"Parenting" without feeling like a checklist machine
April 14, 2016 7:54 AM   Subscribe

How does one handle "parenting" a teenager without feeling like you are just asking questions/following up on things/doing not-fun things? I feel like my life is get up, do the things, go to work, come home, enforce a bunch of rules, watch tv, go to bed. I don't want that to be my relationship with my niece!

So, our 16yo niece moved in with us about a year ago.

Since then, we have found her a psych (for meds - she is depressed and also ADD, but hadn't been on ADD meds before now), and a therapist (just recently). We have finally worked out an okay med schedule, in that she is taking meds in the morning and the afternoon, and they seem to be helping.

However, she has to be reminded to take them, reminded to do her homework, reminded to study chemistry, do her laundry, work on projects, etc. I know that some of this is the ADD, and some of it is just not having the framework to keep track of things - no one has helped her do that before.

It seems like 90% (or more!) of my interactions with her consist of "did you do xyz? did you take your medicine?"

I do not like it. I feel like a machine, and also like I don't have a good relationship with her any more. I am problem solving as I go along - she hasn't been getting up on time, but hates alarm clocks and wanted to keep using her phone. She missed two days in a row this week, so now she has an alarm clock across her room, and will be using it on weekdays, no excuses. It's been pointed out to her that it is not fair to me for me to have to get her up daily, and she's old enough to do that on her own.

She has reminders on her phone for her medicine, but will not get up off the couch to actually *take* her medicine when the reminders go off. I'm torn on this one - it's really important for her to take her medicine, so I don't feel like I can let this one go. My partner said he would try to make sure she takes it, but his brain doesn't work the way mine does either (reminders! lists! get things done!).

How do you, as a parent/guardian/etc balance making sure that things are getting done as needed while not having those types of exchanges all the time?

What tips/tricks have I missed out on by not doing this from the beginning?

Things that have worked for us:
Leaving a sticky note on the table for when she gets home with projects/etc that she needs to work on that day.
Sitting down and planning out a calendar that we then work off of with project due dates, etc.

Things that have not worked:
Trusting that she will stay on top of due dates (ha ha)
Figuring that since she has made vocab cards for every other chemistry chapter, she will remember to do it for this one
Using Badger (iphone app) to schedule reminders to be texted to her (she says sometimes they come through and sometimes they don't)
Calendar reminders work sometimes, not others.

There are some things that I could just let go - like laundry. I could stop reminding her of that, as if she doesn't do laundry, it only affects her. But even with letting that go, there are still So Many Things.

I feel like things are slowly improving - she's remembering to take her medicine in the morning, most of the time. But I feel crazy and overwhelmed now! Things will also be better once school is out, I think, which is only a month! It's also hard to not feel like "if it was only important to her" or "she could do it if she tried!" about things.

Disclaimer: my niece is a good kid. This is a huge transition for her, and she has handled it fairly well! I just want to make sure I am doing the best job I can, while also keeping a good relationship with her. I used to be the fun aunt, and we primarily did fun things, and it's still an adjustment to not be just that anymore!
posted by needlegrrl to Human Relations (36 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
Would a habit app like Habit Bull (there are lots of similar ones out there) appeal to her? Coupled with reminders (for which I really like google keep, especially because you can set reminders and share notes, etc with her account and they'll show up on her phone) it might work together nicely. The habit app categories can be things like "took meds on time" and "woke up to my alarm" and "studied chemistry 20 minutes" or whatever works for you guys.

She gets a reminder, she does the thing, she gets to check it off on her habit app, she gets points. Maybe if she hits her target number of points for a week you guys can do something fun together as a treat (go out for milkshakes? trip to a museum? pedicure?) so the checklist type interactions eventually lead somewhere that builds your social relationship, too.
posted by phunniemee at 8:09 AM on April 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


She's 16. So some of this she can participate in.

Maybe you can have a talk with her in terms of her goals. Help her develop a language around what her goals are (get to school on time, get good grades, get to retain privileges, for starters, and then the bigger life stuff), and then ask her what she can do to take steps towards those goals (if I don't take my meds I will feel like crap and I'll fight with my aunt and uncle and that will suck so I better just get off the couch already and take them). And then ask her what you can do to help her achieve her goals. If she starts to say "well you need to remind me" you can draw a firm boundary there and then figure out what feels comfortable for both of you.

I think re-framing with positive language instead of being pissed because stupid lazy teenager (not that you said that, but I know I would be tempted to go there), it helps both of you realize that you are working together as a team, and not against each other.

Don't be afraid to put your feelings out there. You are a real person too, so it's okay to say this isn't working for me, or I don't like feeling like a nag, or when you don't take your meds I begin to feel concerned about your health.

