As a therapist who works with both children and adolescents, one of the many topics that my clients struggle with is the impact school has on their mental health. Simply put, school is a significant part of any young person’s life, but when compounded with the stress of learning challenges, such as ADHD, school can be a predominant source of stress.
For this blog, I had an extensive discussion with a tutor based out of Austin who has worked with students, ages 5 and above, for the past 4 years. What I found particularly unique about this conversation was that this tutor not only works with students who have ADHD, but she herself was diagnosed with ADHD during her junior year of high school. This shared experience of ADHD between she and her students provides a unique perspective that helps her connect with them on a more emotional level. During our conversation, I was able to glean 4 helpful tips for students with ADHD that are also utilized by this tutor in her own life.
1. Utilize a check list
A check list is customized with important information for you that can help you get started on schoolwork. Creating a daily checklist before and after school that you go through every morning can help narrow down what specific tasks you should focus on. This can be especially useful if you tend to get overwhelmed easily by everyday tasks and also struggle with time management.
Example of a Check List:
- Did I go to the bathroom?
- Do I have water & snacks easily accessible to me?
- Do I have my notebooks & pencils/ materials I need for studying?
- Do I have my timer?
- Did I turn off all my distractions?
- Did I check my learning platform for any missing/incomplete assignments?
- Create a practical & reasonable list of assignments to be completed today
2. Tackle more than one unfinished assignment
There will be times when you will fall behind on assignments because of stress, extra curricular activities, lack of motivation, or poor time management. When this happens, start by taking a deep breath, realize that you are not a “bad” student for falling behind in school, and feel comforted by the fact that you now have a tip to help you tackle unfinished work: Prioritize assignments from most liked subject to the least liked ones. Then within those assignments, order them from easiest to hardest. Start off with the easiest assignment that will take the least amount of time to give yourself “confidence points.” Confidence points not only instill belief and trust in yourself that you will get through these assignments, but it can also decrease the overall amount of stress you have about the unfinished work.
Then look at the harder assignments and consider who you can ask for help not only on the work itself, but also who can help you break up these assignments into smaller segments.
Ideas for asking for help:
- Set up a meeting with your teacher
- Ask your parents for tutoring help
- Text or call a friend
- Go to your older sibling
3. Set timers (that are not on your phone or any other tech device)
Setting timers for yourself can break up tedious school assignments into manageable chunks. When setting a timer, consider how long it takes you to lose focus on a subject. For example, If it takes you 15 minutes to lose focus, then break the assignment up into 15 minute chunks and then take a break. When trying out this tool; however, start off with a break that is half the amount of the set timer (which would be 7 and 1/2 minutes in this case). Keep yourself accountable and honor the timer to avoid mentally exhausting yourself or fixating on one subject. If you remember that you need to do something else unrelated to the assignment when the timer is already set, write it down on a sticky note and save it for your break time to avoid getting side-tracked.
Examples of Timers that are Not on your Phone:
- Manual kitchen timer (check the link below for reference)
4. Incorporate rewards into your break times
In Tip #3, you learned how to set timers and alternate studying time with breaks. In Tip #4, we want to show you how your breaks can be used as a way to reward yourself for all the hard work you have been putting into your school assignments. These rewards are a simple and fun way to keep you motivated, but without the use of social media, any type of technology, or screen time. Because as we all know, these devices can be incredibly distracting to our learning processes and invite poor studying habits. But we do not want to deprive you of technology completely, so when you have completed a larger academic goal that you have set for yourself (e.g. making an A on a test or no late assignments for 6 weeks) you can incorporate a bigger reward that does include screens or technology.
Examples of Fun Rewards:
- If you are passionate about fitness, do 5 push ups
- If you have a sweet tooth, reward yourself with 2 M&Ms
- If you need some love, cuddle with your pet
- If you love to draw, sketch your favorite TV character
- If you need a brain teaser, solve sudoku
Note from the tutor:
Sometimes students can feel shame or embarrassment when they are not fitting into societal academic norms, which can then lead to low self-esteem or a negative self-concept, like “I’m the dumbest student” or “I’m never going to learn.” I fell into the trap of believing that I was not a “good” or capable student because many of my teachers’ and professors’ expectations on students overall created unrealistic expectations for myself, especially as a student with learning difficulties. My advice to students is to be honest with yourself and accept that learning may take longer for you and that is okay. Move away from comparing your academic abilities to societal norms, teachers’ expectations, and even other students’ abilities. And instead ask yourself: How can I set myself up to be successful?