conducted via Zoom, Google Meet or Phone.

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.

Coffee and Routines

Routines keep us goingRoutines, we all have them. Some are helpful and some are not. Routines that are based on good habits are sets of things we do every day that have a positive effect. You probably have a morning routine that gets you and your family out the door in the morning, and an evening routine that ends the day. Do they serve you? By that I mean do they make things run smoothly, keeping you relaxed or do they add chaos, disorganization or a sense of hurriedness to your life?

I think the holiday season is one time where the impact of disrupting the routines of the day can show its effect. Behaviors erupt, patience is thin, and chaos reigns. If there is any ADHD in the family, then those routines/habits are even more important. For those with ADHD, a routine may not always be the same from day to day. In fact, for most people/children with ADHD every day is a new day and often a new “routine”. However, it definitely helps if those with ADHD can create a routine of good habits so that they are on automatic pilot rather than having to take the time to figure out what they should do next. It is the thinking “now what do I have to do?” that causes the mind to go blank or to act on whatever is in front of them.

According to pediatricians at www.healthychildren.org, ““Every family needs routines. They help to organize life and keep it from becoming too chaotic. Children do best when routines are regular, predictable, and consistent.” We’ve all seen this. A sudden change of plans can send our day into a tailspin or worse, change our normally happy youngster’s personality into something we don’t recognize (tantrums optional). Routines for kids provide a sense of predictability and that makes them feel safe. It does the same for adults although I would change the feeling of safety to a sense of control.

Routines teach responsibility, organization, and cooperation and positively reduce your stress level, save you time and energy and bring a sense of control to your daily life. It is that simple. Routines are beneficial in the morning, after school or when returning home for the day, dinner time, and bedtime. It’s not just about the “basics” of a routine as there is often room to add something to your routine that you feel has been missing. For example: it is not just about remembering to brush your teeth at night, but also about ending your day on a positive note. Are you watching TV until bed and then tossing and turning or do you read something positive after having set yourself up for a stress free morning?(Clothes out, lunches packed or planned, keys on hook, phone charging, etc.)

Take a look at your routines and those of your family and see if they are beneficial or not. If things are not working, figure out why and try something new. Keep at it until it works. If things are working well, then you might want to consider adding something to an already established routine. Research shows that linking a new behavior to something that is already “routine” makes it easier for it to become a habit. I have added writing in a journal to my morning routine that also includes listing three things I am grateful for. It starts my day with gratitude and a positive attitude. What will you add to your routine?

Self-Care – What's that?

happiness-priority-quoteSummer has faded and the leaves are just starting to change. It is time to build up our reserves before the cold weather hits. People all around me are already getting sick and I don’t want that to be me this year.

To protect myself this year I have been looking at habits/routines that don’t serve me. One thing I don’t seem to take enough time for is self-care. We are all busy and that makes it most important to stay healthy. It is time to spend a little time on ourselves. Don’t you agree?

Think about your answers to these questions to determine if you could use a bit more self-care time.

  1. Do you feel like you “run” all day long without taking any time for yourself?
  2. How many hours of sleep did you get last night? (Less than 7?)
  3. When was the last time you took longer than 10 minutes to eat lunch?
  4. When was the last time you were active on purpose? (Took a walk, exercised, played a sport, etc.)
  5. Do you find yourself short on patience, or easily frustrated?

Women are built for nurturing –putting others first and their selves last. With the pace of life today it is easy to see how our reserves can get depleted when we give and give to others and put off taking care of ourselves. Reminds me of the airplane reminder where they caution you to “put your own oxygen mask on first” before helping others.

What do you need to feel like you have taken care of yourself? Can you use a routine or a habit that you already have to add some self-care time to? Maybe start with 15-20 minutes and build from there until you have a new habit that makes you feel like you have nurtured yourself. Some ideas might be, writing in a journal, meditation, taking time to read, gardening, sipping a cup of your favorite tea or soaking in a hot tub.

Or would you prefer a “once and done treat” like a facial, massage or mani/pedi? How about a walk in nature? Studies have shown that walking in nature actually reduces cortisol levels in the body. Cortisol is the stress hormone that affects your health in a number of ways. A walk in nature can also help creative thinking and problem solving. It has been shown to have a positive effect on depression and is great exercise too. In a study done in 2009, a walk in nature was shown to improve the attention span of children with ADHD. What will you do for yourself today?

The best thing we can do for our loved ones is to take care of ourselves. Try different things until you find what works for you and it can be different things each day or each week. The key is to make the time and to make taking the time for self-care a habit. I’d love to hear what you’re doing on my Facebook page this month so please share your thoughts there.

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