Perhaps the therapist can help the two of you find the language to frame this in a mutually beneficial way.
posted by vignettist at 8:14 AM on April 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


I don't get why you can't be the fun aunt and the nagging a teenager aunt at the same time? Having 3 kids, now 19, 20 and 21, I can safely say that nagging them to do certain things on a consistent basis at the age of 16 is par for the course. Each had their own issues. In fact, one is a list maker, another is military like (ROTC now) in his daily scheduling including getting up at 5:30AM on his own in HS and the third is a surfer type, everything is cool, no worries man we will get to it. Continue to work on both execution on her part and the method to remind and cajole. Know that it is a process that may take years actually or may suddenly become habit for her. Know too that there is always time for school work and always should be time for fun work. If you are a scheduler, then schedule in the fun. "After you finish your chemistry assignment, you and I are going to the ice cream parlor to taste the new flavor."

I found that a lot of help came when my ex and I sat down with each child and defined what success in their lives meant to them and to a lesser extent, us. Once we agreed on common goals, life became much easier. Sometimes it forced us to reevaluate our measures. For example, one of my children did not define success in school on grades. They defined it on learning the subject matter. In theory they are 100% correct. In practice, the rest of the world measures success on grades, but we came up with a way to "test" them on both content knowledge and application of that knowledge separate from what the schools measured as grades. Ultimately, while their transcript does not reflect it, I think they got a terrific education and succeeded.

So, I suggest you sit down with your niece and set both goals and the path to reaching that goal. Checklists are just reminders to stay on the path. Give her agency in determining where the path is leading and how to hike the path. Then the reminders come easy.
posted by AugustWest at 8:16 AM on April 14, 2016 [22 favorites]


Everything you are describing sounds like super-normal teenage behavior to me -- it's harder to put up with when you didn't raise the kid from an infant (take it from your local stepmom), because it's harder to remember that teens just aren't smaller adults. They think they are, and look like they are, and sometimes even act like they are, but their brains aren't fully formed yet, and one of the latest things to set in is personal responsibility.

Keep doing what you're doing (sorry), make sure to schedule fun stuff to do with her that have nothing to do with responsibility, and make sure you let her know that you don't resent having to remind her of everything, it's just annoying that it falls on you when it's something that matters to her. As everyone above said - does it matter to her? Having that discussion might be the most important one. If she's not taking the meds because she doesn't really agree she needs them, or isn't waking up on time because she doesn't really care about finishing school, that's what you need to know and come to a better place on. Far more than the mechanics of getting her to do it.
posted by Mchelly at 8:19 AM on April 14, 2016 [15 favorites]


While this doesn't address all of your question, one vote here for abandoning reminders for laundry and absolutely everything else that doesn't impact her/your wellbeing. Even though it's only a little thing, it gives you a tiny bit of breathing room, it allows her some autonomy in a low-stakes way, and (importantly) it allows you to honestly say, "I don't nag to get on your back, I remind you because I care about your health and your future and this is really important."
posted by Ausamor at 8:29 AM on April 14, 2016 [7 favorites]


I would try to maybe pick your battles better. Remember that even responsible adults let things slide sometimes, and we have to remind ourselves that the world did not end because we forgot to run the dishwasher or put the laundry off for one more day.

So pick the important things (medication, for instance) and pick a single consistent method (daily checklist, iPhone app, whatever) to enforce those. Add in the want-but-not-needs gradually once the most important habits solidify. Maybe tie in an incentive system---you get access to the TV every day only once these things on the list are done---and be forgiving of effort that is genuine, but not implemented perfectly.

And also schedule weekly time (at least once or twice a week) for fun time together. That is important!
posted by JoannaC at 8:30 AM on April 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


Is she in public schools on an IEP? Is the IEP helping? If the IEP is working, then do what's in the IEP at home. Consistency between school and home may help. And it may be you have to be the annoying parent figure such that you lay out very clear consequences if she misses work and you have a weekly email exchange with her teachers to help her stay on top of things.

I'd also prioritize your own goals with regards to her. Since you like checklists, your major goals should look like:

1. Stable living environment
2. Supportive school environment
3. Personal responsibility for school work

Once she achieves 3 to a satisfactory degree, then you can add other things in.

I'd highly recommend trying to actively team up with her school on the school stuff for sure.
posted by zizzle at 8:34 AM on April 14, 2016 [6 favorites]


"Perhaps the therapist can help the two of you find the language to frame this in a mutually beneficial way."

I would totally have this conversation with the therapist and talk about strategies/a contract she can commit to and work with, and how she'll commit to them, and work as a team to find a mutually-beneficial way to do this.

Another resource, there are tutors out there who specifically work with kids on organization of schoolwork and study strategies. Those are learned skills and a lot of kids don't learn them if they aren't explicitly taught! (Schools are getting smarter and more proactive about explicitly teaching.) Perhaps her therapist or her school could help you find someone who could come in two afternoons a week and work with her on those study/organization skills, help her learn to be more proactive and responsible and gain strategies for doing so, just to give you a break from doing it a couple times a week?

Definitely don't let the meds go, keep being the mom on that one for as long as it takes.

