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!

Together We Can!

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

To make the magic happen:

Start with a growth mindset. A growth mindset as defined by Dr. Carol Dweck, “is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts….everyone can change and grow through application and experience.” So, if something is hard, it is only because it hasn’t been learned….. ”YET!” With effort they will be able to get it and that leaves their self-esteem intact. Whereas a fixed mindset, according to Dweck, “Believing your qualities are carved in stone – creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over.”  So you strive for the good grades in order to feel good about yourself. Then when you do poorly on something, you feel like a failure. Your motivation dwindles because in this mindset, nothing you can do can improve your grade. You’re stuck in a fixed mindset.  (Click here to watch a YouTube video of Dr. Dweck).

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

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

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

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

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

5 Gifts to Give Your Child For School

magic smallIt’s getting close to the start of school and you can feel the emotions in the air. There is excitement, fear, uncertainty, anticipation, restlessness, and worry and that’s just from the moms! I am guessing that some students are feeling the same emotions. Yes, there is always a bit of fear of the unknown but for kids that have had a “bad experience” going back to school can be scary and demoralizing. As a parent you hope this year will be different and that your son or daughter will get a teacher that understands him/her and can actually help them develop strategies that will get their homework done in a reasonable time and teach them to learn. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

Gift 1: First up is to decide whether or not to tell the new teacher all about your child’s struggles and challenges before she even meets him or her? Or do you wait a bit and then provide the teacher with the effective strategies your child developed with last year’s teacher? To tell or not to tell, that is the question. Is it better for your child to have a clean slate and to make their strengths and weaknesses known on their own terms to the new teacher or to provide the teacher with the outside testing, recommendations, and a record of their failings from the past year? Having taught for over 18 years, I just want to say that your child deserves to be recognized for who they are….right at this moment and not who they were last year. As hard as teachers try, they cannot help being overwhelmed by the start of the new year and the many notes and emails from parents tends to “cloud” their perception.

Gift 2: Instead of waiting for the teacher to figure out what your child needs, help your child figure it out. For those students with ADHD and/or Executive Dysfunction challenges it is imperative that they understand that there is nothing “wrong” with them – their brain just thinks differently. They should have a basic understanding of how their ADHD “shows up” and begin to recognize what works and what doesn’t work for them. That way they can advocate for themselves or at least help the teacher figure out a better way to help them. Remember to tell them that it is neurobiological – about the level of the chemicals in their brain and not about them not being smart. ADHD brains are some of the smartest brains around (Richard Branson, Will Smith, Michael Jordan, Albert Einstein, Emma Watson, Zoey Deschanel, etc.) they are just wired differently. One caution, the simpler the strategy, the more likely it is ADHD friendly.

Gift 3: Another gift to give your child is that of a growth mindset. A Growth mindset as defined by Dr. Carol Dweck, “is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts….everyone can change and grow through application and experience.” So, if something is hard, it is only because they haven’t learned it…..”YET!”  With effort they will be able to get it and that leaves their self-esteem intact. Whereas a fixed mindset, according to Dweck, ““Believing your qualities are carved in stone – 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)

With a fixed mindset and a few bad grades, a student will begin to believe that they are not good at a subject. They may carry that perception all through school when in fact they may have missed some key concepts early on, didn’t take the time to memorize their facts or had a teacher they disliked. None of these things should prevent them from succeeding but a fixed mindset may cause them to give up and not try. If they can develop a growth mindset and see failure as an opportunity to put in more work and figure it out, then they can succeed. (Gift 4) They will need to learn how to learn and to develop a toolbox of strategies they can rely on. This puts them in the driver’s seat of their academic life which is ultimately where we want them to be.

Your patience and understanding that ADHD is indeed neurobiological and that all the prodding and why questions will not help them get what needs to be done, done. Gift 5: Your help in getting them to become aware of how their ADHD is showing up and then together….let me repeat that….together figuring out a strategy that can help solve or at least compensate for that weakness is the best way to help them thrive. Set it up as an experiment so that it can be tweaked or tossed depending on its effectiveness. Not judging but evaluating its success helps kids try different strategies until they find what works. An example might be putting a huge sticky on the back door with a list of what they need to bring to school, or having them write test dates on a central calendar and together checking it each day so they build that sense of what’s coming up (help them study at least three days before).

