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TrustAndLove

HELP! 10yrs old had a hard time to focus on completing tasks

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DD is currently in Grade 5. Since the whole family are WFH and I was able to observe how she studies: she starts with one task, for example learning a math skill using Beast. She will pick a random Beast book and read through comics without doing any actual work. 1 or 2 hours later, she is still reading. I had to constantly remind her to focus on reading only the relevant part and  focus on what she planned to complete for the day. That goes for her favourite piano: she wants to play piano and will spend hours and hours jumping from one youtube video to another, searching for different songs without playing much.

We tried to get her to write down task lists and use tomato timers. But she just gets more and more angry when we remind her to focus. Any advice on how to help this kind of child?

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Reminding my distractable child to focus always backfired. She knows when she is distracted and putting off work. The only thing that (sometimes) works is consequences. If she goofs off and doesn't do the actual work, there is no free time til it's done. No computers, no games, no movies, no friends time, nothing.

That and maturity. Now that she is almost in 7th grade, it's improved. She still gets easily distracted, that's part of who she is and how she's wired. But she's better abke to discipline herself to get back on track now that she's a bit older.

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A 5th grader is still quite young. Make the list for her. Give her a detailed list of specific tasks to complete. Once she is successful at that, try having her make the list. My DS with ADHD is only now able to self manage non-preferred school work and he is 17 and about to graduate high school. At that age, I had to sit with him for all school work.

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4 minutes ago, City Mouse said:

A 5th grader is still quite young. Make the list for her. Give her a detailed list of specific tasks to complete. Once she is successful at that, try having her make the list. My DS with ADHD is only now able to self manage non-preferred school work and he is 17 and about to graduate high school. At that age, I had to sit with him for all school work.

I agree.  My 5th grader with ADHD is nowhere near capable of that level of self-direction.  I make my son's very detailed school list, and I check in with him every 10-15 minutes to see that he is making progress and not distracted, overwhelmed or procrastinating.

We did start something new after Christmas:
Up until then every single activity was assigned to a particular day, and DS was done when he proved to me that he had finished the day's work.

Now, most activities are still assigned to a particular day, but there are also a few activities that are just assigned to the week - those, DS is in charge of scheduling for himself.  So, math I still schedule one lesson per day - it is just too hard to dig out of the hole if he lets a week go by without doing any math.  But in his weekly work, I just list that he needs to do three spelling lessons on days of his choosing.  At first he never "chose" to do them and instead ended up doing them all (about an hour) over the weekend - a consequence he felt, but which didn't feel insurmountable.  Now, after months of that natural consequence, he is often choosing to crank out a spelling lesson on any day he finishes a bit early.  It's progress!

HOWEVER, DS can only barely handle that tiny bit of freedom (and even that is a work in progress), and in the future I will only be loosening the reigns as he shows more maturity, responsibility and executive function.  This DS is my oldest and I have gotten burned so many times giving him too much freedom that he could not handle simply because he was N years old and he should be able to do XYZ independently.  He just can't, and me trying to force him to step up to the plate before he was ready just caused danger, frustration, regression, resentment, cheating, etc.  It has been bad every single time, so now my mantra is scaffold, scaffold, scaffold; only remove the supports very, very gradually as he is ready to take baby steps toward independence; and always be ready to back up and re-scaffold if he heads down a path of failure, avoidance and self-recrimination, because the farther along that path he gets, the harder it will be to recover and get back to the point where he was succeeding.

Wendy

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I think the same thing is happening to you that would  happen in school if a teacher didn't supervise closely: not much gets done. Even in a high school with study hall, generally nobody is left to her own devices more than 45 minutes.

My DS is in 6th, and I expect to have to monitor whether he's completing the assigned subject, and do not let him loose on YouTube for music. When we used Beast Academy (granted he was younger), I would read the comic with him and then see that he switched to the workbook.

Many, perhaps most, kids at upper elementary and middle school levels need the presence of an adult nearby in order to stay motivated to get the work done.

