8 Teen Learning Hurdles & ADHD Expert Solutions
Your teen’s world — academics, athletics, and social life — has been blown to smithereens. This is understandably disconcerting — and disruptive to the learning process, not to mention the living process. Parents today need a new set of tools to manage a whole new set of challenges. Here, find effective strategies for helping your teen with ADHD develop the routine and habits needed to unlock quarantine schooling success.
Teens attending high school during this pandemic are navigating unprecedented challenges and expectations, many of which require executive functions, time-management skills, and internal motivation — qualities that, in the best of times, are in short supply for many students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), executive functioning challenges, or learning disabilities (LD).
Meanwhile, parents who are sheltering in place while helping their teens learn at home are feeling frustrated and confused about reasonable school expectations — and how to achieve them. They have lots of questions and are in need of effective strategies.
To address parents’ most pressing concerns, ADDitude recently sought insight from Jodi Sleeper-Triplett, an ADHD coach and coach trainer, founder of JST Coaching & Training, and author of Empowering Youth with ADHD (#CommissionsEarned).
“The best things parents can do right now it to provide support, implement structure, and set up clear expectations,” she said. “Let your teen know that doing the best they can is absolutely fine, and remind them that everybody’s going through this crisis together.”
Here, she answers the most common questions from parents of teens with ADHD in quarantine.
Zero Structure Breeds Zero Motivation
“My teen is lost without a consistent daily routine. It’s tough even getting him up out of bed, never mind tackling that day’s assignments. How can I encourage him to get up and at it?”
Our lives have been turned upside down; parents should work to provide structure in these chaotic times. Sit down with your teen and say, “OK, rather than telling you what I want you to do, I would like to talk about what are you willing to do and create a schedule that might mirror those goals. How can we work on that together?” Solicit your teen’s input because giving choice and genuinely listening is definitely going to help them buy into what they need to do.
When you set up a routine, make sure your teen understands all the steps of the plan, and institute accountability check-ins. I check in with text messages, maybe once an hour. The check-in is a gentle reminder that alerts your teenager to what he should be doing, When your teen hears that text ping, he thinks, “Oh, that’s right. I’m supposed to be doing this.”
Overwhelmed by Online Assignments
“My daughter is overwhelmed by the online assignments sent to her by her teacher. She gets the assignment from her teacher, but either doesn’t understand all the instructions or has anxiety about finishing it all. What can I do?”
Break up those assignment requirements into smaller goals to avoid overwhelm. Say, “Start with step one… leave steps two or three for later.” This takes the pressure off, which can help your child manage her overwhelm. Remember to celebrate after she completes step one. Celebrate what she gets done, instead of focusing on what’s been left undone. This creates a less-stressful environment and encourages your kids to keep moving forward.
We also have to be honest about the fact that we are not the best resource for our teens when it comes to schoolwork. We might argue with our child a lot or nag him to the point where he doesn’t want to talk with us. Who else could be a resource to help him get his work done? Perhaps a study buddy would help. Consider finding an online tutor. Many college students are home finishing up the semester online and may be available to work with your son or daughter.
Forgetting to Hit the Submit Button
“My daughter does the work assigned by her teacher but forgets to submit it. What can I do to help?”
Begin daily check-ins with your teen. Review a list of assignments before you do the check in. Say, “Let’s do a quick double check and see what needs to be turned in. This is about helping you with your memory and making sure you get credit for all of your hard work. I trust you, but a lot of things are going on in your life, so it’s just good to have another set of eyes on things.” I would do that daily for 10 or 15 minutes. Keep it casual and upbeat.
Falling Into Distraction Traps
“My teen has the best of intentions in terms of getting work done, but he gets distracted being home. It is not like being the classroom.”
That’s a tough one: How do we stay on track with work and school, while we’re also on a computer that has browsers, tabs, and other things going on? My best recommendation here is to negotiate the amount of time your child should work — 25 or 30 minutes — and use lots of timers and check-ins to keep him on track. If your teen is being distracted working at the dining room table, say, “Let’s have you work in your room, where it is quieter.” And ask, “Would it be reasonable if I came and checked every hour or sent a text every 30 minutes to see how you’re doing?” Getting your teen’s buy-in into parental monitoring will lead to his acceptance of it.