You're not wrong or bad for wanting some non-nagging interaction; phases of parenting where you must continually nag are SUPER FRUSTRATING for both parent and child. Unavoidable, I suppose, but super-frustrating. I even tell my 6-year-old, "I don't like having to nag you all the time, it's no fun for me. I will nag you because that's my job, but can we try to find ways to help you remember and be more responsible, so I can nag you less and you can do this more independently?" I don't know, it seems to help, to put us together as a problem-solving team, and for him to know that I don't really like that nagging interaction either.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:37 AM on April 14, 2016 [5 favorites]


Are her meds somewhere that she sees them at the appropriate time? If she isn't getting off the couch can you get her a small pill box that she keeps on her person so when the alarm goes off it's immediate? I had to finally put my pills in an organizer because I take them first thing in the morning and it's so automatic I can't remember if I did it or not - so having them in their original bottles isn't helpful.

If sticky notes work, what about a large poster with stickies that can be used over and over again for things that need to be done - like half the board is "to do" and the other half is "done". Maybe it's for a week, so there is one sticky for "laundry" and one for "Monday - homework" "Tuesday- homework" or whatever. Then you can add one off stickies as necessary. She moves them to the done side when they are done, you figure out a time when you can review it each day (not right before bed because then there's no time) but maybe when she first gets home from school or when you first get home from work. You can plan it like "here's the three stickies you have to do tonight. I need to do XYZ. Let's check back with each other in an hour and do something fun" where "fun" is maybe pick a show to watch together or go for a walk or whatever it is that means you can spend time together in a fun and relaxed way because things are done. The chart thing works well for me because I can see them.

And maybe she needs a day where she can plan her own downtime?
posted by dpx.mfx at 8:42 AM on April 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


I'm the father of a teenager. Self-care, such as taking meds, is non-negotiable. The other stuff (homework) is negotiable, which means working over time to give her the tools to self-monitor.

I don't have any experience with parenting a child with ADD so I'm not sure how much help I can be, but what I am working on is *trying* to get my son to self-monitor. This means discussing and setting personal goals, discussing the importance of our interior voice when trying to be motivated, discussing self-calming tactics, discussing how sleep hygiene and diet affect our performance from day to day.

However building the relationship is the main part, and the hard part.
posted by My Dad at 8:54 AM on April 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


I've never known the parent of a teenager who didn't feel the same way you do. Honestly, it really sounds to me like you're doing fine and making progress. I even have times where I wish my own mother had been more like you.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:57 AM on April 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


On medication specifically, how much choice is there in what time to take it (i.e. same time every day, yes, but can it be ANY time as long as it's the same time every day or does it have to be mid-morning or whatever?). If the time can be changed, switch it to a time she's always in bed. I take my daily medication at 6am. I am never up at 6am. My cell phone alarm goes off, I take the medication (pill sorter and water on the nightstand), turn the alarm off and go back to bed. There's no getting off the couch (or bed) involved.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 8:57 AM on April 14, 2016


If you can find one she likes, a pill-box necklace might be a way she can take her meds with minimal effort when the reminder goes off. Here's a cool bat one.

My GF's daughter is super, super responsible about school stuff; like we've not had to tell her once in the three years I've been there to get any school-related things done... but we still have to constantly remind her to do her (minimal) chores and put away dishes and stuff. Right now she's going through a 'leave the microwave door open' phase... seriously??

Anyway, teenagers are tough sometimes, and for the really important stuff you're just going to have to nag until you don't have to anymore, while of course trying to build those skills at the same time.

Also, you're awesome for taking in your niece when she needed you.
posted by Huck500 at 9:01 AM on April 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


Her brain may not be fully formed, but surely your husband's is? You kind of let him off the hook in one sentence. He, seriously, really needs to figure out how he can participate more fully in monitoring and enforcing her schedule, and not wriggle out of it because he's not a list maker or whatever.
posted by JanetLand at 9:04 AM on April 14, 2016 [21 favorites]


Seconding some kind of visible responsibility chart. I do this with my 5 year old (with whom I also feel like a nagging machine, especially in the morning.) "Did you pee yet? Go pee. Have you brushed your teeth? I didn't see you go pee. Did you really go pee?"

We put up a chart with velcro tasks that has a to-do side and a done side. Now the only thing I have to ask him is "What's your next responsibility?" It saves you from having to remember all the things [kid] was supposed to do but hasn't done yet, and from having to monitor the whole list and remember what's been checked off and what hasn't.

With the chart system, I can, at a glance, know that my kid has been to the bathroom and brushed his teeth but still needs medicine. Without having to store all those things in my short term memory. If it's clear from glancing at the chart that he hasn't updated what he's done, I tell him to go move his squares. Sometimes with humor: "Oh my goodness, you haven't even woken up yet!"

"What's your next responsibility?" Super useful.
But you keep monitoring the medicine - that's what will help her be able to use the chart.

And - good for you. You're playing the long game here, and good lord is it frustrating, but hang in there.
posted by telepanda at 9:27 AM on April 14, 2016 [5 favorites]


ADD perspective here. I think the general things people are suggesting are good but they need to come AFTER basic ADHD self management techniques, and I find that non-ADHD people don't know what these are.

