How to help my son focus and complete work in school

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    • #82575

      I’m looking for ideas to help my son age 9 (ADHD/ODD on Intuniv ER). All year the teacher will ask the class to write in their journals (3 sentences about a give topic). My son had been doing well, but last quarter his participation in journals was not great. Last week, he admitted to me that he didn’t do any sentences all week. The teacher has asked that when he indicates to me that things aren’t well in school (i.e. loses a point), he would appreciate a consequence at home. I’m trying to get creative with things like earlier bedtime, no tablet time, etc. So, last week I had him write 8 sentences since he didn’t do them at school. I asked half of them to be why he didn’t do the journal entries. His honesty floors me! He wrote that he daydreams about playing video games, so it’s really hard for him to focus on the journal.

      I guess I’m looking for a few things: 1. advice to keep him focused at school. 2. creative consequences that can help him understand he is accountable for the work. 3. alternatives, because I feel like the issue is he hates writing!

    • #82792
      Penny Williams

      First, he should not be punished twice for one infraction. If he loses a point for not doing the journal entry, that’s the consequence. It’s already bad enough that he’s struggling and being punished for issues related to a disability, so don’t double punish by adding an at-home consequence.

      Second, there are many things that can help with focus at school: medication, sitting in a less distracting area of the classroom, using a study carrel to block visual distractions, using headphones to block audio distractions, etc.

      Third, there are alternatives to writing. My son has dysgraphia, so he types a lot of his work. There’s also voice dictation, which is now a free part of Google Docs. Ask the teacher what the intended lesson/take-away is for the daily journal assignment. Then, think of creative ways to meet that goal without writing (unless it’s writing practice, of course).

      Here are more ideas:

      11 Focus Fixes for the Classroom: A Free Handout for Teachers

      ADDitude Community Moderator, Parenting ADHD Trainer & Author, Mom to teen w/ ADHD, LDs, and autism

    • #83191

      Question: Is the ‘given topic’ something that has actually been given to him by the teacher, or is the topic something that he can choose for himself? Keeping in mind that ADhD neurology is largely ‘interest driven,’ can the topic be something that he cares about or chooses for himself, or is there a way to modify a given topic into something that would matter to him?

      Come to think about it, what is the actual bottom-line purpose of the journal assignment, anyway? Is it to reflect on material taught in class? Is it to practice communicating one’s own thoughts to others? Is it so the teacher can gain insight into the student? Why is he journaling in the first place?

      Also, his admission of daydreaming about video games clearly demonstrates his struggle with a key feature of ADhD, that of ‘perseveration,’ the tendency to get something into one’s head and fixate on it, not being able to stop thinking about it and instead think of something else (another ADhD struggle, that of ‘transitioning’). Example: Right now I have a song in my head that keeps playing over and over and over and simply will not stop. It’s been playing in my head for probably a week now, and it’s driving me nuts. Whatever it taking center stage in the mind needs to get upstaged by something else (thus we’re back to transitioning).

      Also, remember that multi-modal learning sticks better than anything, which is why the video games stick in his mind. Video games are immersive, multi-modal experiences (3D visual, auditory, participative, interactive), which also include relationship and competition (with the game itself and/or fellow players). And it is an ‘alternate reality’ that the child finds preferable to the ‘real’ world, which is why his mind gravitates to reflection about it.

      Ah, but soon enough, of these days it will be a girlfriend that he won’t be able to stop thinking about instead of a video game. The problem is essentially the same, is it not?

      What is certain is that self-awareness is key for this boy to learn, the earlier the better. One of the most important things to remember about daydreaming – whether about a video game or a girlfriend – is that we are not necessarily aware we are doing it when we’re doing it. It’s like zoning out when you’re driving your car or getting lost online watching YouTube videos of first one thing and then another. We have to first learn to be AWARE that we are daydreaming in order for us to be able to consider – in the moment – the consequence of doing that. It’s no good to get chastised for it later. By then the learning moment has passed.

      Help your son become more self-aware in this regard. And above all, avoid the whole guilting, shaming, blaming thing. Over time there are two thing that dominate our memory-driven physiology more than anything else: Association and emotion. We associate things with how we feel about them, even if we don’t recall specifics about why we feel that way. I hated school. Why? I don’t recall much except that it was a place where I was daily reminded of all the ways in which I didn’t measure up; too much of this, not enough of that; always something. And all I wanted to do was get out of there and go somewhere else that was less stressful.

