Did you do your homework? Oooh, shiny!
February 3, 2015 7:04 PM   Subscribe

I have a kind, sweet, beautiful, smart ADHD-PI (primarily inattentive) daughter. She's almost 11 and in 5th grade. However, homework is the land of pain...

When she's focused, she is ON. She gets the subject matter and whizzes through it. She loves reading, history, and science.

She's thinks she's bad at math because it takes her longer than some other kids. (I know that is common with ADHD kids.) She's in the advanced math curriculum and makes As if she turns in her homework. It's getting her to write down and complete all the homework without fibbing that is the pain point.

She usually has a page of math/night plus 20 minutes of online practice problems to be completed per week. Since January, she's now 100 minutes behind in her online. (She claims she did the wrong section in the app, but that doesn't hold up under light of day.)

Things we are doing:
1. 504 in place to allow for extra time turning in assignments
2. Teacher signs agenda every day as do I
3. I'm able to look at her grades online and gently (and, honestly, not-so-gently) remind her of what's missing.
4. Communication like whoa with her math teacher.
5. Pruning, with her teacher's assistance, of her binder. (She's afraid to recycle any papers, for fear they'll be needed. Plus it's about 126 on her list of desired to-dos.)

I know this consistently-inconsistent behavior is part and parcel of her condition. She's in the gifted program, and I know she gets the subject matter.

Husband travels 25% of the time, so I'm mom/homework-enforcer/taxi. I hate that we are enmeshed in this me-catching-her missing stuff so often. Puberty is knocking, so she's already starting to claim her turf.

Not getting homework assigned in math is a no-go. School requires, plus she does need the extra practice on these concepts.

I guess what I'm asking is Does this get better? Any parents BTDT who have better tricks?

posted by heathrowga to Education (14 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The first thing that came to mind (and I apologize if this isn't exactly the kind of input you were seeking) is to make sure those teachers signing agendas, engaging in communication "like whoa", and pruning binders know that their efforts are recognized and appreciated. I'm sure that those teachers are obligated (to an extent) to do these things, but something as simple as an occasional email thanking them for their help, donation of needed classroom supplies, or a $10 gift card would be a) really appreciated and b) might give them an incentive to be a little more patient and attentive. It's not that you're buying their effort- it's that you're reminding them that you're their ally in advocating for your daughter's education.
posted by EKStickland at 7:47 PM on February 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: We had a similar situation with our son. At various times in his school career, we handled homework different ways. By the time he was in 8th grade I hired a tutor to do homework with him every day.

Being the homework police was a huge detriment to our home life and relationship with him, so when he was in high school we added an IEP requirement that his homework be done during school hours in study class with a support teacher.

He's now a grown-up with a full time job, is a community volunteer, is married and is a great dad to a one-year-old baby. Many days back then, I could not have imagined things would work out this well for him and the rest of us. So hang in there.
posted by mmf at 7:53 PM on February 3, 2015 [6 favorites]

Are you currently seeing a therapist to help with her ADHD? We just found one about 5 months ago for my son, and she's done wonders for us in terms of ideas and testing to come up with a balance where I can help him with homework, but he feels responsible for it.
posted by Nimmie Amee at 8:36 PM on February 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This is why homework should be eliminated completely (and for context, I'm a 6th grade teacher). It's bad for kids, and it's bad for parents, and frankly, it's bad for the whole teaching profession.

Ask her teacher(s) if there are ways to reduce her homework burden. To her, I'm sure that 100 minutes feels like she's being asked to climb Kilimanjaro. Yes, she should be doing enough to master the content. But if she is mastering the content, homework above and beyond that should be excused - that's something her 504 plan could address. I know there are those who will argue that making her do it is good BECAUSE RESPONSIBILITY but that's less important than you daughter's emotional state and her feelings about school in general.

I agree that when it's possible, enrolling her in a study hall/strategies/support class would help with future middle and high school homework burden. But for right now, she needs you to push for an across the board reduction in homework.

The other thing I would recommend is a Google Doc that tracks assignments and progress. Share access with all her teachers and any relevant support workers. Then it can be collaboratively updated in real time, and you don't have to worry about signatures or static pieces of paper. I do this for a few students, and it is actually a lot less work than the alternative - tons of email, pieces of paper, etc.

Also talk to her doctor - is there a way to adjust or consider medication?

I think that the gift cards for her teacher are a great idea - this is above and beyond what they have to do, and that is worth acknowledging.

Finally, think about this: you're the "enforcer" right now. How can you turn this into rewards? Can you start positive incentives for doing homework within a time frame, getting daily signatures/updating a google doc, etc. Make it positive, and encourage her teachers to do the same. It will pay dividends.

Good luck, and good for you for being such a strong advocate for your child.

Email me (same email as username at gmail) if you'd like to talk in more specific details.
posted by guster4lovers at 9:16 PM on February 3, 2015 [10 favorites]

Best answer: This could be my kiddo, and we now have the assessment to prove it (after YEARS of wondering what was going on.) Please accept my empathies - we also have a side order of processing delay, and anxiety due to all of the above. Homework is a struggle we have too. All good suggestions before mine, but I'll add that the CBT sessions our daughter has had have done a world of good (for me as well as her,) and we found that working through a Cognitive Triangle Worksheet by either letting her fill it in, or with me just guiding her through the thought process is often what it takes to get her jump-started.

