Your student with ADHD has made it to the end of another academic term.
Congratulations! You've been through a lot.
So many students and their parents (especially if we, too, have ADHD) come out of an assessment period thinking “next term will be different and we will be super organised and everything is going to be AMAZING!”
Our kids and their parents have a tendency to revel in magical thinking at these times, especially if we’ve had a bit of pain from the stress of assessment season. “Next time will be different, I’ll do everything early and I’ll never forget anything”. Hard relate.
I (begrudgingly) find it helpful to anchor this sentiment to reality. Collect data and actually reflect on our experience in a way that can actually result in actionable change.
And wowsers I wish someone had run through this with me when I was a kid! (I fully acknowledge that I would have been a total pain in the a and resisted. My poor parents.)
A word about independence and students with ADHD
There's an expectation set by schools, especially in Year 7 and beyond, that kids should be independent.
This can be very confusing for parents (and I am mind-boggled by it daily) when this expectations sits alongside gazillions of notifications and emails from school that infer a high level of parental involvement.
For parents of students with ADHD, insistence that their kids juggle school life independently can be extra confusing.
You may well have a niggly gut feeling that your kid is really not ready for all that independence. And fear that "letting go" may result in an epic academic faceplant.
The grey area truth: the craggy road to independence is a little rockier for kids with ADHD. They can totally get there, but they need a little bit more support and scaffolding than some of their same-aged mates.
The research tells us that kids with ADHD experience maturational delay of around 30% - which means they may lag about 3 years behind their peers in terms of executive function development.
What this means is that students with ADHD will probably need more parental involvement for longer. More support. More structure. More explicit teaching of executive skills.
What it doesn't mean is that we need to do things for our kids with ADHD that they can do themselves. Or that we shouldn't expect them to stretch and challenge themselves. Or that we wrap them up in cotton wool and protect them from every small failure and the valuable lessons they hold.
How a coach approach helps your student with ADHD inch towards independence
Structured, encouraging, collaborative reflection helps kids with ADHD reflect on their experience. You will help your kiddo:
- identify and integrate their strengths and hard-won successes into their sense of self (that's how self-esteem is built), and
- reflect on what could have been better, and come up with ideas (with buy-in!) to translate learning into a different approach next time.
This is one of the best activities you can do with your kids, especially if the conversation is couched in compassionate, curious objectivity.
So before you jump into this with your son or daughter with ADHD, make sure you take a coach approach with your kiddo, and yourself.
That looks like:
- I know this goes without saying, but I’ve made this mistake myself many times so here goes. Pick your moment to do this. Not last day of term when they get home wrecked. Not as a punishment. Not as an alternative to x-box after they haven't showered for 5 days.
- Respect their desire to find ways to do things that will work for them.
- No shame, no judgement, and as much curiosity as you can both muster. Zoom out and look at the data as objectively as possible with out making value judgements around effort or care. This will be a much more pleasant experience for everyone, AND you’ll walk away with meaningful actions. (Note the difference between “I need to try harder” or even “I need to stop procrastinating”, and “I will write dates in my term planner as soon as I get them” or “I will use a project planner")
- Celebrating what went well
- Asking your kid to reflect on what went well and what was the secret to their success
- Not being bogged down in your way being the only way. You hold the expectation, eg “It’s important that we make our mornings more efficient so that you’re on top for school and I’m on time for work”, but be collaborative and open to your kids creative suggestions in how this could work.
A general process for term or semester review
Ok so the below process is more relevant to high school students, or Year 5 and up, but the principles hold true for younger kids too. You’lll notice that there just a series of questions (look at you coaching!)
- Get the grades off the laptop and where you can see them all in the one place.
“What stands out to you looking at your marks?” or “What patterns can you see in your grades?”
- Celebrate effort
What did you work hard on last semester that you are proud of? (eg worked on planning more, honesty about where you’re at, packed my bag the night before, asked for help, reviewed my homework before submitting etc?) Some kids will need more help than others to recall their successes. If you can squeeze a few out of them, all the better?
- What did you learn about yourself?
Positive things and areas of improvement? Feel free to chime in with a positive you noticed about your kid. The more specific the better!
- What could be better?
If you could jump in your time machine and go back to the beginning of term, what would you do differently?
- Magic wand
If you could wave your magic wand and easily do one big helpful thing next term/semester, what would it be?
- How can I support you?
What kind of support was helpful this term? And how would you like me/us/school/tutors/coach to support you next term?
If in doubt, rest, connect and celebrate.
And that process is more than enough for now. So much of the advice that we get hit with as parents makes us more anxious about our parenting. That there is a right way and a wrong day to do things.
Yes, in a "perfect" environment - almost a laboratory where all other things are equal - the research shows us that there are optimal approaches and use of language when we're interacting with our kids. But if trying to be perfect all the time just adds to our stress and takes us further away from connection with our kid, what's the point?
We are parenting in the real world which means we come with our own histories, our own nervous systems and outside stressors.
Stick now to hugs, rest and celebration. Holidays are there for a reason. School is exhausting for kids with executive function challenges, and for their parents. If all you do for the rest of the break is reconnect without the stress of school, that is more than enough.
Nothing matters more than your relationship with your kid and the quality of your connection. This is very contingent on the relationship you have with yourself and how safe your child feels when they're with you.
These holidays and always, you cannot go wrong if you prioritise connection, presence and moments of joy. Your kid, just by having your attention, presence and unconditional love, is already the luckiest in the world.