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Dear ADDitude: How Can I Help My Child Stop Avoiding Tough Assignments?

“My son avoids assignments when he doesn’t understand the requirements or thinks they are too difficult. He has started lying about upcoming work and tests, avoiding what is overwhelming to him. What can we do?”

ADDitude Answers

Take a step back and figure out why your son is overwhelmed. Maybe there are problems with executive function (organization, time management) or he could be having trouble paying attention at school and is missing important information. Talk to his teachers to see if you can get a handle on why he is struggling.

There are several kinds of accommodations that might help: having an extra set of books at home, having teachers provide you with the upcoming schedule of tests, having teachers supply you with notes from classes or study sheets before tests, a schedule of upcoming homework assignments. Some school districts have such information online, so it is accessible to all students and parents. Your child’s problems are mostly about inattention, so talk with your doctor. If your son is on medication, perhaps he can adjust the dose.

Posted by Eileen Bailey
Freelance writer, author specializing in ADHD, anxiety, and autism

A Reader Answers

You sound exactly like me and my 13-year-old, except that mine is not in honors classes. I chose to have him in team-taught classes instead. That means there is a special-ed teacher and a general-ed teacher in each class. The special-ed teacher is the one assigned to him and the one I communicate with. Does your son’s school have that option? Everything is still a struggle, but the work load is not quite so intense. We also have access to an online system that makes it easier for me to access information about assignments. If I can’t find what is needed, I email the special-ed teacher. Can you ask for an IEP meeting to make revisions? Clearly the bad grades are evidence that his disability is impacting his mastery of the curriculum. Good luck!

Posted by kelro

A Reader Answers

This is EXACTLY what is going on the last few weeks with my seventh grade daughter (EF problems with ADHD and writing disability). And we are a married couple but both work full-time jobs, so starting homework at 5:30 pm (we hope), and meds are worn off by then. Ugh. This is what we are doing to try and survive.

1. We got copies of all her textbooks to keep at home.

[Free Download: Transform Your Teen’s Apathy Into Engagement]

2. I got access to the teacher’s calendar for when quizzes and tests are coming up so we aren’t surprised.

3. If I have the last minute notice for tests or quizzes I’m calling the Vice Principal who does disabilities to ask for an extension for a couple days to take the test later. Social studies teacher is an old guy and can’t seem to plan ahead more than a day which is a crying shame.

4. We had a teacher meeting with the vice principal and the disability specialist at the school. They also recommended that teachers give her a copy of their notes, which also gives me something else to review with her before tests. Which reminds me I have to dog them to get notes because none have come home this week.

5. I’ve cried on my BFF’s shoulder twice in the last few weeks over this feeling like I’m a failure as a mom. Especially in our city there are special high school academies that have much better education, and if her grades tank in seventh grade she won’t have a shot at that for high school. I feel the injustice of the whole system for kids who need TIME.

6. I would give my right arm for a school that was self-paced for teaching my kid so she just learned things until she mastered them and then moved on. Seriously considering switching up my job and husband’s job to work from home partial hours and homeschool next year. We already spend 3 hours a day on homework and my kid has no LIFE — how much more could it possibly be? Even if it’s 5-6 hours a day I think we still would be way ahead.

7. Some serious support for my daughter because she says she doesn’t care and the Fs don’t bother her. But they do. So trying to give lots of positive praise for her hard work and give her adult perspective that middle school grades do not define your worth or value to God, family or society. We have some nice role models in our family and church and that really helps.

Posted by vowedmom

A Reader Answers

We are in the same boat — seventh grade and barely keeping his head above water. My son has to take a 5 mg Ritalin pill after school with a meal so he can concentrate on his homework — wears off after 2 hours but it helps.

These are the tough years — I am ADHD and I didn’t hit my mental and organizational stride until high school, once I had matured a bit. Middle school was tough but those few teachers that care and understand will make the difference to your son now.

[Why Teens Stop Trying — and Achieving — at School]

My son has a 504 Plan and he is only allowed to work on homework for so many minutes/hours per night — so homework is limited. And he gets extended time on tests in another room so he isn’t rushing. We work on these accommodations constantly with his counselor. Unfortunately we have to stay on the teachers’ radars and know the expectations. And of course I am a huge advocate of exercise before homework — even a quick run. It clears their brains.

The regular school set-up just isn’t ideal for our kids — they will struggle. Good luck — you are not alone!

Posted by LC2boys

A Reader Answers

We had the same problem with our son last year as he entered into middle school. One thing you need to remember is this is MIDDLE school. They are teaching them to do things and be responsible on their own, even if that means not passing. I am a control freak momma and it was hard for me to hear those words…I want to do it on my own! But you need to give him a little space and let him try himself. As a parent, if you are not getting the support you need, make a fuss with the school and keep pushing. We finally went to the superintendent of the district before they actually tested him and switched him from a 504 to an IEP. At the very least, make an appointment with the school counselor and let them know of your concerns and request an in-school tutor!

Posted by xzillajjxj

A Reader Answers

1. Take notes by hand if possible. That is an active process and to get information into working memory you need to involve multiple pathways of information processing in the brain. The more pathways you activate, the more integrated the information (with information already learned) and the likely the information will be stored in long-term memory.

So in other words make learning active — move, talk, write, etc.

2. Sit up front so that you are less likely to “tune out” during class.

3. Get a day to day planner and care it with you everywhere. Schedule when you are going to study with class and then keep to it.

4. Study one minute per year of age. My son is nine, so really his effective studying rate is only about 10 minutes. So he studies for 10 minutes then relaxes for 10-20 minutes, then back to studying.

Finally, let go of previous results on exams. The past is the past and you can’t change it. Set a goal for passing and anything else is gravy. As someone who sits on the interview committee for medical school admissions, we are more impressed when we see a student who struggled academically initially and then figured out what they needed to do to be successful. Makes us think that if they struggle in medical school, they will figure it out.

Good luck!

Posted by faye

[The High School Study Guide for Teens with ADHD]