      • #83192

        Sometimes the topic is from the teacher and sometimes he can pick, I’m assuming when the teacher assigns a topic that is when he struggles. I’m not trying to chastise him, however with ODD, I need him (and I) to understand sometimes you will have natural consequences to not doing your work. At this point, failing a class doesn’t matter to him, so I feel that I need to find something that does… Prior to posting this topic, I asked him to write about why he didn’t do journal. I feel like it opened my eyes to his struggles, and opened the door to the conversation with his teacher. We keep working on it. I never liked school either, I daydreamed a lot. I get where he is coming from, I know it will click one day. Parenting it is a different story… He is the kind of kid who hides homework in the car, purposely leaves it at school, etc. but he also sometimes just forgets… It’s a fine line with him.

        I just keep learning. At this point, when he doesn’t do journal during class, I will ask him to write at home. See how long that might work…

    • #83203

      I don’t think it is appropriate you give your son consequences / punishment at home, for things the teacher feels he should be punished for.
      I would have a discussion with the teacher about what consequences she can implement in the classroom (without removing recess or destressing activities).
      Perhaps the “3 sentences in a journal” is an unrealistic expectation for you son, maybe she could look at starting out with one and building up to three, rather than punishing him for non-compliance. After all, he is an individual, perhaps he finds it boring or tedious. She obviously has not tapped into who he is or what his likes are, then he may be more interested in writing sentences.
      Even asking him to write the sentence on what he is day-dreaming aobut would be helpful, obviously that is where he would rather be!

    • #83244

      Please don’t punish him for something he has no control over. It sends a terrible message.
      Why can’t an agreement be made with the teacher that, as soon as he or she notices that he is drifting, they go over and tap the desk or his shoulder as they walk by?
      That’s what we have agreed to with my son’s teachers, and it works wonders. He’s a junior in high school now and, for the most part, doesn’t need prompting anymore. He has learned to put his nose to the grindstone before his mind starts to drift. It’s not a perfect science, but it seems to have become more of a habit now.
      Good luck and please, ask that teacher to get educated on ADHD.

    • #83249

      Is your son on an IEP? If so, then you should have the ‘right’ to discuss the selection of topics for your son to journal about. If the goal is to get him to write and express himself, then that should be a pretty easy ‘give’ – unlike say trying to convince his teacher/school that he should be able to write about Minecraft in answering questions on a math test.

      My boys’ teachers have been pretty liberal with things like this – the teachers likely aren’t ‘experts’ on ADHD unless they have children with ADHD…but as teachers they might not be in tune with the full spectrum of issues and challenges that kids with ADHD face…it’s not just about sitting still and keeping focus…it’s about how the child processes information, the ability to engage them, and that has to be a factor of consideration in educating them…although they DO have many other children to teach at the same time. Try reaching out to the teacher (you may have already, I haven’t read all the replies here) and explain that you’re not asking for special considerations for your son, you’re asking for the path of least resistance to a common destination…getting him to journal. Good luck!

    • #83256

      Let me begin by saying that I am a teacher. As a teacher, I have attended many workshops “instructing” me about ADHD: how it affects students, how it manifests, and how to deal with it in the classroom. But until I met and married my spouse (who has ADHD), I did not truly understand what it was really like.

      I agree with everyone above – if there is a consequence at school, there should be no further consequence at home. If the teacher wants you to give a consequence at home (which I don’t agree with, but for the sake of argument), then he should not give any consequences at school. That being said, ADHD is not a choice, so it shouldn’t be punished regardless. If he doesn’t (or can’t) write his journal sentences at journal sentence writing time, perhaps there are other times more conducive to his writing. If it’s the topic that’s the problem, let him write about something he’s passionate about (like video games, for example, or a dream trip or job or whatever).

      I do think it would be beneficial for the teacher to further educate himself about ADHD and how it works; ultimately, spending (significant amounts of) quality time with someone with ADHD would be the most eye-opening. Learning how to help those with ADHD is like learning how to put car engines together: all the reading and educating in the world isn’t going to be the same as diving in and experiencing it.

      I wish you all the best!

    • #83257

      I would ask him if the journal topic was interesting. It might be that he couldn’t focus on it because it wasn’t something that sparked ideas in his head. For someone with ADHD, having to do something “boring” (i.e. not something that naturally catches our attention) is literally almost painful to do. It’s like you are 5 years old, sitting in front of a huge pile of stinky, cold, mushy, over-cooked spinach that almost literally gets nastier the longer you sit and stare at that mountain of gag-worthy glop. (I think I dry heaved a little there)

      I struggled with this as a kid. I wish I could tell you a solution, but I hadn’t been diagnosed until my 30’s. However, I have studied education itself, and honestly, that teacher should already know that punishment doesn’t work when it’s something related to a cognitive/developmental disorder. Bribes don’t work for long. However, a consequence that makes sense for not completing his work at school is perfectly reasonable.