By giving these gifts to your child, you are building their self-esteem while still supplying the support they need without the blame. The biggest problem with ADHD is that the low dopamine level in the brain makes it very difficult to get things done that are boring, difficult or confusing (ie.homework). Kids don’t have the push to just get through it…they need your help.

If you feel that you are too close to the situation and can’t provide your child with the unemotional support or strategies they need and would like to learn how to best support your child then contact us about our “Parenting your Child with ADHD” class or individual coaching services. We are here to help.

This article was first published in our newsletter. If you’d like to see more articles, please sign up in the side bar.

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.

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.

Hey Students – It is OKAY to Get Help

Good grades start at home

The best kept secret these days is that going to see the teacher after school can improve your teen’s grades. Over the last several months I have asked a number of students (many of them clients whom I see because they or their parents want their grades to improve) if they go after school to get extra help. 90% of them say no. They say things like, “I can do it on my own I just have to take the time, work harder, study more,” etc. The other 10% say they have and that they found it helpful. If your teen is part of the 90%, you might want to ask your friends if their teens go after for help. Then without mentioning names of course, you can say you know of x number of other kids who do and they found it helpful maybe their grades have even gone up.

I usually suggest that for a teen’s toughest subject, they go after once or twice a week for two or three weeks and then compare their grade on the most recent quiz or test to one that they had before they started going after school. Once they see that the scores have gone up (and that some of their friends are there too) they might not be so apprehensive about going.

If that does not work then encourage them to at least ask the Internet wizards by searching for their topic/problem online. Sites like www.khanacademy.org, (video and audio combo makes this site my favorite) www.quizlet.com, (for flashcards and flashcard practice) and www.factmonster.com (although I don’t like the fact this site has ads) are places to start. Students can even “Google” quadratic equations for example (or whatever is stumping them at the time) and come up with over 4 million sites that can help. Sometimes students cannot understand the concept from the way it was presented in class, just getting another perspective from the Internet can make it click. Yes, I do recommend reading Sparknotes too if they struggle with reading comprehension, but they HAVE TO do the reading first and course notes for other subjects.

Winter break is a great time to take a look at some sites and do a little recon work to find help for those concepts they may not have mastered. Dare I say the midyear exams are only a week away. Whatever they have not understood up to this point, usually comes back to haunt them on the midyear or final exam.

It is okay to get help. Working harder at understanding something that you truly don’t understand is usually ineffective. As a coach I find guiding students to find their own solutions (and making it look like it was their idea) is very rewarding for all.

Music to My Ears

music-sheetMusic is everywhere. Sometimes we hear it and sometimes we don’t. You may suddenly realize you have a “tune” stuck in your head and have no idea that it was playing in the store you just left. Students can now bring their music to school and use it while they work independently.

Well, I recently worked with a student who was taking a “music theory” class and learned that there is much more to music than I ever realized. He was having some difficulty with it and it’s hard to know what or how to study when you don’t really understand it. So, he taught me a few things but I could see the big concepts were hard for him to put into language I (aka a novice) could understand. That’s one of the key ways I can tell if a student really understands something….if they can explain it in language that someone else with little or no knowledge of the subject can understand.

Aside from piano lessons as a child and a music appreciation class, I have little understanding of the inner workings of music – however I do love music!

Here’s how I use music:

  • To give me energy when I am running low or have run out
  • To lift my mood
  • To motivate
  • As a workout
  • As a distraction
  • To reduce stress
  • To get both sides of my brain working (great for learning)
  • For time management (beat the clock and finish a task before it ends.)

How do you use music? Let me know in the comments box please….I’d like it not to say “no comments”.

Thanks for reading.

first-name-sig

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!

It's About TIME

time-timerIt is almost time for getting back to school. If last year was a struggle, it was probably about that four letter word…T I M E.

