Dear ADDitude

Dear ADDitude: How Far Should I Push My Daughter?

“My daughter failed two more tests this week that I know she didn’t study for or tell me about. Do I punish her when she gets home, let her know I know calmly, or just ignore it?”

ADDitude Answers

Lack of motivation is a big problem for children with ADHD. Many things can cause it — she may be overwhelmed, depressed, or feel like she doesn’t fit in with her classmates. Talk to your daughter, without mentioning the tests, and find out why she isn’t trying in school. If there are problems with depression, a therapist could be a big help. This is also true for social problems. Therapists work on building social skills.

To monitor your daughter’s schoolwork, sit down together on Sunday evening and make up a schedule for the week. Does she have any tests this week? Are any papers due? Is there any work left over from the previous week? Create a calendar and post it where both of you can see it. She won’t be able to forget that she has a test, and you can follow up to make sure she studies.

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


ADDitude Answers

It may have nothing at all to do with distractions at school. It could simply be that her learning style is different from the way her classes are being taught. An ADHD coach could be really helpful here. They understand ADHD and help clients create personal strategies that work with their strengths and learning style.

A tutor versed in special needs or the Orton-Gilliam method might be helpful too.

She has ADHD. It’s a learning disability. Without accommodations and help she likely cannot perform to the level of her peers (especially since she’s 2-3 years behind them developmentally anyway).

Posted by Penny
community moderator, author on ADHD parenting, mom to teen boy with ADHD, LDs, and autism


A Reader Answers

Good morning. I feel your pain. My son is 11 and he was that way for a long time. My son became dependent on me to ensure that whatever he had to do was done. As of 2015, I was tired. I had a heart to heart with him. I told him he has to care about himself enough to do what he needs to do in school, etc. I completely refused to be accountable for his responsibilities — period. Truthfully, that next 9 weeks were awful. I told him I loved him enough to let him fail until he loved himself enough to do better. He pulled his grades up and passed on to middle school. (Prayer was my peace during this transition.) I can’t say this is what you want to do in high school, but unless SHE CARES, nothing will improve. We can nag until we get them out of school, but then what? They have to be their own motivator to make it in life. We all want our kids to go to college and be a success in whatever they choose to do, but they have to want it too. May you have a great success with your daughter.

Posted by DMose


A Reader Answers

I am in the same situation, but my son is in seventh grade. I’m trying to get him to take responsibility for himself and his grades before he gets to high school, but it’s the same struggle you described.

It’s a fine line to walk. For example, my son had to write a two-part essay last week. He only wrote one part of it, so he got 50 out of 100, meaning he was spot-on as far as the content of the part he did do, and he could have received 100 percent if he had done the second part. He told me he didn’t hear the instructions and thought only one part was required. Well, that wasn’t the truth. He didn’t have a clear response formulated in his head for the second topic, so he chose to not do it and feign ignorance. This is happening frequently this year. He’s in honors classes, the workload is heavier than last year, and he has such little self-motivation (none, actually) that he’s getting one or two Ds/Fs per week. He gets lots of As, too, but this D and F thing is new and it’s driving me nuts. He is way too capable to be getting Ds and Fs, but I’m trying to get him to see that for himself.

So, whereas I would have made him make up the second part of that essay in the past, I am choosing not to do so now, no matter how hard it is for me. I’ve explained to him, for the 100th time, why his grades are SO important now (because there’s a magnet high school he wants to go to, and grades determine acceptance), and I’ve asked him what he thinks of his decision to simply not do the essay, and I’ve asked him to tell me what he thinks he should have done if he wasn’t clear on the instructions (ask the teacher), and he says all the right things but still refuses to do the essay. So, I am going to let him keep the F this time. And it pains me greatly to do so because he is cheating himself and his future all for something that would take him 30 minutes to fix.

So, on to the obvious questions for you, like is she on medication? If so, is it working and is it time for a review? Does she have a 504 or IEP? Have you met with her and her teachers to discuss what’s going on? I am having meetings this year with my son and the teachers whenever I feel there is something to discuss. Sometimes it involves a shortcoming on their part, and sometimes it’s on my son’s part, but I am trying to keep the communication open with regard to expectations and difficulties. I hope it works in the long run.

One thing I can say is that punishment doesn’t work. I would maybe focus more on conversations and getting the teachers involved. Punishment and anything negative may just make her feel worse about herself and she’ll try less and less. It sounds like she needs a confidence boost, and maybe she just feels like she’s letting everyone down, so why bother trying. I hope you can get everyone together to brainstorm ideas to help, and I hope you can get things turned around. It’s heartbreaking and hard, I know.

Posted by JAMurphy


A Reader Answers

I have a different approach. My son is 12, in seventh grade. Twice exceptional. Since reaching middle school, he has struggled exponentially compared with the lower grades. He is in therapy, he sees a psychologist weekly and the psychologist has admitted that it is difficult to get him to open up about feelings. He has also been referred to an activities-based social skills program at school, which should start soon. My son has always had trouble with making and keeping friends. He struggles with impulse behaviors. He always identified with being smart and a good student. Now that is threatened as his organizational skills are proving challenging and interfering with his success at school. The one thing he was confident in is being challenged. He is in advanced math, his best subject, but has failed tests there. He was having trouble with homework and staying focused. He even lost credit for many completed assignments because he lost them or forget to hand them in. I find then in his folders.