So, "I have to do an overwhelming amount of math homework ---> "I'm not good at it" ----->"I feel dumb and frustrated" ------> "I'll do the first question."

We use other tactics that don't work with online homework (though in STEM she's convinced them to let her make little films or movies, or do book reports in videos; or do projects using Minecraft!) like using paper to cover up questions so she can focus on one at a time. Sometimes I read them aloud, because she's a better auditory learner. Her IEP allows for certain things, like using her Ipad to take pictures of her homework assignments from the board and such - but her school doesn't allow for accommodations like extra time unless students are failing (which sucks for kids who get good grades despite their difficulties.)
posted by peagood at 9:19 PM on February 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: My daughter shares many of these traits and responses to homework. In my opinion, homework was invented to crush the family unit and replace it with a slavish devotion to hierarchical institutions and arbitrary busy work. Having said that, despite trying to reduce it in various IEP meetings etc, homework is here to stay (and cause endless strife). The paper hoarding is finally improving at age 12 (but not cured). We have tried all the sensible approaches you name here and some nonsensical ones too. The most success came this year when we switched to a new school where they do a lot of their homework in a teacher-supervised study hall, and they have less homework.

I do recommend choosing your battles: focus on the subject she actually needs additional practice on to learn. Or alternately, focus on the subject she feels most competent at, to build a sense that she can succeed at this.

I'm sorry to not be a voice of encouragement! But at least know you're not alone.
posted by latkes at 11:09 PM on February 3, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: First as a former teacher, I too HATE homework and I never assigned it. It's stupid.

I was also the person who rarely did math homework and got those shitty grades proving it.

See if there's after school tutoring your daughter can take advantage of. Frankly for me, as a kid I found homework so solitary, and being a social person I just wanted someone to keep me company. If no tutoring exists in your school, look into hiring a high school kid in your neighborhood to help, or some other tutor.

The other thing is to have her do the homework at the kitchen table while dinner is being prepared. It's a good time of day. She's not alone and you can pause and help as appropriate.

I will pass onto you what my high school algebra/geometry teacher, Mr. W.D. Hardy said to us about homework, "If you're working on this for more than twenty minutes, stop. You don't understand it and you're just reinforcing what you don't know."

So perhaps you agree that she works on the homework for twenty minutes every night and then you stop. Talk with her teachers as to what the expectation is for how long it should take. If it's longer than that, the teacher is unrealistic about what the homework is supposed to do.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:40 AM on February 4, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: My 10 year-old son was recently diagnosed PI as well so I'm also watching this Ask closely.

I'd definitely recommend a lot of what has been said above. Being highly visible and generous at school goes a long long way here. Doesn't have to be money or gifts, volunteering your time goes even farther. Everyone will claim that teachers don't/won't show favor to kids they like but the reality is when they know the parents are understanding and cooperative it pays itself back. It really does.

We've considered medication but we're just not ready yet. One tip that I got from a social worker (he's getting counseling on a sporadic basis to monitor his self-esteem) was that if we're not medicating, perhaps a serving of a caffeine before homework or test time can help with focus. Our results have been mixed so far, but it might be worth trying.
posted by JoeZydeco at 7:15 AM on February 4, 2015

Best answer: I could have written this question too and will be watching for more suggestions. I also hate to be the enforcer so I have been experimenting with different ways to get things done. Math takes forever my daughter is social--loves to chat the whole time. She does homework at the kitchen table because she feels lonely otherwise. If she's avoiding computer time, is it something about the computer set-up? Can she do it somewhere sitting on a couch with an ipad or something else while you read/do paperwork/knit nearby?

For some math problems, we've done "song challenges" where she tells me how many problems she can finish by the end of 2 songs and she finds that motivating. We're not doing that as much at the moment but she has found that listening to certain kinds of music (brazilian bossa nova and old timey jazz) makes her feel "calm." (She found this on her own because she loves to listen to music during homework and I sometimes play music while I make dinner. I tried classical, jaszz, calm.radio, cuban classics, etc). I also find that my kid is very hungry after school so rather than do a snack, I start dinner as soon as we get home from school and have an early dinner. She's much more likely to feel calm and settled after having dinner and it feels like the evening is much longer with lots of time.
posted by biscuits at 11:45 AM on February 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: ADHD person here, also inattentive (I can get fascinated by cracks in the ceiling for HOURS). I can tell you from experience, it does get better, but not without a great deal of work (not magical "passionate" work, mostly experimenting and testing a variety of ways of self-organizing and working, then discarding what doesn't work). Puberty was crazy hectic. My folks were divorced, so I'd leave stuff at my father's house, then I would forget homework stuff at school or my mother's house. I felt awful. And it only made it worse when my parents nagged me about it or were like, "Why can't you just get yourself together?" Well, thanks, but no one gave me the skills to do so--and they are skills, not magical scheduling abilities.