Say you need to take meds at a certain time. You create the plan in your head: the reminder goes off, you interrupt whatever you were doing and go and your meds. That's the plan you've put in place for her, but it doesn't fit with how her brain works.

Imagine your meds alarm going off, but you don't know where they are. You think, well, okay, gotta think about where my meds are so that I can find and take them. That's already too many steps. The ADHD brain finds it really hard to do steps. There is just no room in there for that sort of thing. Working memory is cheesegrater style.

Or imagine your alarm going off, but instead of something you think is simple, it says "write a book". Hopefully you can imagine what it feels like not to even know where to begin with that instruction. That's the feeling. It doesn't make sense to you that something simple can feel that complicated but to someone with a different brain, it is.

The only way I would be reliably able to take meds when an alarm goes off is by having them right by me where I can reach them without getting up when the alarm goes off. I would also need water to take them with. Otherwise I log 'ah okay meds, must get water' and then that's two steps (get water take meds) and my brain crashes and I'm back to wherever I was before the reminder went off. So I've got to set it up that when the alarm goes off, everything's gonna be there. If I were a teenager this might mean that someone helps me have a routine where, say, they drop the pills and glass/bottle on the desk where 4.30-5.15pm I'm going to be doing homework (with the alarm at 5 or whatever). That way there's help without nagging, I get autonomy within a set structure (ie as long as I arrive at the desk between, say, 4.15 and 4.55 that's cool, it's flexible) and I get the practice of doing an action to a prompt. Or cheating the alarm by taking the meds early, even :)

I'm typing on a mobile so I'm sorry this is a bit convoluted. But the message is that as a non-ADHD person you have to first imagine that your capabilities are much less than they are, then think what you'd put in place to make actions easier. It's what you can offer as a neurotypical authority figure - using your organising and planning skills to set up things for someone who doesn't have that ability and will be developing it much more slowly.
posted by lokta at 9:31 AM on April 14, 2016 [25 favorites]


but his brain doesn't work the way mine does either (reminders! lists! get things done!).

Something that might be a radical huge deal to your niece would be to share the experience of ADD treatment with your husband.

Please get yourself some help, too. Nobody expects you to be an instant expert on this stuff, but there are experts out there and they will train you AND help you not feel so overwhelmed and stressed with all this very intense responsibility. It's basically a win-win.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:50 AM on April 14, 2016


You are doing amazingly from the sounds of it.

If your husband could take on one AREA of responsibility that might help, if you don't end up having to nag him to nag her. Like chores or school or something.

I'd also encourage you to have fun with things where possible.

My son's younger but his homework was becoming a big thing. Now we have a "homework theme song" that I put on and then we have a homemade sign that I wave at him so that I don't have to SAY the word homework. I am still obviously nagging sometimes but it cracks us up. (I am not suggesting this is your ritual, I am just saying that even reminder rituals can be done amusingly.)

The other suggestion I have is to bump up the other interactions, if she's into it. I message my kid emoji to his iPod randomly for no reason. We sometimes have dessert at breakfast rather than leaving it to the end of the day. This may not work as well with a teen but we try to look for joy as attentively as we look for the to-do items.
posted by warriorqueen at 9:54 AM on April 14, 2016 [4 favorites]


You are doing so well! And so is she! Gold stars everyone.

It sounds like you have a good set of non-negotiables (medication, getting up on time) and things where you let her handle the low-risk consequences (laundry).

My son, 11, has ADHD, and cannot remember anything (it seems). Our therapist suggested making permanent lists (I would say, lists that can be checked off). She uses this technique with her 14-year-old with ADD/ADHD, and the reminding is "did you do your morning list"? If she doesn't need to check off, if just reading it is enough, we used construction paper, markers, big lettering. If she needs the physical reminder of checking or crossing off, put it into a plain, frameless "frame" (Amazon) and get some really cool whiteboard markers (not the boring RGBK ones).

Chores: another suggestion from our therapist: assign a monetary value and immediately pay her for doing it. It's a bit mercenary, and enforcing the capitalist system. Some things are unpaid, like clearing the table after dinner (because I cooked and I'm not doing all the work). Other, harder things (clean the bathroom, take out all the trash). The hard part is handing over the cash in the moment.

I really like Unfilth Your Habitat's timer system,where you work 20 or 45 minutes, then take a 10 or 15 minute break. If she's running out of steam on homework this can be a big help. I find I can work steadily and quickly during the work time (it's important that the break happens whether I hit some "goal" or not), and after the break, I can see how much progress I've made. For sitting chores (taxes!), I need to move on break, and with ADD, your niece probably does too. My friend's therapist suggested 10 minutes of homework, and 10 minutes of intense big-wheeling around the neighborhood for her son with unmedicatable ADD.

It's so much trial and error. Our mail would pile up and pile up for the monthly bill paying, until I inherited my mother's silver letter opener. For some reason, opening the mail with that opening (and it's only that letter opener) makes it more "fun" to deal with the mail, and it no longer piles up.

