School is schooling her...
September 29, 2015 3:39 PM   Subscribe

My beautiful, curious, smart 11-y-o daughter is in her first year of middle school (6th grade). The school is in an high-income, high-expectation area. She regularly has 1-2 hours of homework a night, plus long-term projects. Her grades are okay, but she is a stressball. I want to help her not turn gray by 15!

Contributing factors:
1. She has ADHD-PI. Her medication is good, and she is able to stay on top of things, as long as I keep gentle track of upcoming things and help with organization.
2. She is in TAG/Advanced classes. She is so very smart.
3. She is only in 1 dance class a week, and a biweekly Girl Scout meeting on Sunday afternoons.

What I'm asking is how do other parents parent during this year of transition? How do you help them grow and learn to cope? Going from having a couple of teachers to 7 who all assign things without consulting each other on due dates is so hard.
posted by heathrowga to Education (14 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Meditation, regular exercise, and a very healthy diet gets my high-achieving, super-busy teen from crashing and burning. We also allow her two "mental health" days per semester, where she can call in sick to school and sleep in, veg out, and regroup; she usually only takes one or none.

Vigilant organization is key, too. She knows she can't slip up and forget to check her homework website, not even once, or she'll get behind. She has also learned how to prioritize. Being on a block schedule really helps with that. Rarely does she have more than two classes with homework due the next day, but when she does, she uses her free bells (or study halls), lunch time, and bus time to her advantage. She has learned that it is much better (for her) to have just a little free time during the day than to have tons of homework to do well into the night. She's almost always finished for the night by 8 or 9, and can then either get ahead in some classes or just chill and watch a movie or something.

Also, the thing that really helped her was failing a math test for the first time. She learned that the world didn't come crashing down on her, we weren't upset with her (she was more upset with herself), and she was able to recover from it with extra help from the teacher and strategic extra credit. Before that, she thought failing was the worst thing that would ever happen IN HER WHOLE LIFE OMG. After, she realized that while unpleasant, it didn't kill her and a few Bs (and maybe even a C or two!!) won't keep her from having a successful, fulfilling life.
posted by cooker girl at 3:53 PM on September 29, 2015 [10 favorites]

Best answer: Focus on learning not on grades. We used to ask our kids what they learned, not what they got on a test. Tests measure how well you do on tests. When I knew my kids understood the concept and could demonstrate that, I told them not to worry about the grades. (They ended up getting good grades, but it was because they learned how to learn, not how to prepare for a test.

Your daughter's grade school grades are likely meaningless unless they use them to put her on some track. Forget that. Focus with her on learning how she can learn. Everyone has their own style and someone with ADHD certainly has to compensate to do what is best for them.
posted by AugustWest at 3:58 PM on September 29, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Depending on the school/dickishness of the teachers, she might not be able to do this, but one thing that helped keep me straight was color organization. No-frills brad folders are cheap and come in a variety of colors. Each subject got its own color and on the assignment schedule I made for myself I wrote each different subject's homework in the subject's color pen. At a glance I could say "ok, English and math and Latin tonight, blue and green and yellow," then check in my bookbag to make sure I had the blue and green and yellow folders and the blue and green and yellow books (oh yeah, I also tried to match subject color to textbook color, or would cover my textbooks in the appropriate color of paper so I could tell at an immediate glance without even thinking about it).

I even did it with my looseleaf paper (I think I singlehandedly kept astrobrights in business during those years). Orange was for homework assignments, blue was for notes, yellow was for test prep. Nothing ever got lost or forgotten because I could easily see and make sure I had the right color paper with me before leaving school/home.

The point is, this is a system that worked for me, that I kind of came into organically. I work much better as a big picture/big ideas person and details just kind of fall by the wayside for me, but unfortunately the details matter in school, so I had to find my own way to cope with the details.

I know school just started so you probably just spent a mortgage payment in the school supplies aisle, but it could be useful and fun to plan out an organizational mode of attack with her and then go to Office Max for a bit of a splurge. One of the biggest tricks in both school and in life is to figure out your own best methods for managing your stress, and encouraging her to kind of forge her own way (with your help and guidance, of course) is going to do her a lot of good. I can't tell you how hard my parents rolled their eyes at my neon paper demands and how much grief they gave me about it being kind of silly, but they still bought it for me, and over the years I can tell you it really helped me a lot.

Your daughter might also find the scrum task board method (with the white board and the post it notes) extremely useful. I didn't know about it back in my school days but it's my prefered workload management system these days.
posted by phunniemee at 4:20 PM on September 29, 2015 [12 favorites]

Best answer: Get a big calendar for the fridge and have her use it to write long and short term homework on it, due dates for projects, and other commitments like dance and Girl Scouts. Talk to her about time management, breaking large tasks into smaller more manageable chunks, and guide her through making good decisions, don't make them for her. Helping your children to manage things on their own and make good decisions is a fantastic gift that parents can give their children - good on you!
posted by NoraCharles at 4:23 PM on September 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: "Going from having a couple of teachers to 7 who all assign things without consulting each other on due dates is so hard."

Um, why don't the teachers have to consult each other on due dates? This is how my school was too, back in the day. I still remember the clueless teachers getting all excited about giving us big projects. I am still angry when I think about it, decades later.

Talk to the principal and ask them what the f*ck. Kids need sleep too. Kids need to have lives too. Kids already have enough pressure from authoritarian and/or neglectful parents (you don't sound like one of course) and bullying peers and acne and peer pressure and heartbreak and I could go on.