I went on to a highly competitive high school and then a top-tier college, and so on. Back at grad school now, and my academic priority-juggling skills are top shelf.

There are a couple things I had to work out for myself that I wish my non-ADHD parents had known enough to impart:

1) I personally do not sign up for the extensions (FWIW, I first encountered that option in college). If I do use them, I go about scheduling as if I don't have them and I fall back on them as necessary. I find they drag me down--everyone else is on one schedule, and I'm on a slightly extended version. So, I'm finishing up the last module when everyone else is beginning on the next part. It makes you lag ever so slightly and ends up being detrimental rather than helpful.

2) Cal Newport's book "How to be a straight-A student." Some of his recommendations are over the top, but much is spot on and basically what I used to survive.

3) I needed quiet to study, but not silence. So many people in school put on music to study to (I liked classical; my roommate preferred Linkin' Park). It's a romantic notion in everyone's head. ADHD meant I had to turn that stuff off. But silence? Silence is louder than Linkin' Park. An open window to a backyard was good. In the winter, I put fireplace sounds on my phone. You don't want any sort of melody or lyrics or background conversation like TV, but you want some background noise. This can be an intense and lonely experience at first, if you're not used to it, but it helps me go into the "on" mode you describe, so it is worth the initial discomfort.

4) Meditation. Even just sitting quietly and experiencing your breathing for 10 minutes is very helpful. Don't know why. It's magic. It's not about being successful, just about doing it and going back to it if you go off on a mental tangent. This also makes #3 easier because you're getting used to just sitting with yourself alone in small chunks.

5) It's really easy to think of your ADHD and then think of the fast-mounting pile of stuff to do and start panicking around the feeling that it's all totally insurmountable. Also, we're really good at procrastinating. Here's my solution for that million-mile to-do list:

a) Do things in 1-hour chunks. Everyone says 20-minute chunks. I think that's not enough to get into a good working headspace (i.e., be "on"). More than an hour, and your brain starts going, "I WANT FOOD. I WANT FRIENDS. I WANT TO CHASE A SQUIRREL AND BUILD A COUCH FORT."

b) Break things into smaller things. The new fancy name for this is "kaizen." It can be done down to an atomic level. Do it ONLY to the lowest level where you can maintain momentum. This may make things feel like they take longer. It's worth it, and it becomes intuitive after a while, and your child will go on to become a total star in breaking down and managing major projects.

c) If you really, really hate what you're about to do, find something else on the to-do list that is short and sweet. Do that first. That little boost of can-do confidence plus crossing shit off your list is sometimes just enough kick to start you on a bigger scarier or less pleasant project.

d) Don't reward the accomplishment; reward the time spent completely focused on the job. For example, I go work out after so many hours doing something, not after I complete a certain part of the project.

6) In terms of the binder, scanning and filing electronically and tagging stuff is so much easier to deal with--and it means that your binder can be infinitely big without getting harder to sort through.

Hope that helps from the perspective of someone who was where your daughter is.
posted by aaxelrod at 12:44 PM on February 4, 2015 [10 favorites]

Response by poster: First of all, y'all are collectively awesome. :)

She is on medication - has been since 3rd grade. It has been tweaked/adjusted a couple of times. She takes morning meds as well as a "homework booster" at noon.

I do communicate with her teachers regularly that I appreciate their effort. I'm the mom who bakes cookies for the yearly 504 meeting. However, gift cards/etc. are a great way to say thanks. I can definitely step it up.

I'll look into the study strategies classes. In the burb I live in, I'm sure they have such things. (I'm trying to dodge the Brain Balance center near us, because I'm not made of $$.)

She did have a counselor that was wonderful, but our insurance changed with my husband's job change. (We used to be Kaiser Permanente, and now we're having to navigate the land of finding all of these doctors that aren't under the same roof.)

We do cut her off after a hour of homework (school recommendation). Some days, she wants to keep going, other times...getting her to that hour mark is hard.

I'm loving this advice, and I am VERY appreciative.
posted by heathrowga at 1:54 PM on February 4, 2015

aaxelrod's advice is very similar to what I (another ADHD-PI person) would give.

One thing that (inadvertently, since I was undiagnosed then) worked really well for me in both middle school and high school was working on homework in a room that had nothing in it but me, a desk, and whatever I was working on. In grade school, this was a spare room in my parents office (that one didn't even have a window), and in high school, it was an empty room in my dormitory. Cutting down on visual distraction really seemed to help.
posted by ocherdraco at 6:40 PM on February 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

I have a friend whose adhd-i daughter is able to focus with the help of a timer app. Honestly, based on her description of her daughter I've wondered if I might be adhd-i, too. For years I've used a kitchen timer set in ten minute bursts to focus. Otherwise I drift baaad.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:56 PM on February 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you all for your wonderful suggestions. :) I've implemented several of these, and have been pleased. I know it's a marathon, not a sprint.

You all are awesome. :D
posted by heathrowga at 11:25 AM on March 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

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