We plan family fun time, or life would be all nagging. Things we do: movie night, WII, game night, watching a favorite series on DVD during dinner, round-robin pick a music video to watch, MMORPG where we are in game together, outings (oh god the nagging to get him out the door in a state not likely to freeze or dehydrate) where he takes a small toy and photographs it having adventures (we've had teenage exchange students do this too).

I feel you on the microwave. My husband won't close the microwave either.
posted by JawnBigboote at 9:57 AM on April 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


reminders! lists! get things done!

If I may mangle the metaphor, in some ways you are cooking her fish for her every day. You need to teach her how to do it herself. She's lucky to have access to you because your skills can be very valuable to her. Show her how you do it. Talk her through the tools you use and the habits you formed. Try to break it down logically or into whatever kinds of parts she can understand and verbalize each step. As others have said above, asking her to participate and helping her articulate how she wants this to work is a good place to start. Could you also sit down with her as part of a routine every day and include her in the processes that allow you to get things done in the world?
posted by juliplease at 10:21 AM on April 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


I feel your pain. I have ADD and many years ago my husband and I became the guardians of my two younger sisters when they were 13 and 12. Also, I have a kid who is just now turning 21. She is not neurotypical and the homework battles were epic. I made many, many mistakes in helping raise my sisters and in dealing with my own kid. One of them was not realizing that relationships are like bank accounts. You have to make good-will deposits and not just nag. So find something that the two of you really enjoy doing together (going to the mall; watching Teen Mom, whatever) and make sure you do that. Like, weekly. Even if it's just for 30 minutes. Keep the good stuff going.

Also, I would talk to folks at the school, if you haven't, and draw on whatever resources are available to help your niece manage her ADD with the help of trained professionals. Be an involved parent by making sure that her teachers and everyone else available understand that she has ADD, get a plan going for her support at school, and then step away from the homework battle. That is not actually your fight. At least, not for long. Because your involvement in her homework may actually work against her teachers understanding her needs and responding to them.

I'm in my 50s and even with reminders on my phone, I have been known to miss my ADD meds because, yup, ADD. So make it nonnegotiable but also what lokta said. Her brain isn't your brain and you need to A. Adapt to that and B. Remember that you have limited control. CHADD has lots of resources for parents and people with ADD.

Give yourself lots of love and appreciation for the incredible challenge you've taken on. You are doing great. Your niece is lucky to have you and will realize it someday if not now. She's facing an even larger challenge so again, have fun with her. However the two of you define it. Feel free to message me if you have other questions and best of luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 11:29 AM on April 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


Parent of 18-yo with depression/anxiety and ADHD here:

(1) It may not feel like it to you sometimes, but you are both doing an awesome job and you should both be really proud of yourselves! I am really grateful to have my own therapist who tells me this all the time when I'm moaning to her about how my 18-yo college freshman dau forces me to live in virtual squalor, is socially isolated and too anxious to drive, and still can't seem get herself to class on time.
(2) In the interests of destigmatization, let's lay it out like this. Your niece has a couple of mental illnesses. Her brain has a harder time doing some things than most people's brains (feeling content and motivated; being organized and remembering stuff). There are medications that may help. There are therapies that may help. There are life strategies that may help. But treating the problem is not the same thing as curing it, and setting expectations based on what she should be "old enough" to do on her own is a recipe for making both of you feel like failures. I honestly think if you lay aside some of the expectations that she's going to be able to function like how you imagine most 16-yos do, or like how you did when you are 16, you will find your job a little less disheartening. I've got ADHD myself which makes it doubly hard to be the monitor for my ADHD daughter, but at least I'm sympathetic to how wanting to do a better job at X does not automatically translate into actually doing a better job at it. I remember how crushed I felt when I was 16 and had to postpone my driver's license road test twice because I lost my learner's permit--twice. My dad said if I really wanted my license I wouldn't lose my permit. And it just...so not true.
(3) This is a tough age, because they look pretty much like adults but they are still very far from being adults. Some 16-yos are more adult-like that others, but there's a reason why in the developed world we don't toss them out on the streets to fend for themselves at this age. But things will get better...this is something that my therapist also told me all the time, that from early teens to 18/19 is really hard, and that parents in general and esp. parents of children with mental illness can feel discouraged during this period, thinking that their kids are never going to grow up and achieve independence. But development is in fact happening, slowly, and progress is being made.
(4) Very excellent advice above about collaborative strategization. Work together to figure out what works for both of you. With my daughter, the deal was/is that I was willing to check in with her to make sure she was up in the morning, if she was willing to make an effort to not snap or snarl at me and apologize if semi-conscious animal side of her brain took over her vocal chords before the human side was fully conscious.
(5) Just keep trying to find ways to positively connect over the things that interest her, like learning about her favorite music groups or watching a favorite show together.
(6) Are you guys doing family therapy? If you're not and it just seems like "ONE MORE THING" on top of everything else you're taking on, please consider that a good family therapist can be a valuable tool to make all the other things seem manageable.
posted by drlith at 11:50 AM on April 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


Hm, so another ADHD perspective, from a very independent/stubborn former-teenager who still has huge problems remembering daily meds after literally 10 years of constant use (yes they are critical meds, yes it is ridiculous, yes I have tried a billion things to remember...and I still fail a couple times a month):

-daily "nagging" about meds ("did you take your pill?") is something I don't mind at all, and actually appreciate sometimes, at least if it's done lovingly/in a non-judgmental way. Does she mind it? If you don't know, ask her! And is it a forgetting issue or really a not wanting to take meds issue? Those will need very different solutions.

