Archive of ‘Teens’ category

4 Tips for Students with ADHD from a Tutor with ADHD

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: 

  • Microwave 
  • Stove 
  • Manual kitchen timer (check the link below for reference) 

Amazon.com : Lux Minute Minder Timer Mechanical White with Black Markings 60 Min : Home & Kitchen

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? 


What if making a mistake was okay?:  Addressing perfectionism as a family

student with ADHD

I was inspired by a previous blog post by colleague, Catherine Mok, LCSW, on good enough parenting linked here. Children and the family system can benefit as a whole when the perspective of parents is shifted toward being good enough and away from achieving perfect or ideal parenting. The modeling that is provided through this shift in perspective sends a message to children that trying your best, normalizing mistakes as opportunities to learn, and focusing on being good enough can alleviate the pressure to be perfect. Let us think about this further in the context of supporting children that struggle with trying to achieve perfection.

Defined

When considering the term “perfectionism,” I do want to recognize that mastery and working to master different tasks is developmentally appropriate for children to build confidence and develop their sense of self. There is also positive reinforcement from society and adults in children’s lives for wanting to do well, exerting focused effort, and attention to detail. We will use this moment to reflect on how striving to be “perfect” can show up and get in the way for children and how to support them. 

Concern arises when children show signs of striving for perfection, setting unattainable goals, and internalizing unrealistic standards and expectations for themselves. Lisa Dion, LPC, RPT-S and founder of the Synergetic Play Therapy Institute explains that unmet expectations register as a threat or challenge to the brain and engage our stress response. For children striving for perfection and holding unrealistic expectations for themselves, this stress response may be constantly engaged. This can show up in many ways where children may verbalize their distress through use of “should” language, critical self-evaluation or self-talk, and verbalizing their unrealistically high expectations. This can also show up, and sometimes more commonly, in behaviors such as limited frustration tolerance for mistakes, becoming dysregulated quickly, or anxiety and avoidance of difficult tasks for fear of making a mistake. It is important to recognize that these thought patterns and behaviors are connected to children’s self-esteem, relationships, and emotional well-being. 

Pause…

Now we can pause to take a deep breath and shift the focus to supporting children and the family system with helpful ways of addressing perfectionistic tendencies.

Validate, always

When approaching a child struggling with self-criticism, unrealistic expectations, and dysregulation in making a mistake, reflecting their feelings and validating their experience can be a safe place to start. Examples may include, “You are worried about making a mistake because you care about doing your best” or “You tried so hard to get it just right and are disappointed/upset that it didn’t go the way you wanted.” The goal here is to connect with the child so that they feel seen and heard which increases their felt sense of safety.

Mistakes as a conversation

Encourage conversations about mistakes with children with a perspective of curiosity and framing mistakes as an opportunity to learn. Families can also model healthy acceptance of mistakes by parents and caregivers sharing their own mistakes out loud. This can normalize and validate a child’s experience of mistakes. This can also be a powerful antidote to shame by hearing that mistakes are accepted, inevitable, and safe topics of conversation (Brené Brown). Practicing vulnerability with children can improve connection throughout the family system and bolster a child’s confidence and belief in their own capability to navigate challenges and mistakes in the future.

Reframing

Powerful reframes in response to self-criticism and striving to be perfect can include: 

  • Encouraging a growth mindset as a learner that includes feedback and practice with improvement over time (UC Davis Health, 2022)
  • Mistakes are opportunities to learn (Dr. Nelsen, 2006)
    • What did I do well and where can I grow?
  • Excitement and support for a child to try again
  • Focus placed on trying and effort rather than the outcome or results

Self-compassion

Finally, practicing self-compassion introduces warmth and understanding from within to alleviate the pressure children place on themselves. What does a child’s self-talk sound like when striving for perfection? It may reflect all-or-nothing thinking and unrealistic expectations such as, “I should/should have…” or “I can’t…” How can caregivers model self-compassion? When caregivers reflect on their own mistakes, they can show self-compassion through positive self-talk that children then observe. When negative self-talk arises for children, encourage more positive and encouraging messages they could tell themselves instead. Examples could include:

 “I tried my best” 

“I care so much about doing well”

“This is hard for me and that is okay”  

“I made a mistake and I am proud that I tried” 

“I am brave for trying something new and challenging”

“I am important, and I belong no matter how many mistakes I make”

modeling self-compassion for perfectionism

References & Resources

  • Positive Discipline by Dr. Jane Nelsen
  • Synergetic Play Therapy Institute, founder Lisa Dion, LPC, RPT-S
  • The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown
  • Practically Perfect – Addressing Perfectionism in Kids by UC Davis Health
  • Letting Go of Perfect: Empower Children to Overcome Perfectionism by Jill Adelson and Hope Wilson

Regulating Parents’ Emotions So They Can Effectively Regulate Their Child’s Emotions

Something that I believe every parent can benefit from is finding effective ways to regulate their own emotions so that they can help their children regulate themselves.  Parenting is HARD.  It’s chaotic, amazing, exhausting, rewarding, expensive, and wonderful all at the same time.  When we’re stressed out with whatever the day throws at us, it’s easy to take it out on those closest to us.  When we are already crunched for time (because as a parent there’s never enough time in the day), we’re trying to get our child’s lunch ready, the house is a disaster, the baby just woke up, and our child is having big emotions (AKA a tantrum, refusing to help, crying because they want attention, etc. etc.) we tend to yell or take out our frustration on the child.  It’s a very common response to have when faced with this kind of scenario.  Be gentle with yourself mom/dad!  It happens.  But there are ways that we can decrease the frequency of us losing our tempers.  

