Dear Ilana and Jess: My daughter, Lauren, is 16 and has ADHD. Sometimes, it feels like she’s a walking contradiction. Most of the time she gets straight A’s, but she procrastinates until the last minute. No matter how many reminders I give her, she never remembers what I’ve asked her to do. How can I help her get ahead and follow through? — Patricia
Dear Patricia: Our very own Jess has ADHD, so she writes from personal and professional experience. We could fill a whole book on this topic (that’s our plan, in fact, so be on the lookout for Say This, Not That to the Teen with ADHD), but for now, we’ll stick to the problems you’ve pointed out.
Let’s start with procrastination. Individuals with ADHD tend to avoid tasks that are time-consuming and/or place a large demand on mental energy. When you have ADHD, attention-span is in short supply. Trying to move Lauren through her work by brute force — i.e. sit down and do it until it’s done — is going to further slow her momentum. Breaks, on the other hand, are rejuvenating. To keep Lauren from avoiding her work, help her approach it in increments. Have Lauren set a 15-minute timer and work consistently through that time. Help Lauren define what this will entail, before she sets in; this will help her feel intentional and effectual. For example, if Lauren has a geometry assignment that includes 14 problems, she might aim to complete 5-7 within the first 15 minutes. When the alarm sounds, it’s time for a break. Have Lauren set a 5-minute timer; this will signal that it’s time to return to task. Even if Lauren doesn’t feel the timers are necessary, make sure that she sets them. Not only will they help her to structure her time, partialize her tasks, and develop a rhythm for work, they will also help her to build a better internal clock. This lends itself to better time management.
Everyone’s attention span is different, so help Lauren keep track of how much time she can spend concentrating on a nonpreferred task (e.g. homework) before she starts to feel unfocused. Have Lauren write down her start time, then make a note of the time when she first finds herself off-task, or struggling to stay focused. Set timers accordingly. For example, if Lauren can usually work for 20 minutes without feeling unfocused, she should work in 20-minute bursts. Every 3 weeks, she should increase this interval by 5 minutes, until she gets to 45. If Lauren takes medication for her ADHD, it’ll be important for her to measure attention span when she is on and off her medication, and to set her timers accordingly.
Even for those of us who don’t have ADHD, procrastination is fueled by stress. If Lauren perceives a task to be beyond her abilities, she may shut down. Teach Lauren to conduct her own needs assessment when she finds herself overwhelmed. If you notice that she’s putting off a task, ask: “what’s stumping you about this assignment?” If she’s not sure, you can ask her outright: “what’s the worst part of an assignment like this?” Narrowing the question to “what’s worst,” will help Lauren pinpoint the crux of the issue. Once Lauren has identified the problem(s), she can work toward a solution. For example, if Lauren says that she doesn’t understand a particular concept necessary to complete a chemistry assignment, she can start her “assignment” by texting a classmate who understands the material a bit better. Learning how to problem-solve is an essential executive functioning skill.
ADHD can majorly affect short-term memory. What that means, essentially, is that Lauren’s brain hears what you’re saying, but doesn’t always hit the record button. Repeating yourself won’t help; remember, she’s not recording. Instead of expecting Lauren to rely on her working memory, which creates frustration for both of you, help her develop the habit of writing things down and setting reminders. When you need to ask Lauren something, be sure to request her undivided attention; have Lauren stop what she’s doing and ensure that she’s making eye contact. Then have her take out her planner or phone. Tell Lauren to make a note or list of what needs to get done, then have her use a reminder app to set an alert on her phone. It’s best for Lauren to set multiple alarms, so that she can get a sense of the passage of time. In addition, it’s important that the alerts sound before a task or assignment is due, so that Lauren has ample time to complete it.
Make sure that Lauren’s reminders are accessible to her in the moment she needs to remember. For example, if Lauren needs to remember to turn in an assignment, a phone alarm might be too disruptive for class. Instead, have Lauren place a Post-It note directly on the notebook or folder she’ll use in that class. This will ensure that she sees her reminder right when she needs to.
Say This: “Lauren, I need you to take care of a few things. Grab your phone and start a list in the notes app. Then set a reminder on your phone/watch. Have it sound 10 minutes before you’re supposed to start and 10 minutes before you need to be done. Once you’ve set the reminder, please show me.”
Not That: “How did you forget? I told you 45 times!”
Say This, Not That is based on the work of Cognition Builders: a global, educational company headed by Ilana Kukoff (Founder & CEO) and Jessica Yuppa Huddy (Chief Learning Officer). Everywhere from New York City to California to Shanghai to Zurich, the Cognition Builders team is called upon by A-list entertainers, politicians, CEOs, and CFOs to resolve the conflicts that upend everyday life. When their work is done, the families they serve are stronger than ever. With their new book, “Say This, Not That To Your Teenage Daughter” Kukoff and Yuppa Huddy have selected the most common conversational mistakes parents make, and fixed them. For more information, please visit: https://cognitionbuilders.com. To purchase Say This, Not That To Your Teenage Daughter visit: http://publishing.andrewsmcmeel.com/books/detail?sku=9781449488055.
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