-nagging for chores and stuff is OK in small doses, but at some threshold it gets overwhelming and you shut down and/or get stubborn and resist everything you're told to do. So choose your battles. If you're nagging her to do stuff more than, I don't know, once or twice a day, that's pretty close to my "overwhelm" threshold. Same thing with reminders - reminders are so critical for me! but if I have more than one or two a day, it gets overwhelming and I ignore the reminder app, which is Bad News. So you have to set reasonable limits on reminding frequencies, and "reasonable" for you is probably much higher than "reasonable" for her.

-let her have some responsibility, ie let her deal with natural consequences for stuff that doesn't really matter, like laundry. I still run out of clothes all the time because I procrastinated doing laundry. So occasionally I wear a dirtier shirt than I'd prefer or something. Hasn't killed me yet. And if you don't give her some responsibility with natural consequences, she'll keep depending on you to be her memory, without learning to manage that stuff on her own.

-related, look into ways to generate structure and good habits for people with ADHD - ways that don't rely at all on things like "just remember to do it" or "I will tell you to do it".

-unfortunately can't tell you what works with homework and stuff, because my parents pretty much let me handle it on my own and didn't do any more than ask occasionally if I had homework (always "no", of course!). And that didn't really work in terms of building study habits...though honestly I'm not sure anything else would have either. Some kind of regular structure and help forming habits would probably have helped, though. Again, ideally something that avoids the need for you to follow her around asking her to do things.

-keep in mind that many people with ADHD will often struggle with certain things forever, despite medication, good habits, etc. So again, try to pick your battles and be aware of the effort it takes her to do the things she is succeeding at, or that she's improved at. Ex: if she forgets her pills once a week, that means she's remembering every other day! That's awesome! If she sleeps in twice this week, that means she's gotten up on time three times this week. That probably doesn't seem like a big achievement to you, but it might be for her.

-remember that even for people without ADHD, most people recommend focusing on forming one new habit at a time. It's probably different when you're parenting a child and trying to raise them with a bunch of good habits all at once, but still, remember how hard it is for most adults to change their habits, and then think of how hard it is for a teenager (already a "fun" time) with ADHD who seemingly lived her whole life with different habits up until now.

-I'm not saying to let her do whatever she wants, it's fantastic that you're trying to help her form good habits and manage her ADHD. Just remember to acknowledge when the things you're asking are very difficult for her, and notice and appreciate (and make sure she knows it) when she does make efforts to do what you ask, even if she doesn't succeed 100%.
posted by randomnity at 11:57 AM on April 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


Cut you and your teen some slack.

It sucks, but the teen brain is an absolute mess. They are chronically sleep deprived because they are naturally vampires, their batteries die at sunrise. The schedules they're on are the worst possible for them. The hormones make them grumpy, edgy and horny. And all of this without having ADHD.

16 is an interesting time, in a few months, some additional brain development will kick in and your niece will magically seem more with it and together. Ride it out for now and do what it takes to help her get her ass in gear.

One thing I learned early on is to phrase things positively, rather than in the negative. For example: Say, "Remember to take your Books", instead of "Don't forget your books"! It seems small, but it's HUGE! You sound and feel less like a nag and the reception is usually positive!

Can your partner shoulder some of the work here?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:59 AM on April 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


Wanted to add one more thing: I specifically said "natural consequences" because punishments are apparently unusually ineffective for many people with ADHD and that certainly was true for me (punishment = I rebel and refuse to agree to anything, even when that escalates the punishment to ridiculous levels). Many people do respond well to rewards - unfortunately I don't really respond to those either. The only thing that's ever worked for me is making the natural consequences very clear and painful, or for situations where that doesn't work, kinda creating a fake "natural" consequence like, I don't know, "if you don't finish cleaning your room in time, you can't come out to the movie with us tonight". So kinda still a punishment, but one that is closely linked to the "crime" and is known up front.

