Ask the Experts

Q: How Can We Teach Accountability to Our Middle School Child?

We are trying to teach independence and accountability to our middle school student with ADHD. But he forgets assignments a lot, doesn’t remember lessons, and generally fails more than we’d like. How can we help him take responsibility for his obligations and education without setting him up to fail or accepting his excuses?

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Q: “How can I help teach my middle-school son to be better about taking responsibility for his actions, and not be full of excuses? We’re working hard to teach our son to be independent and self-sufficient – a lot of the time this means providing guidance on how to use his brain coach, use tools to organize himself (like timers, write things down, use a day planner, etc), and manage his own time and priorities. We try to be hands off as much as we can, which means we hear a lot of ‘I forgot’ or ‘I didn’t know’ or ‘I didn’t understand,’ etc.

“As he’s getting older, we’re seeing the excuses get more colorful/interesting and it seems that we’re in a cycle of fail/make excuse/repeat. The behavior never gets any better, the issue never goes away, the excuses keep coming. We’re hearing this is an issue at school as well. As I write this, I realize that part of the issue can probably be resolved by helping him not ‘fail’ in the first place with better executive functioning help. But we are doing a lot to coach him and it doesn’t seem to make a difference. And I also worry that he’s found this cycle and relies on it – as though his failing to do something right or to completion is ‘ok’ because he can just excuse it away. We are very good about holding him accountable – he loses access to preferred activities, or gets more chores added to his day at home. But the lack of taking responsibility and excuse-making is still a big issue. Is this normal? Do we just need to ride it out? Are the things we can do to help?”

A: “I’m really glad to hear you are holding him accountable, but make sure your expectations are realistic. If your son is 10 to 12 years old, his executive functioning is essentially that of a 7 to 9 year old. You need to meet him at his executive functioning age, not his chronological age…”


ADHD Accountability: Next Steps

1. Read This: How Responsible is ADHD for My Teen’s Defiant Behaviors
2. Take Steps: No More Excuses for Not Doing Homework
3. Free Handout: Homework Strategies for ADHD Students

Ryan Wexelblatt, LCSW is the facilitator of the ADHD Dude Facebook Group and YouTube channel.

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