Edited by whitehawk
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Thank you very much for all the reply! Especially Wendy, I feel the pain between the lines.

I am a big fan of the book "The Self Driven Kids". And I intentionally try to give DD space and freedom to plan the day and the week. For example she writes down a list of things she has-to complete and want-to by herself after breakfast, so she understands what needs to be done. Weekends are days she is totally free to learn or do anything she wants to. But I have to echo Wendy's reply, there are many disappointment and arguments at the end of the day or week when I notice she has not completed any work, though she has been "studying" all day.

I am thinking of paying close attention to her but it hurts me when I feel I am constantly "watching" her - it just does not feel right.

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For some kids, it feels much more helpful and friendly to be at hand so that she stays on task than to criticize how little she got done at the end of the day. Knowing, in theory, what ought to be done is just not enough for a lot of people to keep them working on it in the presence of more attractive options.

If you'd like to gamify completing tasks, I recommend the Habitica app (free), but it's not at all unreasonable for her to need more frequent checking in than after many hours.

It can also help if you give her a specific solution to getting stuck (e.g., "Put a star by a math question if you just can't get anywhere with it, and go on to the next one. We'll look at the tricky ones together at the end.").

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2 hours ago, TrustAndLove said:

I am thinking of paying close attention to her but it hurts me when I feel I am constantly "watching" her - it just does not feel right.

An analogy of something that happened with my son.  (Disclaimer, along with ADHD, my son also has ASD and anxiety.)

My son has always had a very, very hard time going to sleep.  He stopped falling asleep in cars when he was 4 months old - we could literally drive 14 hours to visit DH's parents and baby DS would be awake the whole time.  He has never in his life fallen asleep easily, as a baby it involved hours of crying even if I was holding or rocking him.  Starting as a preschooler he would pace his room...sometimes literally all night.  If there were toys he would break them, if there was paint on the walls he would scrape it off, if there were books he would rip them into tiny shreds, if there were stuffed animals or blankets he would tear into them and eat the stuffing until he made himself throw up.

Over the years we took more and more things out of his bedroom because they simply weren't safe.  After a while it became clear that even the "extra" space was making it harder for him to relax and let himself go to sleep - we moved him to a mattress in our walk in closet.  At first we kept his clothes on the shelves in there, but that was too much of a distraction.  In fact, he could not stop himself from climbing the shelves themselves, so they had to come down too.  He had a lamp, that had to come out.  He had a clock, that had to come out.  He still can't handle blankets with stuffing...just too tempting to poke holes in the seams and pull out the stuffing.

The funny thing is, the more we took away, the better he slept.  He actually thrives on the lack of choices.  He is now 11 years old and still sleeps in our closet.  The closet has been stripped absolutely bare, and all DS has is a mattress on the floor with a fitted sheet and a pillow.  We run a box fan right outside the room for white noise, and per DS's request we put a rolled up towel in front of the door to block out all light from getting in.  It is his very own sensory deprivation chamber...and he falls asleep quickly, and stays asleep for 10 hours every night.

I think for some kids, freedom is scary.  It is too unstructured, too full of distractions, too apt to lead to failure and disappointment.  I think sometimes they need someone to take them in hand and firmly lead them to a place of succeeding.  For my son, figuring out for himself how to relax, turn off his mind, and fall asleep in a "normal" bedroom surrounded by normal stuff was simply too big of a challenge.  It was too big and complicated of a task with too many variables and ways to go astray.  But once we let go of normal and ideal and really looked at what he was showing us he needed, we were able to structure his life and environment to allow him to succeed.