(But even then, she'll probably continue to avoid unpleasant things like chores and homework because procrastination and avoidance and too much focus on present vs. future unpleasantness. Like any teen, but more so. If she's anything like I was, you have my deepest sympathies....it must be incredibly frustrating, and it's not your fault. If it helps, remember that even if she completely fails to form good chore and study habits like I did, she can still learn them as an adult or figure out ways to compensate for bad habits, even if it is much much harder this way)

Also one more thing: It's really important to involve her in the problem-solving process for things she struggles with. Don't just tell her to try harder, or remind her more often, or give her a new tool to try. Talk to her about it, ask why she has a hard time remembering - NOT in a "why on earth can't you do this simple thing" sense, but more like "walk me through your morning, what went through your mind when your reminder went off, why do you think you forgot to take the pill?" She might not know and that's OK. Ask her what she thinks she could do to improve, and then suggest she tries one of those things, even if it sounds dumb to you. Or for a more formal approach, you could tell her ahead of time that the next time she forgets her pills twice in a row, she has to research things she can try to avoid it happening again, and pick one to try out. This will take some of the pressure off you to find solutions, and more importantly, teach her an absolutely critical life skill for someone with ADHD. As a bonus, you're adding a "natural" mild consequence for forgetting her pills.
posted by randomnity at 12:30 PM on April 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


I've done this with teens at different stages, and the most recent incarnation we are using is an Android app OurHome, with all the family members on it and generous points assigned for tasks and a wide range of rewards. The key to making it work with grouchy teenagers is: no deducting points. Only positive additions. Adults take part too, taking up points for similar tasks (dishes, pet care, I get points for household paperwork like bills while they get points for doing homework, we all get points for finishing books). Points for emotional labor like saying something kind and helpful, doing a favor without being asked, getting ready on time, etc. Rewards that are small and quick to claim like a Starbucks treat to pizza for dinner to a few big treats to aim for which would take about a week of really awesome behavior to earn. Pizza is a big deal because otherwise I don't order it. I give points 2-3 x a day and send a screenshot on our group chat and use many points to get them pizza. The teens have used their points for food, steam games, days off chores and hobby equipment. One is hoarding points towards a phone upgrade.

It is gamifying bribery for good behaviour but it has become also a shared conversation about what we need to get done, and they will do things first 70% of the time without being promoted because it will be checked when I go over the points. And I have realised I will pay a bit for them to be less jerky. Plus you show through points what you value - is a tidy room worth 10 points while an hour of homework is worth 50 points?

It's really important that you take part with equal enthusiasm and chase points too. Then it's a family game, not a parent's scheme.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 2:28 PM on April 14, 2016


Parent of an 18-year-old with ADHD and other stuff here.

I'd like to second the suggestion for family counseling. That was hugely helpful to me in understanding how my teen's brain worked and I am more able to see things from my teen's point of view. I found it was difficult to have discussions with him about "what can we do to make homework easier?" or other topics because it felt like blaming to him. With the counselor there, it's easier for him to feel heard. Also the counselor has a lot more experience with ADHD than I do and can suggest strategies that have worked for others with ADHD.
posted by tuesdayschild at 2:32 PM on April 14, 2016


As a tag on to this point:

I found it was difficult to have discussions with him about "what can we do to make homework easier?" or other topics because it felt like blaming to him.

I firmly believe that all people benefit from learning the skills of optimization, and I think it's important for adults to show kids the work they do internally to do this for themselves, because I think a lot of kids (ADHD or not) think adults just do it like it's easy and are judging them (the kids) for not being good at it. So it may be empowering and enlightening if you actually point out things like, "I keep my keys clipped to my purse on this long stretchy cord so that I can't drop, leave, forget, lose, leave in the door, or accidentally throw away my keys, or take someone else's thinking they're mine. You would not believe what a life improvement it's been for me!"

If those conversations are common and unexceptional in your house - and you make a point of listening when she participates, even if her initial tries are not-great (or just not-what-you-would-do, which we sometimes kneejerk as 'wrong') - you'll help her strengthen her problem-solving skills, and make it less fraught to talk about.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:08 PM on April 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


My kid is 8 and my life feels like this 80% of the time. As somebody said earlier, it just seems like a teenager should be farther along. Nobody is farther along until 25 or so (or until a life crash forces them to step up). A 3-year-old is a 9-year-old is a 17-year-old, with variations. Refreshing progress, surrounded by all the same stuff. Hang in there!
posted by acm at 3:39 PM on April 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


Agreeing with the advice on the teen brain. Teens don't do schedules.

In order to expand the non-nagging side if your relationship, try involving her in household affairs, for instance, menu planning. I wouldn't ask her to think things up -which sounds like work - but offer choices. Would you prefer spaghetti or lasagne?

Also, be open to her friends.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:52 PM on April 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


As someone who was recently a teen, (just finishing up college) I can tell you that the most annoying thing that my mother did was try and get me to do a million meaningless things. I agree with the comments that essentially say "focus on the absolute essentials, other stuff comes later."

Telling a teen to do something like homework or laundry is the best way to get them to hate you, and the homework, and also themselves for feeling unmotivated. Instead, help them realize their goals, and then understand how to get there. Say your niece wants to go to X state college, and thinks working as Y seems cool. Make sure she realizes exactly what it takes to get there. Required GPA, SAT scores, etc. Once she has a goal, the work will have a purpose.

If she is a functioning 16 year old, she is definitely smart enough to complete assignments etc. on time. She just needs to really internalize why she should bother.
posted by leafmealone at 7:07 PM on April 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


You may find this book useful -- How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk
posted by phoenixy at 9:46 PM on April 14, 2016


This is all very helpful, especially the insights into the ADD and teen brain.

