You know beyond a shadow of a doubt that your child is smart and talented. Standardized tests may even support your opinion. Yet, you don’t see your child’s gifts reflected in his or her school performance. Teachers complain about disorganization, inattentiveness, lack of follow-through, messiness, inability to sit still, lack of effort, inappropriate behavior, or taking too long to complete tasks. You hope so desperately that this year will be different, that maybe your child will finally get the perfect teacher.
Chances are that even the best teacher will expect your child to conform to an environment and structure that may not suit him or her very well. Some kids shine most brightly outside of the system’s box. But since you can’t change the perimeters of that box, you will have to help your child learn to shine within it. The following techniques will enable you to provide a hefty portion of that help.
First, impose structure at home. Ironically, problems that include disorganization, messiness, and difficulty getting things done on time are exacerbated by environments that mirror these tendencies. Therefore, it is vitally important that you serve well-balanced meals at the same time everyday; that you establish inviolable routines for chores, homework, and getting ready for school; that household items, especially those that your child needs, are always in the same place; that your child has clean clothes at his or her disposal that can be put out the night before; and that you manage your time and your child’s effectively so that you are never the cause of your child’s tardiness.
Second, strongly reinforce positive behavior and ignore negative behavior. Kids who have problems with executive function don’t get much in the way of praise. On the contrary, they are always the target of disapproval, which further exacerbates their symptoms. Catch your child doing something right every day, and make a big deal of it, and let bad behavior pass unnoticed. This can build new confidence and bring them out of the fog of inattentiveness that leads to all his or her other problems. Teach them as well that they don’t have to be perfect to be loved and valued.
Third, spend a half hour every night playing a family game. This can be a board or a word game, or any game that requires both focus and interaction. Make it an enjoyable time, but also take note of what your child does well and poorly and how he or she responds to setbacks, losing, and winning. This will give you a window into your child’s social behavior in school, and enable you to devise a plan, perhaps with an ADHD coach, that fosters improvement in that area.
The most important thing you can do, however, is remember that you do not want to change or lose faith in you child’s basic self. The school-structure box is a fact of life, but doesn’t define your child or your parenting. But by implementing the techniques outlined above, you can help your child make this year’s school experience happily different, with or without the perfect teacher.