      I know… sounds like splitting hairs… “punishment” vs. “consequence”, but they really are separate things. A connected consequence for him could be not only making up all of the sentences he was supposed to write, but also write a couple sentences on why he didn’t write them on time. This could be constructive not only for him (he will have to start thinking about how he thinks… meta-cognition, or “thinking about thinking”) but also for his teacher who can use it to inform his instruction. It could very well be that he needs just a tiny bit of a push or idea to get him started on writing those three sentences, some thread for him to string his ideas on.

      As far as the meta-cognition stuff, though, you can only go so deep with that with ANY 9 year-olds. Most kids that age physiologically lack the brain structure to really tackle that kind of mental task. not like an adult can… and even then there are neurologically normal adults who can’t do deep meta-cognitive thinking.

      Thankfully, your kiddo is young so he’s at a great age to start creating supportive techniques to help him help himself succeed, but his teacher will need to help him too. his teacher just suggesting there be a consequence at home accomplishes nothing… because that is more like a punishment. The teacher should really be doing something for him at school (like helping him figure out how to start writing on his topic), or at least be willing for him to make it up and include a short explanation.

      Something a lot of people forget, and sometimes teachers too, is that “fair” and “equal” DO NOT necessarily mean THE SAME. What would be FAIR and EQUAL for your son, would be that extra little nudge, or the small accommodation to make it up on weeks he struggles to complete it.

      • #83976
        Coach Agnes Green

        ADHD is such a hard thing to understand unless you experience it. The best teachers/parents/supervisors/friends in the world only see the person with ADHD from the outside. I am an adult and a coach with ADHD. I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 45, even then, it six years before I understood it. Perhaps your son is self conscious about his writing because our brains do not organize our thoughts enough to put them on paper. Punishment will never work with ADHD. Kids with ADHD want to do what is right, their brains just don’t cooperate. Rewards and positive reinforcement helps. Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria (Dr William Dodson)is a very big factor when it comes to some of the behaviours you are explaining. Rejection and criticism or perceived rejection and criticism can lead to behaviours such as people pleasing or the opposite, doing nothing at all for fear of failure. All the positive reinforcement suggestions mentioned here are excellent. Perhaps if your son could understand why he does the things he does by working with a coach or an ADHD counselor you can help him develop strategies to thrive not just survive. I used to daydream as a child and found it was the most relaxing non-stressful thing I could do. As an adult, I still do it and consider it a form of meditation. In time, your son will learn to use daydreaming as a tool to relax but only when it is appropriate.

    • #83266

      I wasn’t diagnosed until I was in 6 grade with ADD. I can tell you that regardless I would have a hard time if that hadn’t happened until 9th grade. Though 3 sentences might seem like it should be a snap, it’s possible he doesn’t have a clue in his head what to write especially if assigned a topic by the teacher. I my trap for a brain would have been blank unless guided a little more with some leading questions or more of an idea on the topic. Then maybe I might have have s tiny bit of a chance.

      Discouragement and anger or other feelings can be a big part of the why for not doing and hard time regulating emotions.

      I remember hiding papers out of humiliation for not completing work and the punishment I would recieve from incompletion. Once I got a spanking daily for serval weeks for it. I wa very sensitive and sensitive to hurting physically and emotionally. My parents realized there had to be some other problem.

      Also you your is going to be developmentally behind of a few years. Think 6 or 7 year old instead of a 9 year old.

      Just some possible perspectives.

    • #83267

      I had trouble signing in… by the time I did, candy.daniels pretty much said what I was going to… consequences are not punishment. Even in “non-ADD” kids, punishment isn’t very effective at changing behavior. Consequences can be, once the kid sees the connection and teaching thinking skills can be fun for both the teacher and the learner. With a younger learner I would use a lot of questions. What are your options? What happens with each option? It’s not so much work if you play with it. (I’m already thinking about what I would do faced with that huge pile of spinach.)

    • #83270

      My question would be – what is his bedtime? Because tired kids (esp add) have trouble writing. :You have to think of idea, then get it on paper before you get distracted. So …not a punishment, but a help would be an earlier bedtime (no electronics 1 hour before bed)
      and see if that helps. also think of the positive – If he does the writing…what happens
      could he help the teacher sharpen pencils, pick up trash, staple (something fun, physical)
      talk in the car before school about his topics, friends, family, sports, movie,

    • #83306

      Your first question was, “1. advice to keep him focused at school.” The time the teacher gives to write 3 sentences is a very small part of the day. The bigger question is, does he have trouble focusing during other parts of the day. For example, how is he doing at math? There are lots of techniques – like fidgeting, moving, etc that can help with focus. But if he really is having trouble focusing for more then the 10 or so minutes given for this assignment….You probably should talk to his doctor about his medication. Intuniv is a great med and many times is given at night in conjunction with a stim med during the day. Intuniv really does not help with focus that much. I think that is the issue that you really need to discuss, as this problem will probably only get worse.

