Ask the Experts

Dear Organizing Coach: How Can I Guide My Daughter Toward Success — Without Taking Over?

When teens are high-achieving, but struggle with ADHD, they can take on too much — and sometimes, their performance starts to slip, despite their best efforts. Here’s how parents can help kids succeed, while still encouraging independence and setting reasonable boundaries.

A teenager with ADHD, playing saxophone in a performing arts class
Teen student is playing the saxophone in her school music lesson. The rest of the class are in the background, out of focus.

Q: “My daughter is a very bright, generally high-achieving student who is very active in the performing arts program at her high school. When her activities get more demanding, she does not complete her work or study — and her grades start to tank. In the past, I have jumped in to contact teachers, but I do not think this is developmentally appropriate for her anymore. She also does not want me to check the online grade book or ask about assignments. She is applying to fairly demanding college programs, which are a good fit for her current GPA. It is possible, however, that her grades this semester will damage her candidacy for her top schools. How can I support her without overstepping boundaries? Thanks.” —CollegeBound


Dear CollegeBound:

Boy, did this question resonate with me! It wasn’t too long ago I was sitting across the table from my college-bound son (who also has ADHD and was in a performing arts program at his high school) trying to figure out how to negotiate boundaries. I can offer you these tips that worked for me.

Go for the big questions. Nothing brings conversation to a screeching halt faster than nagging or intrusive questions. So instead of asking about specific assignments or grades, try dialogue starters such as, “So how do you feel about…?” or “What’s your plan to….” or even “What might get in your way?” Starting conversations like this is a softer approach and may avoid that shutdown syndrome.

Ask before offering assistance. Yes, you heard me. This was the hardest thing for me to learn how to do. I’m a fixer by nature and always want to jump in with a solution. But offering unsolicited help almost always shuts down the back-and-forth. As my son got older, my rule of thumb was to ask him first, “Do you want my help or do you want to go it alone?” Believe it or not, the answer was usually “Help, please!”

[The High School Study Guide for Teens with ADHD]

Give them opportunities to rise to the occasion. Though it felt super nerve-wracking at the time, I had to allow my son to “try and fly” on his own. I set parameters — and made them clear, concise, and direct. I ensured that he knew he was accountable. And while he admitted he had to keep track of a lot, he appreciated the trust I demonstrated that he could manage it.


Organization guru Leslie Josel, of Order Out of Chaos, will answer questions from ADDitude readers about everything from paper clutter to disaster-zone bedrooms and from mastering to-do lists to arriving on time every time.

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