From the outside, it looks like you are asking your daughter to figure out for herself how to perform a very large, complicated task which even many adults struggle mightily with - how to manage her own time, be self-motivated and persevere toward challenging goals.  I think there is a very real reason why people pay money to weigh themselves at Weight Watchers, why companies break big projects into small tasks with deadlines that are frequently reviewed, why language learning websites have leader boards and competitions.  In general, people flounder without structure and accountability.  It can be very comforting knowing exactly what you need to do, and when your progress will be checked up on.  Obviously, we hope that kids get better and better at managing their own time as they grow and mature, because there are many household and hygiene tasks that adults are on their own to prioritize and schedule, but that is a long term goal, and in my experience some kids simply can't thrive or cope with being given complete freedom from the get go and being left to their own devices to hopefully swim rather than sink.

Wendy

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21 hours ago, TrustAndLove said:

Since the whole family are WFH

So you're implementing her private/public school plans at home and normally she attends a physical school? Or you're homeschooling and have not found a good stride? What flex is there is your WFH to allow you to provide more structure?

Whether she was physically in school or not, the FIRST line strategy for ADHD is always STRUCTURE. So I think I'd start by asking what the school work plan is and what your flex is with your WFH schedule to allow you to provide adequate support/structure. If she was in school, she was used to EXTREMELY HIGH STRUCTURE. You may need to recreate the structure they had there. The easiest way to get this info is to google 5th grade classrooms and see what types of structures those teachers typically bring in. 

-together work table

-independent work space

-flex seating (couch!)

-clear plan for the day

-check in points with supervising parent

I would expect to begin with high structure, high parent "at arm" as SWB puts it, and I would fade the parent at arm, increasing lengths between check -ins, as she gets used to the routine.

Children who are under stress or experiencing high anxiety can have ADHD symptoms, and it's not necessarily the case that they always have ADHD. That's why I asked what her school placement was before the shut down and whether attention was an issue there. If it was NOT, then I would strongly suspect anxiety is high. I would consider beginning your day with strategies for anxiety and repeating the strategies throughout the day as needed.

-mindfulness- https://www.shambhala.com/sittingstilllikeafrog/  this track is free

-body scans-just google to learn how. Doing a body scan or other acts of mindfulness can bump EF (executive function, the thing affected by ADHD) by 30%. She'll be in a better place to work and to self-advocate.

-weight, fidget bins, feel good menu of things that make her feel good. Happy music on headphones, lavender, soft blankets. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hagJ9-NtlsA I just got my ds a new blanket for this. Kohls has a really soft Ugg Tuva blanket, softest thing you've ever felt. https://www.kohls.com/product/prd-3690346/Koolaburra-by-UGG-Tuva-Throw.jsp?pfm=bdrecs-WebStore-SalesEvent-Koolaburra-bnull-&bdrecsId=f7081734-df0c-419b-85ed-706a7c8fad88 For weight, consider a weighted blanket or a weighted lap animal. I have some that are weighted with sequins, double featured. I would go for the full size like this, not the mini. https://www.puzzlepiecesohio.com/product-p/265.htm  And this place I linked has the BEST TASTE in fidgets, oh my. My dd is in college, but she's very very ADHD even with her meds and needs to use a lot of tools. She uses tons of stuff from this place. Spinners, flip/slap bracelets, etc. You can get things like Tangles at your local Walmart. They'll be in the toy department and they're like $3.

-exercise--If you have a treadmill, a set of stairs, or even a video you can get on youtube/vimeo. All kinds of places are making kid exercise videos free right now. It will help anxiety and many people find it helps tame their ADHD enough to allow them to work a bit.

-decrease social media and news exposure. If she's ADHD, decreasing screens in general or making sure the blue light feature is on so her body is winding down at night. 

-reconnecting with friends--help her facetime/skype with friends, family, people from church, anyone. The effect of isolation is significant right now. I would shoot for 4 people a day if you can and see if that helps. Remember, even if it isn't a direct help, it is another way to create STRUCTURE. Structure means a plan, clear expectations. You can unschool and have structure! You can work completely by choice and have structure. Structure means a clear plan, clear expectations. They know the plan and the night before agree to the plan and they wake up anticipating to work the plan. 