We have definitely tried to involve her in things, although more from the "is there anything you want for dinner" than "do you want x or y for dinner" standpoint.

I have also tried the "Okay, you're forgetting your medicine a lot, so why don't you look up apps on your phone that will help you with that and try them?" method, and she's remembering in the mornings, but not in the afternoons, so obviously something is working and something isn't.

In terms of the homework/projects, she has indicated that it is important to her to get good grades, and is generally appreciative of my help with homework and planning projects, even if she doesn't necessary stay on board with my "all projects need to be completed the weekend before they are due" rule, which is more for me than for her, and prevents late night runs to the store and allows time to ask teachers questions.
posted by needlegrrl at 6:00 AM on April 15, 2016


I have also tried the "Okay, you're forgetting your medicine a lot, so why don't you look up apps on your phone that will help you with that and try them?" method, and she's remembering in the mornings, but not in the afternoons, so obviously something is working and something isn't.

This is a great in for some collaborative problem-solving. Something's going right! Hooray! Now let's see how we can build on that to make more things go right.

There are a lot of example scripts for collaborative problem solving in the "how to talk so kids will listen" book linked above. I enthusiastically second it if you aren't familiar with that genre of parenting books.
posted by telepanda at 7:14 AM on April 15, 2016


I'm autistic with a lot of ADHD traits, here's a few thoughts:

One of my biggest issues is "autistic inertia" - when I am in an up/doing things state of mind I can complete several tasks in a row, but when I am in a calm/resting state of mind it takes a herculean effort to snap myself out of it and get moving to get things done. If it's possible to move her afternoon meds up to right when she gets home (so her routine becomes drop bag -> go take meds -> go do whatever after school thing she does) or back to dinner (so her routine becomes dinner is ready -> take meds -> eat dinner), that might be more successful. If you can't move the time, bringing her water and meds would probably be your best bet for getting her to take them regularly. Alarm apps and reminder apps are completely useless for me (because they go off when I am not near the materials I need/not prepared to execute that series of steps) but notes/sticky notes/leaving things on the counter is much more helpful. I have found that a routine of "clumping" tasks together is much more likely to stick so my best homework-doing time was right after eating dinner.

Another trick is to ask "when will you be ready to do X?" instead of focusing on "you should do X"/"did you do X". I also find it much easier to do something if I imagine doing the thing first - so if I need to do laundry, I will think through all the steps (get up, go to laundry basket, triage laundry, bring biggest pile to laundry machine, open washing machine, put pile in, find detergent, put detergent in, close machine, start machine) and that will make me feel prepared to do it; some people feel the opposite and need to focus on just the next step.

Provide written instructions for chores where the chore is done (not in an organized binder all together, the laundry instructions should be right beside the laundry machines, the dishwasher instructions right by the dishwasher) and in addition to any verbal instructions you give. This way if she forgets how to do something, she doesn't need to go through "realize I can't do it -> I need to ask for help -> who do I ask for help -> where is that person -> go find that person -> ask for help", she can just go "forgot next step -> look at list for next step -> continue task".

Expecting things to get done the weekend before the due date is an incredibly high expectation. I have always been a last minute person, something about the panic of the deadline manages to push me into hyperfocus so that I can finally get it done. If she's struggling to meet the school deadline then it's incredibly unlikely that an additional external deadline is going to be the thing that motivates her, the problem is elsewhere.

Try to remember that your goal is not just to have her succeed right now but to teach her the skills she needs to learn in order to maintain the life that she wants later on. How much are you leading her through the organization that works for you vs. how much are you trying to come up with out of the box solutions together that might work better for her? You might need to find a balance that involves letting her screw up more (even though you CAN fix it) and letting her come up with her own coping mechanism (even though you feel you have them and can just teach her them) because figuring out how to do the necessary things and how to motivate yourself to do the necessary things is a huge part of being a teen/growing up. It's OK if things don't get done, she's a kid not a robot, and the goal should be "good enough" not "perfect" (for both of you).

And then yeah purposefully set up time for you two to spend together enjoying yourselves. Consider this "relationship time" instead of "life skills time" if you need to.
posted by buteo at 11:46 AM on April 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


Randomnity's suggestion to frame things in terms of what was going through her mind at the time she was supposed to do a certain thing and didn't, like if she remembers the feeling when her alarm went off and she decided to roll back over, or when her alarm went off to take meds and she didn't, strikes me as being really brilliant.

I'm already finding that technique useful in thinking about some alarms I set for myself that I have a tendency to ignore until the absolute last minute. (Take my before-bed pills??? But I'm not ready for it to be bedtime!) Not diagnosed ADHD but I have many of the traits.

It also reminds me of some of the techniques they have been teaching us in workshops I've been attending, workshops about how better to manage your environment and how to influence situations to have good outcomes. So a useful skill in general.
posted by Lady Li at 11:03 PM on April 15, 2016


« Older What is 'bloatware', why should I care, and how do...   |   How to get Neat scanner to stop asking me to sync!... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.