Q: “How Can We Build Up My Teen’s Working Memory Muscle?”
Poor working memory is a symptom of ADHD that makes it difficult for students to remember lessons learned, homework assigned, and upcoming tests. School accommodations can help, but what about deadlines and repercussions in the real world?
Q: “I understand why students with ADHD should not be punished for working memory issues, but what is the best way to train them on this, so they can gain the skill and meet deadlines in life?”
A: I teach parents about working memory with this scenario: Your student is in math class at 8 am and learning fractions. At that time and in that moment, he understands what is being taught. Now fast forward to 8 pm. Your student opens up his math homework, looks at it and says, “I have no idea what this is. I never learned it.”
So, did he learn it? Yes. Did he remember it? No. What he is really saying is that the information he learned earlier that day did not “superglue” to his brain. It boomeranged right out. So how do you help your student “remember to remember?”
1. Try to link the unknown to the known. Try asking questions like “Where have you seen or heard this before?” or “What is similar to this?” This allows your child to anchor new information to something that might already be engrained in his memory. Saying something simple like “You have the same amount of time right now to work on your math homework as it takes to drive to school” may give him something to tether that information to.
2. How are you going to remember to remember? As parents (and I’m guilty of this, too) we tend to do what I call the “by the ways” and “don’t forgets.” You know what that looks like: Your child is running out the door and you call out, “Oh, by the way, don’t forget to meet me at 3 pm by the side door of the school!” The likelihood that your child will remember that information is pretty slim. To cement it, ask a follow-up question: “How are you going to remember to remember?” This gives your child an opportunity to find a scaffolding method to remember the information.
3. Say it backwards. I learned this method from a middle school teacher! She explained that when she wants her students to truly solidify information she has taught, she has them repeat it to her backward. Her reasoning? That the brain has to work harder to recall information when it remembers backward so it’s more likely to stick. I use this trick with all of my student coaching clients, and it works!
Working Memory Help: Next Steps
- Test: Could Your Child Have a Working Memory Deficit?
- Read: 15 Memory Exercises for Forgetful Kids
- Learn: 10 Ways to Improve Your Teen’s Executive Skills
ADHD Family Coach 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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