Does your child have the same perception/understanding about time that you do? If you feel that you are often encouraging them to “hurry up” or if they sometimes miss the bus or stay up late completing a project then you might want to try this experiment. Gather the family and a stop watch. Ask the children to close their eyes and not open them until they feel a minute of time has passed. Each individual will guess differently. Now have them time you. Is their sense of a minute longer or shorter than yours? Are you thinking it has been a minute when it has only been 30 seconds? Sometimes children haven’t developed that internal sense of the passing of time. Sometimes adults are in such a state of “rush” that they lose that sense of time. Using analog clocks and visual timers like a time timer can help develop that internal sense.

Next thing to figure out is how much time is available and what is it being used for? I suggest having your child keep track of his time on a time log. It is a great way to see where the time is going. Is there enough time for homework or are after school activities cutting that short? Sometimes, kids are doing the best they can but they are so exhausted from other activities, that homework only gets the minimum amount of effort. Other times they are just wasting the time or are multitasking between homework and Face Book.

So, is there enough time for the homework? Check the planner. If the student is using it, they should begin to estimate the amount of time each subject will take them. Add up those estimates and decide if there REALLY is enough time.

There are two drawbacks to a paper planner. Assignments are usually written in on the day they are given and not on the day they are due. So, if a project or test is due a week away, there is no reminder once the planner page has been turned. Secondly, a planner doesn’t provide the big picture view of what is due. Many students are using the calendar feature on their iPod touch or Google calendar to keep track of assignments and also to set reminders. Electronic reminders don’t forget and… kids don’t see them as “nagging” either.

Printing out the calendar view or writing all assignments on a monthly calendar helps to give the big picture view of what is coming up. Be sure to write in all activities and appointments so that students know exactly how much time they have to get homework done. The big picture also helps them see how many days they will need to work on a long term project.  It allows them to add in small blocks of studying over several days to prep for a test. This has been shown to be more effective than cramming the night before. Using these strategies will help your child begin to understand that time can’t be stretched and if they want to have free time to themselves, they need to use the time they have efficiently.

If you’d like to stop “reminding” your child about homework every day and begin to build independence then check out our daily email program called end homework hassle. Each day a new strategy or skill is sent to your child through email. You get a weekly update of the content so you can support them as they go.

What Did You Learn Last Year?

Now is the time to review the last school year with your child and use that knowledge for the upcoming year. You’re looking for the “best practices” – those things that worked really well both at home and at school and that you would like to see continue next year.

If your child has ADHD do you think the teacher clearly understood ADHD and were they helpful in providing strategies for school and home? What were the skills the teacher had that you feel benefitted your child? Good teachers have excellent class management strategies, and are organized so that there is little “down time” in between activities. Teachers are flexible and use positive rather than negative reinforcements. They encourage and stimulate your child’s creative abilities. Teachers that do not understand the neurobiology of ADHD tend to have the opposite effect on children – they dislike school, do poorly and it becomes a struggle all year long.

First, how would you rate this year on a scale of one to five? How would your child rate it? What would make it a five? Think about those things and create your own list together to use for the new school year. Here are some ideas to get you started.

Homework strategies:

Do your child’s grades correspond to the amount of time they spent on homework?

Did they work right up until bedtime?

Did they “multitask” between homework and Facebook?

How much is too much time? (Most towns go by the 10 minute per grade rule – check the handbook)

Routines: Would you give yourself an A or an F?

Updating a master calendar for the family weekly

Having meals planned ahead of time (so you can all eat together)

Making sure your child has time to be a “kid” each day

Preparing for the next day the night before

Weekly backpack clean out and a “get ready” for the week

Things to think about for next year

After school commitments – was your child overbooked?

(Could or would you keep the same kind of schedule?)

How much sleep does your child get? (Teens need between 8.5 and 11 hours)

Are mornings rushed? What can you do to reduce that?

If you do this and plan the beginning of the year using it, you can avoid falling back on some old habits that can creep in if you’re not careful. Together you can make it a great year. For now, enjoy the summer.