My hope is that this article can teach parents helpful ways to manage their BIG emotions, so they can be there for their little ones who are having BIG emotions.  An escalated parent CANNOT deescalate an escalated child. Read that again! An escalated parent CANNOT deescalate an escalated child.

1. Take a few deep breaths. 

How does your body feel when you’re beginning to get overwhelmed, stressed, angry, etc.?  Do your shoulders hunch up, your jaw clench, or your forehead furrow?  Notice these signs and take mental note.  THIS is the first step in recognizing when you need to take some deep breaths.  Taking deep breaths will help calm your nervous system and prevent you from acting in a way that you wouldn’t normally.  Stop and notice what your body is telling you. 

2. Remember to think before you act.

Take a few seconds to gather yourself before you respond in a way that you may regret later.  Patience is key when parenting – not only with your children, but also with yourself.  If you are noticing signs of yourself becoming unregulated, change the scenery for you and/or your child/teen.  Go outside, move to another room, allow them screen time (it’s OK to allow it when you yourself need some time to deescalate), suggest they read a book or draw/color.  This change in scenery helps take you and your child/teen out of the upsetting situation which will help them calm down quicker.

3. Tell yourself & kiddo – “Everyone makes mistakes”.

This was one of the most powerful things ever said to me as a child!  Perfection is not possible. Give yourself & kiddo grace, patience, understanding.  Your child/teen is still learning. Even if they know the limits that have been set, they are still learning how to cope with big feelings and sometimes this can cause children/teens to make inappropriate choices. 

Work together with them so you can both understand why they acted in a way that they knew they shouldn’t have.  Use “I wonder” statements.  For example, you can say “I wonder what you need right now”, “I wonder what can be done differently next time”, “I wonder what I can do for you”.  Using “I wonder” statements helps the child/teen stay in their feelings, which is where they naturally are, and continue to process how they are feeling.

Do your best NOT to yell – be there for your child/teen when they are having a hard time.  You can be firm without yelling.  If they are crying, yelling, being aggressive, now is NOT the time to discipline. Wait until they have calmed down for you talk about how to move forward positively.  If they like to be hugged when they are having big feelings, hug them (but keep yourself safe).  If they don’t like to be hugged, do NOT force it.  If they need space, allow them space. 

A few things about limitations/consequences:

  1. Stick to your limitations if they are feasible.  Creating and maintaining limits and consequences communicate to the child/teen that there is safety.  No limits/consequences communicate that they can do whatever they want, which equals little safety.  A child/teen needs to know that there are rules within means
  2. Maybe your limitations/consequences need to be reevaluated.  Perhaps a limit or consequence worked with one child, but doesn’t with the other.  Remember that every person is different, even siblings!  What may have worked for you when you were a child/teen does not mean it will work for your child/teen. 

4. Find another caregiver who is regulated in the home that can take over until you are regulated again.

If you are having a difficult time regulating yourself and there is another caregiver that can take over for you, switch out.  It’s OK to walk away from a situation when you need extra time to take care of yourself.  Return to your child/teen when you feel ready and talk about what happened with them.  Let them know that you love them and that you needed to take a break.  Switching out is much better than losing our tempers and yelling.  The important thing here is to return to your child afterwards to assure them that you love them, explain why you walked away, and acknowledge their feelings as well.

5. If you know your child is going to have a difficult time doing X. Y, or Z, plan to have extra time during these moments so you don’t feel rushed.

Time is a HUGE stressor as a parent.  You’re juggling so many things constantly.  If you can, try to find ways to squeeze in a few extra minutes into situations where you know you will have a battle with your child/teen.  If we don’t feel as much stress about time during these situations, then our ability to maintain a regulated state increases.  We no longer have the thoughts in the back of our minds of, “we’re going to be late again”, “the traffic is going to be so bad”, “I’m going to get dirty looks”, etc.

6. Prioritize your own self-care.  

SELF-CARE, SELF-CARE, SELF-CARE! Did I mention self-care? Self-care is crucial to our well-being as a person and as a parent.  If we don’t take time for ourselves and we’re always running on “E”, we tend to get resentful with others in our life.  I strongly encourage you to find ways of caring for yourself each and every day.  Whatever that may look like! Maybe for you it’s exercising 30 minutes a day, or going for a walk outside, or watching your favorite show, or finding peace and quiet.  Do whatever you need to do each day.  When we take care of ourselves, we have more bandwidth to be there for others. 


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