I understand that projects and homework may be important, but it's just not fair for the teachers not to coordinate.
posted by serena15221 at 5:06 PM on September 29, 2015 [10 favorites]

Best answer: Talk to the principal and ask them what the f*ck.

I don't disagree with you at all about the kids needing lives thing, but 1-2 hours of homework a night doesn't seem unreasonable. I only have my own experience to compare it to, but that's about how much I had in middle school, and I was a quick worker.
posted by phunniemee at 5:18 PM on September 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Not to threadsit, but 1-2 hours a night is considered standard for this public school.
posted by heathrowga at 5:42 PM on September 29, 2015

Best answer: I agree with the others above. Especially about not focusing on her grades + emphasizing learning and helping her find what she likes about all kinds of different material.

Also I don't mean this rudely because I'm sure she is bright, but I wouldn't emphasize that to her like, at all. The smart kid complex can be very harmful later on and could be contributing to her stress--even if you don't say anything about it, the other kids' in her Gifted and Talented classes parents probably do and she could be internalizing her classmates' stress and attitudes--areas like these have the kids talking about SAT scores and safety colleges in middle school and it can be very detrimental long term. I think really pushing the fact that her trying her best is enough regardless of the outcome + being learning focused will help lessen her stress, because she just needs to Do It and then not stress so much about the outcome. Don't make a big deal about grades unless something goes clearly wrong (and then don't get angry at her about it) and try to only praise her efforts rather than internal attributes like intelligence, which put more pressure on her. Then, the only real hurdle is just adjusting to the workload and if you are supportive she will get used to it in no time.

Also, get her a cute planner and encourage her to use it and help her set up a feasible timetable for day-to-day, and keep a coordinated calendar on your fridge or something.
posted by hejrat at 5:51 PM on September 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I think the single best thing you can do for her, and something that my mom tried to encourage me to do when I was 11, was to understand when teachers were not listening to my concerns or demands, or tried to dismiss questions I had. Learning how to advocate and be outspoken for yourself at age 11, when teachers can still be abusive authorities is essential for growing self-esteem. Also, by informing other trusted authority figures in her life is a strong way to build self-confidence and assertiveness. A good, and less harrowing example is her learning to recognize when there are dull periods in the class, and her asking the teacher if that can be set-aside as 'homework time in class.'

Also, comment on her working hard, and sticking through with it even when things are difficult. Do not comment too often how she is smart - success is built based on cumulation of hard work, not necessarily talent. Bright girls with ADHD-PI tend to crash when they hit college because of that reason.

Also, buying super cute stationary pens, and giving her all the free time she wants or needs is great.
posted by yueliang at 6:10 PM on September 29, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Also, I think it's very sweet that other people are concerned, but to put into some perspective, 1-2 hours of homework a day is below average at some high-achieving elementary schools with some much higher workloads, including after-school tutoring. Spending a lot of time learning about emotional maturity in relationships, women's rights, and seeing representation of strong women would be very good for her, if there is that much extra time left in the day.

Emotion Coaching for Parenting - The Greater Good Institute of UC Berkeley
Institute for Girls Development: Emotional Literacy

A Mighty Girl

The above is a fantastic resource for strong, smart, hardworking girls and their parents, so you may find a lot of helpful material that could help support and nourish you both.

(A note: I'm only 10+ years out of being 11, but I remember that time extremely crisply, and what my mom had to deal with. )
posted by yueliang at 6:16 PM on September 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: We do talk about hard work being more important than innate smarts. "Nurture Shock" was an important book in this house. I was providing her intelligence as just info to help out.

thank you all!
posted by heathrowga at 7:21 PM on September 29, 2015

Best answer: 11 is not too young to learn some basic self-care: to learn how to begin discerning her physical, mental, and emotional needs, and to work with you on learning to articulate those needs and meet them as independently as she can at this point. Learning specific ways to relax and care for herself when she's not doing schoolwork is important.
posted by Hypatia at 7:30 PM on September 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I guess 1-2 hours is ok but if it gets to be much more I would help her work out what is genuinely going to help her learn and what is busy work. I didnt get home from school until 4pm (school finished at 3:30pm) and between chores, helping with little sis, dinner, some relaxing time and being in bed by nine, there really wasnt any way to get that all done.

My parents often wrote me notes to excuse why i hadn't done something (and they'd outline my evenings and basically say, there was no time and we aren't cutting in to her sleep). The homework load is often crazy, teens are still part of the family and have rights and responsibilities to their family and hours of homework on top of a full school day is untenable.

That said, I got good grades anyway and so people weren't concerned. And from the responses my teachers gave to the notes (mostly, "fair enough") I think they thought the system was stupid too. Polite pushback is an option though, especially for the busywork stuff.
posted by kitten magic at 7:59 PM on September 29, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I am in the same situation right now with my son who also has ADHD, except in our district middle school starts in fifth grade.

You are right that it's a big transition and like most big transitions it can be very stressful. It's harder still on a kid who has trouble with executive functioning. There's a huge new cognitive load during the school day of figuring out where you have to be and what you need to have with you.

My son is taking advantage of a "homework club" program after school, which is proving helpful thus far. He is better able to concentrate on homework in the school environment. Perhaps something like that is available at your daughter's school?

My informal survey of other new middle school parents is that the transition is difficult for many children, so it's my hope that things will settle into a routine and stress levels will go down as the year progresses.
posted by dweingart at 9:47 AM on September 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

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