      In terms of his writing. Get your hands on some of the old topics and practice with them. But try having him draw his thoughts out or try turning the assignment into a video game which he writes about. See if the teacher will simply allow him to complete the assignment at home, if he has drawn out some ideas. But practice this at home. It should be pretty easy to get him to be able to do some “canned” results.

      But, after 37 years in education at the elementary and middle school level, I think there is something else going on here. Not writing 3 sentences in a journal is not worth telling parents he needs to be disciplined at home. And by the way, if this is the only writing they are doing…..well, thats a different story. Do get more info from the teacher about what is going on at school. And ask your son. How does he feel about school? As a 5th grade teacher (and well, as a principal too) I saw kids begin to fall apart about 4th grade because their innate intelligence could no longer keep up with the subject matter. And that was usually due to the inability to concentrate.

      • #83326

        Thank you! It’s so difficult to get the whole picture into these forums! A little extra info: he has been doing great with journals previously this year it’s only been the end of Feb/March where his behavior at school as a whole has declined, the teacher has been amazing at making accommodations for him (allowing him to move at leisure as long as it doesn’t distract others, helping with homework, communication to us, etc.) I cannot say enough positive about this teacher! He can focus great in Math and Science, with the exception of Stretch Your Thinking assignments, which require more effort and writing. The teacher wasn’t punishing him at school and asking for punishment at home, he was asking for reinforcement at home, mostly asking for reduced screen time, which looking back may be because my son said all he thinks about is his tablet!?! 😉

        The teachers way of communicating that the day didn’t go great is to remove a point on Class Dojo, which is basically an app and no real consequence. Some things I’ve already tried are the choice between no tablet time and early bedtime, however he always chooses early bedtime and then refuses to go to bed. Most recently I tried the writing assignment at home, write about why you didn’t do journal, which I really liked because he did the writing and it opened my eyes to his struggles. I love sandman2’s idea of helping him with the writing at home, etc. I appreciate all the responses, but I really do like the teacher. I think he understands my son super well! He really has been a pleasure to have, and I will miss him dearly next year!! He has gotten my son to enjoy school again! He has gotten him to enjoy reading again! I think this is just an annual phase that we will experience each year during March, as I think the seasons also affect my son.

    • #83307

      Here is an alternate view. My son also failed to make anything of his journalling assignments in elementary school. He is now 23 and the various pressures brought to bear on him agave him anxiety problems and a hatred of learning and school that kept him out of college. I’m just saying that is our experience. I will share a link to a very informative 13 minute video from ADHD researcher Russell Barkley at the end of my comment. My son also did not do well working in groups no matter how much they pushed it on him. He is an ADHD kid and it is not a temporary condition. He is different. He is not neurotypical and you can hammer for the rest of his school years but the square peg is NOT going to fit the round hole without damaging the peg. Consider home schooling. I live in purportedly one of the best public school systems in the nation but they did not get that ranking by providing services to kids that are different. They made their reputation by the excellence of their neurotypical students. If you won’t choose the home schooling route, prepare to do battle with a formidable foe. They will make you think they will help but in the end, they will not accomodate him. If they can’t make him perform under their system, they will marginalize him until he is completely disenchanted with the whole process. This is my experience. Withdraw him into a world made for him or do battle with (and lose to) the entire school bureuacracy.

      Dr Barkley begins with three simple sentences that explain why this is a process written in stone. You must build supportive scaffolding that will address your son’s needs and only you can do it. Good luck to you. There are many more fully explanatory videos on Youtube.

    • #83417

      Misbehavior at school is punished at school – preferably not during recess times, but never punish at home for his misbehavior at school…home is his refuge from school.
      by all means talk to him about it – 3 sentences is not too much to ask, he has to realize that he is required to comply and that daydreaming is not an acceptable excuse for not writing 3 sentences. You sound like you definitely have some good insight into his behavior yourself. These kids are brutally honest which can be very painful sometimes. In my daughters classroom the children can choose from 4 different types of seats, wobbly, regular, balls, standing…and seating, group, single, etc to optimise their functionality. the teachers need to be trusting that the kids will in most cases make a responsible decision. Also fidget cubes, and other toys have a limited time span of benefit, but might help. A given subject is sometimes OK but maybe the teacher needs to give them a choice of his topic or theirs, so long as its 3 sentences? Teacher needs educating.

      • This reply was modified 3 years, 8 months ago by JWK.
    • #83423

      You sound frustrated. How about this for a suggestion.
      Negotiation + x2 containers.
      Your sons participation is important+ pieces of paper & a pen. Ask him 6 rewards that he would like, he rights them down on pieces of paper folds the paper & puts them in one container. Next he writes down 6 consequences he writes them down folds paper and puts the in other container.
      When he complies he pulls out of reward container, non compliance consequences other container.
      Object of exercise he has pulled out relevant piece of paper, you have not.
      Good luck

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