21 hours ago, TrustAndLove said:

I had to constantly remind her to focus

I wouldn't. Type out the plan, make it VISUAL, and point to the plan. Don't harp, don't remind, just point. 

It's a solid strategy to alternate work and breaks. So she does her math, she skypes a friend. She does her LA, she practices piano.

It's a solid strategy to work from less preferred to more preferred. So allowing her to start the day with her most highly preferred thing may backfire. 

My kids with ADHD both benefit from some time to wake up before people start badgering them. My dd with straight ADHD needed a LONG TIME when she woke up, sometimes as much as 2 hours, before she was ready to work. It's something to do with their brains and the brain waves. She was a REALLY HEAVY sleeper, still is. The ADHD meds help that btw. Nevertheless, it meant functionally we had to have that time to wake up as part of the PLAN. So I couldn't plan school work and then be frustrated. We literally said first 2 hours while you're waking up, you stay away from me and you read. That was her wake up time. If you allow tech during that for a dc who can read, that is a huge loss and disastrous, just saying. If the dc can read, I would be wanting them reading or doing something similarly productive, not tech. It's really hard to get a kid off tech. Legos with audiobooks would be fine. My dd is a stellar reader but she was still enjoying a lot of audiobooks in 5th. You could consider audiobooks. Audible has them for you to *stream* right now for free. https://stories.audible.com/start-listen

21 hours ago, TrustAndLove said:

We tried to get her to write down task lists and use tomato timers.

Was this dc in school? I don't think it would be *typical* for a 5th grader to create and supervise their own plan. That goes back to what flex there could be in the WFH plan to allow you to supervise more and create more structure.

I think at the very least, a supervising adult should work with her to create a workable, agreed upon plan that intersperses BREAKS and is REALISTIC, with the needed time for waking up, etc. And then the dc should probably come to the space of a supervising parent and sit quietly in a designated, low distraction, comfortable independent work space that has their supplies, a fidget bin, comfort tools, and brief break materials as well as their printed checklist, and the dc should work the plan. 

I think instead of timers I would have the checklist create the logical time for work and breaks. So the tasks on the list are small enough that she works, takes a break, work, takes a break.

If you have a treadmill in the house or the ability to go out, you could have brief movement breaks and chores (unload the dishwasher, feed the cat, brush the cat, walk the dog, whatever) built into the list.

I would end the list with a fun things menu, one that is masterful play (learning something new) and the other that is her highly preferred thing.

I would consider placing an order with Timberdoodle to get some high value fun activities you can intersperse as requirements to help her keep moving through the list. This is their page of suggested activities for gr 4-6. https://timberdoodle.com/collections/grades-4-6/puzzles  I just bought Walls and Warriors for my ds, and it's in an independent work bin where he is to go and do one new challenge each day. Dot to Dots are good for that. If you don't want to spend money, consider creating learning tasks for free. https://missdeansworld.weebly.com/blog/the-fifty-nifty-united-states  I printed out the pages from here and put them in page protectors so we can work on learning the states. It's really too much for my ds right now to learn the capitals, but we're working on the states. It's a 5th grade standard in most states btw. Also you can google your state DNR and probably find pdf brochures for common birds, mammals, fish, whatever you want. I did birds with my dd years ago using guides specific to our state, and with my ds I'm doing birds/mammals, and sport fish right now. Again, just print and throw in page protectors to review each day. 

She might enjoy the Mastery Challenges or Book Projects from Mrs. Renz. https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Mastery-Club-Challenge-Fast-Finishers-Enrichment-YEARLONG-Program-300027  I used them with my dd years ago, same age, back when they were free. 

Consider making computer or other high value things contingent on working a skill. Typing would be a good one to work on for that age.

