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Three Tips for Homeschooling ADHD Kids

Homeschooling kids with ADHD and other behavioral/learning disorders is both rewarding and exhausting. We get to see them progress in subject that they love, and we get to wrestle them through subjects that make them want to cease existing. They can get everything done in less than an hour one day, and they can make a single task take hours on end. One of the reasons that this happens is because of a dysfunctional reward system in the brain. We don’t get dopamine when we need it, and we get occasional rushes of energy and focus that lead to us being unable to accomplish anything else. Delightfully frustrating. This past school year has been painful. My oldest fought me every step when we tried to do lessons. He would disrupt his lessons, he would disrupt his brother’s lessons, he would intentionally sabotage his math lessons and pretend like his brain just couldn’t compute. I know that it was at least partly intentional because he wouldn’t do this to other people. He had a private tutor he met with virtually and behaved like an angel for her… (hooray for ODD as well…) Because of his Oppositional Defiant Disorder was so prevalent last year, I finally had to take a serious step back from how I interacted with him. When he would start fighting with me I would lay down the pencil or pen, step away, and tell him “I’ll come back when you’re ready to work, but I’ve got stuff I need to do now.” He would flip out and start screaming that he wanted me to help him, and I’d stay away until he calmed down, and (more importantly) I calmed down. Eventually we would meet back together, we would scrape through a lesson, and be done. And yes, in spite of all of this, I’m still planning on homeschooling through the summer! No breaks for kids who can’t do their work through the school year is what I’ve been telling the kids. I’m currently taking a college course on Organizational Principles, and it has led to some surprising insight into how I can help motivate my resistant kids into better educational habits. I’ve stumbled onto three things that are seeming to work well for my oldest, and they are surprisingly effective! What are the three secret steps? Repetition, praise, recognition! Not a huge secret, I know.... My kids have ADHD, dyspraxia, “mixed learning disorders” and other issues that make learning difficult. One thing I have had to learn to do is increase the amount of repetition my children do to compensate for it. Take handwriting for example: most handwriting curriculums have a child focusing on one letter, word, or phrase a day, and the next day they move on from it to a new one. This may work well for some kids, but when kids already struggle with short-term memory retention, when they already struggle with integrating their hands and bodies to work with their brains, when their reward centers either aren’t producing enough reward (dopamine) or can’t accept it (dopamine receptors), then it’s really hard to find the ability to retain their newly learned skills! I struggle with this even as an adult. My college classes are incredibly difficult at times, not because the material itself is hard, but because I can’t retain what I’ve learned at the beginning of the week, to the end of the week! Why it took me so long: It really shouldn’t have taken this long to figure out, but I’m blaming two things: Mommy-group obsessions with Montessori, and delays in brain development. I have a love/hate relationship with Montessori. As a method I see how beautifully it centers on a child’s brain development and how it can be used to build a solid understanding and foundation. My problem wasn’t the method, it was the mom groups on Facebook! I viewed them as my lifeline for so many years, and was probably in close to 100 groups all about Montessori, Waldorf, or Charlotte Mason homeschooling. One constant theme in Montessori groups was how to offer praise. Don’t just say “Good Job!” or “That looks great!” No, no, those groups had to remind every parent constantly not to use phrases like that, but to focus on praising their work and effort.

But you know what? That didn’t feed my kiddo’s soul. He wanted to hear me say good job, that what he did was fantastic, and see me get excited about something he did just because it made him happy. I was offering him praise and recognition, but it was the wrong kind. And because of that, it killed his own internal motivation. I eventually left ALL of those mom groups because I just couldn’t handle the increasingly toxic atmosphere. Add into that the fact that ADHD kids have on average a 30% delay in executive function development (which affects things like decision making, task management, etc) and the lack of enthusiastic praise that he got just left him feeling down and blue. Like no matter how hard he tried it would never be good enough. In my anxiety about praising him the “wrong way” I was actually keeping myself from really connecting with him when he did something well. This is why I so often advise new moms to take what they like from methods, and leave behind what doesn’t work without any feelings of guilt. Now let’s break down each tip: · Repetition: Kids with ADHD struggle to move things from short to long -term memory. Repetition helps them to do just that. Day after day, the repetition engages the long-term memory function. · Praise: Kids with ADHD don’t have brains that reward them for hard work, but gushing praise leads to an instant dopamine rush, like a dog that gets excited when their owner gets excited. We can trigger dopamine, when they themselves can’t! · Recognition: Again, this is a dopamine thing. Kids with ADHD want to have everyone tell them how amazing their work is, and how awesome they are. Whether it is putting their artwork or successful quiz on the fridge, or calling everyone over to come taste their amazing cookies, kids with ADHD thrive on recognition.

How I am implementing my three tips I am starting out by making sure that we are doing the work when HE is motivated to do it. Lately he’s been wanting to get his work done first thing in the morning. Before chores. Before breakfast. Before anything. So, I’ve been letting him. Like I mentioned in this post, I’ve been having my boys do Calculadder math drills every day. He’s been waking up and announcing that he’s going to start on his homework. The first time I derailed him by making him do chores and breakfast first, and by the time I was ready for him to sit down and do it, he had lost all his motivation. Lesson learned, Now I let him do it whenever the urge strikes. He practices the same page Monday-Thursday, and then on Friday we move to the timed test. (Repetition) After he’s done, I go through and check his work to see if it’s all correct, then I praise him for getting everything right, I write 100% real big and circle it, give him a big hug and tell him how awesome he did. I tell him he’s awesome, amazing, super smart, etc. This is important for kids with ADHD, because so many of the messages that we get are things like we’re dumb, lazy, careless. We get so many negative messages in the course of our lives, and very few positive messages. If you have an ADHD kiddo, give them all the praise you can shower them in. Tell them they’re smart, that they work hard, that they make good decisions. (Praise)

Once he finishes a certain number of pages, I will print off a certificate for him, fill it out with what he’s done ,and post it on the fridge or in his room where he can see it and show it off to grandparents. Seeing recognition for his work is important because he feels pride and satisfaction in having a record of his hard work and effort. (Recognition) Last Things to Know It is okay to diverge from whatever methodology your family ascribes to when it’s not working for you guys. I’ve ended up largely moving away from Montessori methods in many ways. I’m more in an eclectic/Waldorf/Charlotte Mason space with the kids, and they seem to be thriving on it. Waldorf and Charlotte Mason have a strong emphasis on repetition. And stop listening to people who try to tell you how to praise your children. Tell your ADHD kids they are fantastic. Nobody else does it.

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