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Helping My Daughter with ADHD Cross the Finish Line

Reading 37 books at once? Playing a dozen video games at one time? How I got my daughter to focus on a few things, not the many.

Thanks to ADHD-fueled boredom, one of the hallmarks of this charming little disorder is having a lot of projects going at once. If that was all there was to it, though, everybody would want to have ADHD! Who wouldn’t want to juggle six or more projects while balancing life, all at the same time? Think of how productive we would all be. Unfortunately, having ADHD the way I do, there’s a downside to all those balls in the air: Most of us have trouble finishing projects because new ones pop up and replace them.

This tendency to start new projects before ones in progress are finished is like picking up shells at the beach. There are more shells on the beach than you have room for in your hands. The un-ADHD person grabs a bucket to collect a satisfying amount and is done with it. The ADHD soul grabs multiple buckets, overfilling each one while spilling shells behind him in a chaotic path. Then he puts the buckets down in the surf and lets them get carried out to sea while he builds a sandcastle. But, boy, oh boy! Love those seashells!

I see this at work with my daughter. She started reading seven books last December, but she convinced her mum to take out almost 20 books from the library — on top of the 10 books I borrowed for her. The problem grew larger, as she started reading everything but finished nothing. This is a pattern. She doesn’t finish coloring projects, either. Her stress-reducing coloring books are half colored. She starts several TV shows and video games and never finishes them before moving on to a new show or game.

To be honest, there is no law that says my daughter has to finish every book, TV show, or game that she starts. There is a lot of media available out there to consume, and there isn’t time in any one life to finish it all. Sometimes sampling is fun. You experience new things and keep yourself endlessly entertained. When you are at a buffet, who starts and eats just one item? Instead, a little of this and a little of that is the general rule. However, if my daughter is only sampling, then she’s not learning the important life skills to start and finish something. She’s never reaching the climax of a story, or, at the very least, getting to the good parts. Her enjoyment is superficial and incomplete. She becomes a jack-of-all-trades, but master of none.

[Free Download: Secrets of the ADHD Brain]

To help her learn the joys of finishing something, and to help her manage her tendency to pick up every shell on the beach, I’ve implemented the following rules:

Establish limits. I’ve limited the number of books she takes out from the library. The library will let her grab up to 50(!) items. Her mum and I now limit her to 5 from each of us, for a total of 10. Since then, she has started to complete book series, loves the stories, and, most importantly, has stopped losing books!

Pick two. I told my girl that we don’t have to keep every video game. We can sell the ones that we don’t like. I suggested that we start finishing some games to see which ones we should keep and which ones we should sell. I had her pick two games that she wanted to finish, set them out in front of the TV, and put the others aside for the time being. Video games teach problem solving skills and hand-eye coordination. They progress from simple tasks to more complex tasks. If she quits a game every time it gets hard and moves on to a new game, she will never master these skills. I also had her limit her TV shows to one at a time.

Make time. When my daughter does too many things, she can get overwhelmed and tends to quit on reflex. Now I guide her toward finishing more projects by helping her identify what overwhelmed her initially. Then we break it down into steps to help her complete the project.

If my daughter is like me, she won’t ever stop filling buckets with seashells, but maybe now she’ll have the tools she needs to manage all her tasks, focus only on an important few, and even finish them.

[How to Snag the Attention of a Distracted Child]