I am trying to back off, but at the same time do not want to let him lose the one thing he identified positively with. I am working with the school to help him stayed organized. His teachers are to check his agenda and be sure he actually has all the assignments and all the necessary worksheets to complete it. We communicate behind the scenes in emails. He wants to succeed. He doesn’t want to admit when he is overwhelmed or feeling incapable. He would rather let people believe that he chose not to do the work than admit he was having trouble with it. He distracts easily, literally forgets what he was doing and starts doing something else. We are trying to train him to lay out all homework assignments and mark them off when completed. For longer term assignments, he has a big desk calendar with all work, appointments, and activities marked in. It is up to him to divide long term assignments into sections and look for days on the calendar where he can fit in time to do them. Between the agenda and the calendar, he clearly knows what he needs to do. He marks off items on the calendar when they’ve been completed. We try to avoid punishing and accusations. The poor grade is consequence enough. Instead we ask, I know you can do better and I know you want to do better. I know that your ADHD makes things harder. What can I do to help you accomplish your goals? This statement acknowledges that I know he is smart, I know he wants to do well and I know it is harder for him. This makes it easier for him to ask for help. He knows I am on his side. I want him to succeed. But I also recognize that he has ADHD which can make it harder, but not impossible. Basically, he knows I believe in him. He sets timers and tskes exercise breaks when doing homework. The breaks are on a timer too and the next assignment is layed out before he starts his break so he easily transitions back into homework. For each 30 minutes, he takes a 10 minute break. It helps him to regroup. He rides his bike, shoots some hoops, takes the dog for a walk. It must be outside and it must involve exercise. Otherwise, it is up to him.

Experiment with voice-to-text software. It’s hard for the ADHD brain to organize and capture thoughts on paper. The hand isn’t quick enough for the racing brain so they lose the next thought. Speaking it helps them catch the ideas. Use graphic organizers as well for essay writing. This helps them capture the ideas and then develop them later.

Lastly, we have a tutor. It is easier for him to admit he doesn’t understsnd when he knows their sole purpose is to help him. No peers around. No parents. Just one-on-one and down to the business at hand. When he does well, I praise it. If he does all his homework for just one week, I tell him I’m proud. He acts like it’s stupid, but I know deep down he loves knowing I’m proud of him.

We set goals with rewards for accomplishing them. He has input on this. There might be somewhere he would like to go — for example, he wants to go to a glass factory for a tour and see how glass blowing is done. It’s on the agenda. Marking period will soon close. I don’t think he reached the goal this time but is doing better, so maybe next time. He has “smaller” rewards for smaller accomplishments.

It’s hard, very hard. But just try to remember that it’s even harder for our children. Feeling like somebody understands that goes a long way. Set the expectation that you know they want to do better, you know they have extra challenges but you are there to help them reach their goals. The goal being independence and success. I educate their teachers and make sure they understand that your child wants to do well but has special struggles. They are not problem children, they are children with a problem. Big difference.

Good luck to all of you. Treat yourself to a pedicure or masssge and recognize what great parents you are and what awesome children you have.

Posted by Peacfldove


A Reader Answers

I understand your situation and it is difficult once the downward spiral starts. Does the school offer peer tutoring? Are the teachers able to provide any extra time for her to review content? Is she able to get a copy of the class notes? Does she have a study hall where she could go to a learning lab or a smaller location to get direction or guidance from a staff member? Have you talked with her intervention specialist at the school? Does she need a re-evaluation? Just some things to think about. We should give our children every opportunity and resource available to them.

Posted by mjo


A Reader Answers

My suggestion: Intervene as much as she will let you.

As a girl who was diagnosed quite late (16), and who struggled incessantly all the way through college too, I can say from experience that I was incredibly grateful for everything my parents did on my behalf with the school. I had a lot of problems with the administration requiring me to retake classes I had previously failed or credits that they didn’t count from my previous school, and my saving grace was really my mom, who called and argued and advocated for me when I had no idea what to do. I never had accommodations before college, so I didn’t know how to get them or what was allowed or even that I could have them, and that process was mostly orchestrated by my parents.

I do think I would not have been nearly as grateful if I hadn’t struggled a lot with failure. It was terrible for my self-esteem and dysthymia, but I also can’t know if I would have accepted so much help from my parents without failing so much first. It’s probably a trial-and-error sort of thing; as angry a teen as I was, I wasn’t receptive to help from my parents, but sometimes I managed to be reasonable and it usually worked out in my favor.

I am now 26. I am living at home with my parents again (not still!), but this time because of the job market — I haven’t found a job in over a year and can’t afford to pay rent on my own anymore. Let me tell you, too, that getting my own place is my first priority, because while my parents were my champions, it was much easier when I had the semblance of independence to lend me some credit, and now that I am back in the house I grew up in, I am of course 13 years old once more.

Posted by calenlass