The following is adapted from a talk that I recently gave for the Bergen County Chapter of CHADD (Children and Adults with ADHD, an organization whose mission is to improve the lives of people affected by ADHD) on the subject of Creating Structure to Help Your Teens and Preteens with ADHD Get Schoolwork Done at Home. I am dividing it into three installments. The third installment has become a bit longer than intended. I am therefore dividing it into two parts - 3a and 3b. 3a will discuss: Practical Strategies - What Structuring the Day Should Look Like. I learned a number of these strategies from Leslie Josel, a student coach and owner of a company entitled “Order Out of Chaos,” and Elaine Taylor-Klaus and Diane Dempster, parent coaches and owners of a company called “Impact ADHD.” Here goes 3a:
The first step in creating a structure for the day is:
A. Creating a collaborative arrangement with your teen or preteen. This may be a delicate process. It involves treating them with the dignity and respect of a partner. This may feel strange since they are quite a far cry from behaving like dignified adults. Nevertheless, it is worth pursuing - it will greatly increase the likelihood of their cooperation in both the planning process and execution.
Collaboration begins with asking their permission to have a conversation, at a time that is convenient for them. The request is to be made respectfully, and the terms “I” and “you” replaced with “we” as frequently as possible. Rather than, “When can I talk to you?” say, “Is there a time that we can discuss something?”
Including them in the process is not only invaluable in getting their buy in - it is also a great way for them to develop the skill of structuring a day on their own. Once they have done this with you enough times, they will learn how to do it independently. Additionally, everyone’s manifestation of ADHD is unique. Their input will enable you to employ the strategies that are most suited to their strengths and directly address their weaknesses.
B. Identify the times of day that your child is most capable of doing work. Those with ADHD often feel “brain fog” at certain times of day, more restless and hyperactive certain parts of the day, and more alert and present at different times of day. Identifying this pattern will enable choosing the most effective times of day for the most intellectually challenging tasks.
C. Find the most effective location for their work. One would imagine that working at a desk in a quiet room would naturally be the best workplace for one who struggles to focus, but this is not necessarily always the case. Working alone may create a feeling of FOMO - the sense that everyone outside of the room must be having an amazing time while your teen is missing out. It can also create feelings of restlessness. The best way to determine the best work location for your child is to ask them. [Options can include their room, the dining room, the porch, backyard, or anywhere else that you or they think of.]
There are several other important elements of location:
1. The atmosphere in the room - namely the lighting and background noise. Some with ADHD find that music settles them down. Others will likely find it distracting. As always, ask them.
2. Who else will be in the room at the time, and what they will be doing there. A sibling close in age hard at work can create a better atmosphere for productivity, while a younger sibling singing their heart out will probably not.
3. Distracting items - most notoriously, your child’s cellphone. They may want or need to have it nearby. This may not be a problem if there is an effective way to make sure it does not distract them. Some options could involve putting it on silent mode, or even airplane mode, making all important notifications loud while blocking others, putting it in the room but in an inconvenient place, or anything else they feel will limit its level of distraction. As always, they are the most likely ones to know which strategy is best for them.
D. Beginning a task can be a specific challenge for those with ADHD. Though they are frequently accused of being lazy or indifferent, the reality is that a number of ADHD related challenges can interfere with beginning tasks. This is neurobiology, not laziness.
-One of these challenges is an extreme fear of boredom. A client of mine once told me that his two greatest fears are death and boredom. He wasn’t kidding. If a task strikes the ADHD brain as boring, it is highly averse to doing it.
-Another challenge of beginning tasks is that of executive function. Experts such as Lynne Edris and Leslie Josel explain that procrastination often takes place when directions are unclear. Trouble with executive function makes it difficult to discern what steps need to be taken, and in what order. When directions are hazy, those with ADHD often don’t even know where to begin.
These issues need to be addressed in creating a schedule with your teen or preteen. To address boredom:
Breaking a task down into smaller components can make the boring seem less daunting, and can create discreet steps to follow. Additionally, a task that your child finds boring can be broken up into small periods of time, interspersed between other tasks. (More on this soon.)
A formula for addressing the executive function aspect of starting tasks is explained by Leslie Josel:
1. Identify what the assignment is. An example could be to read “Chapter 7” and answer review questions, or to study for a history test.
2. Identify how the task is going to be carried out. For example, the assignment could be done with a pen and paper, Word document, Google document, Google classroom, etc. Studying may be done by reading notes, using flashcards, writing summaries etc. (Josel notes that research shows that the use of flash cards or anything that engage the brain to actively use recall rather reading over notes repetitively is a more effective study tool.)
3. Identify which supplies will be necessary - pens, pencils and paper, a laptop, a flash-drive, charger, flashcards, or anything else.
4. Identify where to find these supplies. Josel recommends having a designated place in the house for school supplies in order to facilitate this smoothly.
Thanks again for reading! Part 3b will discuss Strategies for Staying on Task. Coming soon!
Rabbi Shmuel Reich AAPC is an ADHD life coach in private practice in Monsey, NY (remote coaching also available) as well as a rebbi in Yeshivas Ohr Reuven in Suffern, NY. He can be reached for coaching of individuals or couples, as well as for speaking or writing engagements, at email@example.com or 646-262-8257.