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“Planners, Small Wins, and Other Keys to High School Happiness”

“For students with ADHD and executive function challenges, a few key strategies can alleviate stress at school and tension at home – and significantly improve the high school experience.”

Is your teen with ADHD about to start high school? Congratulations! It’s an exciting (and anxious) time of change. You may feel overwhelmed and nervous about all that’s on your child’s plate at first, and that’s normal as executive function demands increase from middle to high school. Students are suddenly expected to manage their time and materials independently, transition seamlessly between classes and activities, and, oh, then there’s the homework.

For students with ADHD and executive function challenges, a few key strategies can alleviate stress at school and tension at home – and significantly improve the high school experience.

How to Start High School Right: 4 Ways to Support Your Teen

1. See the Big Picture

Throughout the year (and the entirety of high school), help your teen keep an eye on the big picture by asking them about major topics of learning, specific learning units, and how their homework or projects relate.

They don’t need to have all the answers; just thinking about these questions is a useful way for your teen to identify what they need to know or find out. Understanding the big picture also supports motivation.

In these conversations, show your child your genuine interest in what their day is like, and let them play teacher as they explain their subjects to you.

[Free Download: Transform Your Teen’s Apathy Into Engagement]

It helps tremendously when a student solidifies a strong grasp of each class’s routines and procedures, especially at the start of each school year. Each teacher has their own norms and procedures for submitting work and scheduling assessments, and getting oriented early to each course can prevent a lot of frustration. Review each course’s expectations together and remember that 100% understanding doesn’t have to happen overnight.

2. Use a Planner with Monthly and Weekly/Daily Views

Many teachers use a webpage or a learning management system (LMS) to post lessons and assignments and keep track of it all. While such a system is useful, a personal planner can go a long way in supporting organization skills and boosting your teen’s motivation.

A slim paper planner will do the job, but your teen may want to use a planner app, calendar, or the calendar and task bar features included in their preferred email platform. No matter the medium, your teen’s planner must have these essential elements:

Monthly View

Use this to note

  • large assessments
  • project due dates
  • important family and school events
  • weekend commitments

[Read: Your High School Get-It-Together Guide]

The monthly view is essential because it helps teens make better daily choices. For example, your child may think they can catch up on all their homework this weekend, but a glance at the monthly calendar reminds them that they have a sleepover Friday into Saturday, and a family event on Sunday. That means your child will need to prioritize their homework over other activities during the week if they want to enjoy their weekend plans.

In online calendars, the monthly-view boxes are often too small to be effective, so use the weekly view, and help your child develop a habit of regularly viewing a few weeks ahead.

Daily or Weekly View

Uses this to note

  • The day’s classes and that night’s homework
  • Tasks or materials needed for extracurriculars

The daily/weekly view helps teens know what materials they need to bring home for the night and what they need to pack to bring in the next day. Having a list of assignments handy may also motivate your child to use free periods or time before extracurriculars to get a head-start.

The daily/weekly view can also help your child understand how much time a task requires. Before doing a task, have them estimate how much time they think it will take. Then ask them to note their start and finish times to see how long it actually took.

If their estimates are way off from results, your child should ask:

  • Did I underestimate the time the task takes?
  • Did interruptions, like shifting between work and texts, prolong the task?

3. Create a Homework Plan

Homework is a common pain point for both parents and teens. To minimize conflict, get everyone on the same page.

  • Talk to your teen about how you would each like homework time to go. Think realistically about your child’s extracurricular activities and how that schedule may impact the homework plan.
  • Ask your child to commit to working in uninterrupted blocks ranging from 20 to 40 minutes, with short breaks in between.
  • Discuss your expectations for social media and online entertainment during homework time. Many teens do homework with their mobile device by their side, and are constantly shifting between the two, making for an unproductive, unfocused work period. Save social media or gaming for a reward when homework is complete. You can expect some resistance here, but if your teen is willing to try, they’ll likely finish their homework more quickly and see other benefits.
  • Agree to a few check-ins, perhaps at the start of homework time and mid-way through.

4. Celebrate Small Wins

Acknowledge when your teen uses a strategy successfully, or when they are eager to troubleshoot a problem. Celebrate when homework goes smoothly and let them enjoy their downtime.

When you meet your teen with positive feedback often, it shows them that you’re committed to their success.

With these four strategies, keep in mind that your teen may naturally want more independence. It’s important to truly partner with them to create routines that balance support and the independence they crave. This way, they’ll see that spending a little time planning (like many parents would like) saves a lot of time and stress in execution, and that when they communicate with you and use the strategies you create together, you’ll grant them more independence.

Starting High School: Next Steps


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