My daughter has always been messy, forgetful and disorganized. My way of dealing with these issues changed when she was diagnosed with ADHD. Before then, my approach was to let her suffer the consequences of her actions.
For example, when she forgot her gym uniform at home, I simply let her take the demerit, rather than rescue her by bringing her uniform to school. When she forgot about a class project, I insisted that she make do with the few supplies we had at home. I wasn’t going to make a late-night run to the store.
I hoped that over time she’d learn to not forget things. Or that she’d simply “outgrow” her disorganization. But instead, she became more and more stressed as she continually missed deadlines, lost papers and forgot her sports equipment.
She was failing over and over, losing confidence and feeling defeated. I hated that.
Then, when my daughter was diagnosed with ADHD in middle school, I decided my parenting techniques needed a change.
I realized that these “consequences” weren’t working. I was harming her more than I was helping her. And I started to accept that there were some things my daughter wasn’t going to magically outgrow. I would need to support her in learning skills she needed to succeed in school.
The biggest change I made after her diagnosis centered on her schoolwork. Before her diagnosis, I might have breezily asked if she had finished her homework. After, I became much more proactive. I would look on her school website for homework assignments and ask her specific questions about her classes. I helped her plan for weekly assignments like vocabulary quizzes and long-term assignments like big projects. Then I would check on her progress.
Teaching her the skills she needed was much more effective than hoping she would learn to be organized all by herself. My daughter is smart, but she still needed to be taught how to be a student.
For example, she would forget textbooks in her locker. So rather than have her get home without the books she needed, I started showing up at afterschool pickup with a list of what she needed to do her homework that night. If she was missing something, she had to run back in to grab it from her locker.
This was tedious for me, and she didn’t like having to run back in. But it worked. We only had to do it for a few weeks until she got into the routine of double checking her backpack before walking out of school. I taught her to touch every single book she needed and to not assume anything was in her backpack.
Learning this simple technique was very effective for her. Even today, years later, she still brings home everything she needs to complete her homework.
Last year, a tutor at my daughter’s school told me how all the school tutors relied on my daughter’s class notes. They shared her notes with the kids who struggled with note taking or who were absent. Apparently, my daughter’s notes were neat, detailed and well organized.
That same tutor also told me, however, that my daughter’s locker was so messy that they couldn’t believe it was her locker. They assumed a student with such excellent notes would also have a perfectly organized locker. She didn’t. My daughter says her locker is organized...enough. Apparently, she can be successful with a certain amount of mess around her. I’ve learned to accept that, too.
Actively teaching my daughter the skills she needed to be a successful student improved her outlook toward school. It also changed her outlook toward me. I went from being the ogre who couldn’t understand her struggles to a trusted advisor who was there to help her learn how to manage school.
We’ve both enjoyed that new dynamic much more. And it’s been a pleasure to watch my daughter blossom with the skills she’s learned over these last few years.
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About the author
Maureen Paschal is a freelance writer, teacher, librarian, and mom to four kids, one with ADHD. She blogs at Raising The Capable Student.