Managing My Teen’s Anxiety and Worry
“My teen seems overly anxious and worried about the pandemic and it has gotten in the way of his focus on schoolwork. What can I do?”
First make sure that your child is taking his medication — for ADHD and anxiety — if it is being prescribed for him. Adding routine to the day at home will also help dissipate some of that anxiety and worry. Design a plan at home that mirrors his school schedule. If a typical day comprises 45-minute classes, followed by a bell, set the alarm for every 45 minutes. Then have them get up, move for 5 to 10 minutes, and do it again. Good activities include stretching, jumping jacks, yoga, and deep breathing, all of which re-energize the brain in that moment.
Ask your teen, “What is it that you like about your day when you’re in school? What helps you to get through?” Recreate that in some form at home. That’s calming because, remember: You teen’s routine, like yours, has been turned upside down.
Also speak with your family members about how stress is affecting each of you. Admit that this is hard on everyone in the family. You might confess added stress makes you forget things and ask, “So how does it impact you? What do you notice?” This will help your kids understand that their anxiety is not just about them. Everyone is feeling it.
If your teen seems particularly down and unmotivated, I have found that HappyLight by Verilux (#CommissionsEarned) can help. It’s a little light box that sits on your desk and radiates full-spectrum light. You don’t stare into it. The device adds natural light to the space where your teen is working. It really helps lift one’s spirits.
Lying About Assignments
“My-15-year-old son gets really angry when I contact his teachers to verify assignments or follow up on work. The reason I do it is because I have caught him lying about what work he has to get done. Is there a tension-free way to go about this?”
My recommendation is to ask your student to get in touch with the teacher. One thing that’s worked really well for me over the years is to have the student email the teacher and copy the parent, so that everyone is on the same page. That way you know he has followed through, and you don’t have to say, “I don’t trust you,” or “I have to do this because you’re not getting things done.” And the teachers like it, too. They like to see students advocating for themselves and taking the initiative to clarify assignments.
Lacking the Physical Release That Boosts Focus
“My son is hyperactive and needs a release for his energy before he can think about tackling schoolwork. I need help finding a physical outlet for his high energy since he is limited in going outside for physical recreation.”
Think creatively about physical recreation. If you have a dog, take him for a long walk early in the morning or a little later at night when fewer people are around. If you’re a runner, invite your teen to go along with you for a half hour jog. If you have yard work to do, have him cut the grass or prune branches while you weed.
If you have to stay indoors, find an activity that everyone can get involved in. Play music and dance around. Also have your child do schoolwork while standing up. Place your teen’s computer on a tall counter or chest of drawers so she isn’t sitting all day. When your child takes a break from assignments, devise a exercise routine in which you can participate: 20 jumping jacks, 20, pushups, 20 squats.
Losing My Temper with My Teen
“I’m a mom of three kids, all of whom are home from school. My biggest challenge is getting them to do their schoolwork while finishing my own work from the office. It is tough and I lose my temper from time to time. Any suggestions?”
We want our kids to be happy, we want them to be healthy, and we want them to trust us and get along with us. So pick your battles, share your battles, and work together to help the battles go away. Have a contest, for instance, to see how many days — or hours if the atmosphere at home is really tense — you and your children can go without a blow up.
I’m a firm believer in deep breathing. Do it for 10 minutes before the rest of the family gets up, as well as here and there throughout the day. Practice mindfulness: Pour your cup of coffee, sit at the kitchen table, and just hold the cup, noticing the steam rising out of the cup, the warmth, the smell. It takes you down to a calmer level so you’re better able to start the day. Also, the Calm app is very helpful for adults and teens with ADHD.
Don’t forget about self-care. When you spend your day focusing on everything your children are doing, or not doing, you are not taking care of yourself. And when you don’t take care of yourself, you’re going to be more frustrated, more emotional, and more annoyed or angry. Our kids will pick up on that very quickly. They are so intuitive; they pick up all the little stuff that we give back to them. So I encourage you take care of yourself — eat healthy, exercise regularly, and get seven or eight hours of sleep a night.
The information in this article is based on Jodi Sleeper-Triplett’s ADDitude webinar, “Quaran-Teens with ADHD: Troubleshooting Learning, Motivation, and Organization Problems,” which was broadcast live in March 2020.
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