Reply To: High School Freshman Refusing to do Schoolwork

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ellen diamond

I’m a 78 year-old woman. Why am I writing about your daughter? I remember. In college, I was put into honors classes after flying through freshman courses and immediately my grades went down so fast and so far, I felt I was not college material and dropped out, also partly because I couldn’t deal with the paperwork involved in asking the school for a leave of absence. To give you an idea of how bad it seemed to me at at the time, I was the first person from my private HS (scholarship) known to ever have dropped out of college.

What I needed, desperately, was to understand the challenge that confronted me, that faced with something hard or unfamiliar or that had a failure component, I’d balk or give up because of the disease I had (A.D.D.). I needed for people to see this is as something that could get better with help, to see it as something that, if I could conquer, would mean that all through my life, faced with things that were hard or unfamiliar, etc., I still could succeed. I’ve had to learn that over and over as an adult. One thing I know … that asking for help is now part of my life.

I needed a tutor, someone who knew about A.D.D. (no one did back then), someone who broke the task down into small enough bites for me to succeed. Someone who
engaged me in the process: What do you think we can do that would help you learn this? Shall I read it out loud to you? Would you like to make up some questions? Shall I bring brownies and we can split them into tiny “reward” pieces? Shall we toss the book across the room hard, totally give up and then come back to it in 10 minutes?

The mistake your daughter is making is thinking that because something is hard, she can never do it. There may indeed be some skills she’ll never master (despite musical talent, I could never learn the basics of harmony – there was a logic and complexity I never overcame), but what she can learn is that achieving something, however small, will help her in the world all her life. She needs to learn that
even things she loves will have parts to them that she may hate or find very challenging, and learning how to go forward when that happens will be very helpful for her.

Find her a tutor who is warm, kind and has a good sense of humor — someone she wants to please. And then stay far far out of it, except to tell her you’re proud of her for giving this a go and you love her very much, ADD and all.

And tell her you know this is the hardest thing in the world for her, but that doing the hardest thing in the world is really something we all have to do at times. Be prepared for her asking you what the hardest things you’ve had to do were, and make sure they really were very, very hard for you.