Dear Teen Parenting Coach

Q: Online Schooling Is a Nightmare. How Can I Help My Struggling Teen?

If your teen hates, avoids, and/or is failing online learning, try asking the school for help, and try these small but helpful adjustments at home to boost motivation and build up confidence.

Close up of sad student on laptop sitting on a desk at home at night

Q: “My daughter is struggling with just about every aspect of online schooling now. She has trouble staying organized, remembering assignments, and motivating herself to do the work. It takes her a long time to do homework, and she hasn’t done so well on tests, either. On top of that, she is unwilling to ask her teachers for help. Her struggles are a huge stressor for me, as I cannot stay on top of her all the time. What can I do?”

While many schools are doing a great job with making online learning compelling, some schools, unfortunately, are falling short. All of your daughter’s struggles right now are pointing to one thing: she is spent, overwhelmed, bored, and unengaged with school.

If you haven’t already, communicate with the school about what’s going on instead of only managing this only at home. Involve your daughter in the conversation. Ask the school what they will do to better support your child and your family, and check in with your daughter about what types of support she will actually accept. Make sure you outline what the school will take care of, and what you can do at home to assist your daughter.

How to Support a Struggling Student at Home

1. Break down and structure assignments. Get into a work rhythm by first understanding when your teen is most productive. Work with your daughter to determine how long she can stand being online before her brain starts to get tired and create structure around that (alternate between 20 minutes of work and 5-minute breaks, for example). When it comes to breaks, talk about what she can do that will be restorative but also keep her motivated. The order of assignments is also important – does she prefer to tackle the tough stuff first and end with the easy assignments, or vice versa?

2. Set up visual cues for tasks. Whiteboards, checklists, charts, and other visual systems are immensely beneficial for teens with ADHD. The less they have to store inside their head and remember, the better. These systems also cut down on nagging. Encourage your daughter to write out assignments and important due dates on a large, prominent whiteboard to which she can easily refer. Then she can erase them when they are completed. You can also use Post-Its.

[Click to Read: My Teen with ADHD Only Works When I’m Standing Over Him!]

3. Work offline as much as possible. Having to stare at a screen for hours on end is one major reason behind your daughter’s struggles. Have her print out assignments, readings, and other materials as much as possible for a much-needed screen break and to refresh her mind. Encourage her to read physical books, too, so she can underline and better engage with the text.

4. Set up a system of checks. Constantly nagging or checking up on your daughter won’t help and might actually backfire. But having a check-in schedule can reduce stress, manage expectations, and keep your daughter on track. One idea is to meet at the beginning and end of the week (you can also loop in the teacher or another educator) to talk about homework, tests, and any other school matters.

5. Come up with a plan about asking for help. One of the reasons it’s especially hard for kids with ADHD to ask for help is because of shame — on top of anger and frustration — over what they’re being asked to do. They may think, I hate asking for help. I want to be like everyone else and do it the way they can. Asking for help is also complicated for parents – When should I intervene, and when should I let them handle it on their own?

In your daughter’s case, find a time to talk to her outside of homework and school about how she can ask for help in a way that works for both of you. You may encourage her to send you a text, an email, or write what she needs help with on a sticky note. You can also agree on the frequency. Now that she needs more support, ask her to come to you at least once or twice a day for help, and she can take care of the rest.

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If she doesn’t want to reach out to you all the time (and if your time is limited), encourage her to reach out to teachers, classroom aides, tutors and/or other educators for their assistance. After all, they know the material best and can probably convey it to her most effectively

6. Talk to your child’s doctor. If she is taking ADHD medication, it could be the case that the medicine is wearing off or no longer working in this learning environment. Consult with the prescribing doctor to see what they recommend.

Struggling Student with ADHD: Next Steps

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