It’s more of a Brain Problem than a Motivation Problem, (but it’s also a motivation problem)
To me, the advantage of being an older Mom is that this isn’t my first rodeo. (I repost this info every year at back to school time, so things have changed a bit over the years.) This month, my youngest is now a Senior in High School, so this will be our last trip through the public school system. Hard to believe, but I’ve had kids in school continuously for 30 straight years – Wow! That’s the disadvantage to having kids so far apart!
Our oldest son mostly sailed through his school years pretty easily, but my two younger sons really struggled with their ADHD issues. There were nearly 10 years between #2 and #3, so I had changed tactics a lot. Our middle son literally had his cap and gown held hostage on his graduation day because he still had a couple of missing assignments to make up. That was humiliating for both of us, so I’m hoping not to repeat that situation again!
Start with Homework
One thing I’m doing differently is doing my homework – literally. A friend recommended a great book called “Organizing the Disorganized Child” by Martin L. Kutscher & Marcella Moran. I’m not only reading it, I’m blogging about it, partly to help me cement the lessons into my life, and partly to help you with your kids too.
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This is a great workbook for younger ADHD kids It’s a top seller in Amazon’s educational products and it will really help you understand what is going on with them and how to best help them.
The opening chapter of the Disorganized Kid book really rang a bell with me. They start out by talking about brain development. Turns out that part of the problem is that these kids may not have developed mature enough brains to have the thought processes required for proper organization. That made a big change in my attitude right there. You can get mad at a kid you think is lazy or isn’t trying hard enough, but not at a kid who simply isn’t capable of what you’re asking.
You can’t get mad at a kid who simply isn’t capable of what you’re asking. Their brain just isn’t there yet.
Homework Strategies for your Disorganized Kid
Once you take the anger and frustration out of the equation, it’s much easier to focus on the strategies that will help your son or daughter be more successful. One place to start is right at the beginning, while you are buying your back-to-school supplies.
The Blackhole Backpack/Notebook Problem
One of the biggest pitfalls of the Jr/Sr High life is the “black hole” backpack. This is just a killer for ADHD kids. They literally cannot function like other kids, so you want to set them up for success right from the beginning. You want to look for a backpack with just a few pockets, and a simple notebook set-up that will minimize any confusion.
I chose a Trapper Keeper-Style notebook with front & back pockets and dividers for each subject. I labeled the front & back pockets very clearly as “PAPERS TO GO HOME” and “PAPERS TO TURN IN” so there is only ONE place to keep papers that need to travel back & forth. Simplicity is the key – it makes it so confusing for these kids if they have multiple places to look for their things.
The biggest pitfall for these kids is the BLACK HOLE backpack. Get them something simple that will your ADHD kid keep organized. One spot for work to do, one for work to turn in.
The Planner Problem – they HATE planners!
The school planner is also a critical tool with multiple classes. You have to get them into the habit of writing down their assignments for every class, every day. Yes, they will hate it and they will fight it, but they didn’t like potty training much either and you survived that!
Our rule is that if he leaves it at school, he has to go to bed early – a fate worse than death in his book. He also has to write something for every class – even if it is “No Homework”. Otherwise, he has to use the “phone a friend” option to call one of his friends from that class and get them to confirm the homework assignment. That stops the “I don’t have any homework today” excuse right in it’s tracks. And besides, “it’s totally embarrassing, Mom!” That makes it a great deterrent.
Then use Powerschool daily to help monitor that the schoolwork actually makes it to the teacher – that’s where we always got stuck. It was just in it’s early stages when my kids were in school, so it was very hit ‘n miss, but I’m sure it’s much more sophisticated now. You can probably set up alerts and stuff.
Setting up the study space is the next step. Structure is SO critical for these kids. Set up a specific time and place for studying that works for your particular kid. I suggest the kitchen table or in the living room where you can pop in and check on them once in a while. Distraction is the constant pattern for these kids. Homework is actually kind of painful for them, so they will try to distract themselves with ANYTHING. You probably know that already and may have the same issue yourself – I know I do!
A visual learner may need to have everything out where he can see it, while a different type of kid can only focus on one assignment at a time and can’t have anything lying that around he or she might play with. Some kids can have music on, some can’t. They are all individuals. Set it up for your kid. Use a timer and schedule frequent breaks (also timed). Don’t forget the importance of praise and encouragement. Focus on progress, not perfection.
The Cell Phone Problem
Now, let’s talk about the cell phone problem. If adults can’t even keep their mitts off their phones long enough to drive, how can you imagine that a kid can resist that temptation? Even a non-ADHD kid! Give them a fighting chance with this cell phone time-out box. It’s really just a pencil box, but I like it because it has a KEY. The phone goes in at homework time, dinner time, and bedtime. Yes, they will HATE it, but it’s going to help their focus and sleep habits immensely.
Check out my post on cell phone addiction in teens and adults. I swear it’s a thing and it’s a very serious problem especially if your kid is driving! I’ve also got a very helpful posts on managing teen boys who are obsessed with video games (sigh).
I promise you will thank me! Get the whole family into this habit and you’ll see some amazing changes. I do this myself. My kids clearly got their distraction/disorganized problems from someone and it definitely was ME. When I have to do focused work, my phone is in a box or a drawer with all alerts turned OFF. Helps tremendously. If you do nothing else, get one of these!
Zap Parties Strategy
One thing our school does is ZAP parties. ZAP stands for Zeroes Aren’t Permitted. They have parties every two weeks that can only be attended by the kids who have no missing work. Get that – NO missing work? And they make them really fun so it’s a big incentive for kids to keep up their work.
Kids who do have missing assignments get to spend the party in study hall playing catch up. That sucks, so it helps keep them on track. Even if your school doesn’t have something like that, you could do your own for your kids and her friends. Maybe set something up to take turns hosting with a few other parents.
Try some of these strategies, maybe ALL of these strategies. I promise you the issue will get TONS better. Maybe not perfect, but BETTER and really that’s about all you can hope for! Leave some of your own tips in the comments!