But again, nothing is going to happen if there isn't adequate structure. And remember, structure and the comfort for anxiety go hand in hand. Being with a supervising adult, being close to them, having those checkins will be comforting, whatever is going on. And be flexible. Untreated ADHD is pretty much a Mary Poppins kind of thing, where the wind is going to blow and the dc is NOT going to be able to work. I would have a "Plan B" for those days, so she's literally still on plan even when she's not on plan. That's what I had to do with my dd, because we didn't start meds till high school. So a plan B can be research a topic and create a powerpoint. Or read 3 books. As long as she's still in the space of her supervising parent, you don't really care. If she's saying I'm on Plan B or I'm on Plan A, then you're still good and on plan. 

If it's ADHD and the ADHD is longstanding and it was less obvious because she was in school, you could consider meds. It's a good age to be bringing in those kind of supports, especially if you're increasing structure and have tried behavioral supports. You want to bring in both.

Edited by PeterPan

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16 hours ago, TrustAndLove said:

Thank you very much for all the reply! Especially Wendy, I feel the pain between the lines.

I am a big fan of the book "The Self Driven Kids". And I intentionally try to give DD space and freedom to plan the day and the week. For example she writes down a list of things she has-to complete and want-to by herself after breakfast, so she understands what needs to be done. Weekends are days she is totally free to learn or do anything she wants to. But I have to echo Wendy's reply, there are many disappointment and arguments at the end of the day or week when I notice she has not completed any work, though she has been "studying" all day.

I am thinking of paying close attention to her but it hurts me when I feel I am constantly "watching" her - it just does not feel right.

Oh come on. Seriously?? You don't think those books had mention of DEVELOPMENTALLY APPROPRIATE??? We have plenty of unschoolers here, seriously. You can unschool and be self-driven and be developmentally appropriate. 

Saying you want to empower her and help her self-advocate and make choices is NOT THE SAME as abdicating your responsibility. Unschoolers and people who encourage choice are some of the MOST engaged, MOST involved homeschoolers. Not at all just leaving the kid and hoping it all happens at the end of the day.

Mercy.

Look, we all have our own mental health to deal with, and maybe this is your chance to reflect and just be honest. If it's not working, reflect. Why isn't it working? We all fail, we dust off, we try again. It's homeschooling, it's growth. 

The first homeschooler I ever hung out with, the lady who mentored me and brought me piles of books, was a total unschooler. Like serious unschooler. And you know, she was super involved, super available, right there, mentoring, interacting.

I'd just be concerned that your WFH is skewing what you think you can make happen. Or having to deal with your own mental health. We're all a little screwy right now and dealing with our own fears and anxieties, and we have to deal with that AND our kids'. 

So yeah, just looking at it, I'd be wondering if the ADHD was always there and I'd be wondering where the flex is in the WFH. Because I'm telling you, what you aspire to, properly done, does NOT look like leaving them to do their thing and wondering. It's HIGHLY interactive, HIGHLY engaged.

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You might enjoy doing a google site search. You type the terms and site:welltrainedmind.com and voila stuff pops up. You can see the minds of the greats over the years, a lot of btdt.

https://www.google.com/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=unschooler+site:welltrainedmind.com&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8  unschooling threads

https://www.google.com/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=alfie+kohn+site:welltrainedmind.com&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8 Alfie Kohn threads

 You can also put a username in that site search, so you it's handy to see how a person did xyz if that person seems to resonate with you. 

But really, think about what your ideals look like at different ages, how you would expect implementation to change/mature. Think about where reality meets the road. Children aren't theories; we are working with a specific child. That was perhaps the hardest thing for me as a new homeschooler, to realize the theories in the books were in general but I had to deal with my dc specifically.

You know how I finally resolved it for myself? I'm not too brilliant or inventive, and sometimes I'm not like my kids and don't understand where they're coming from. So I finally decided, especially for my very ADHD dd, that I would use the role model of OTHER ADULTS who were self-learners who had her issues. So I literally thought about other successful adults with her issues and thought ok, how do they tackle those subjects, how do they learn, how do they interact with those materials? And I worked backward, like what does that look like as an adult, then in high school, the in junior high, etc., kwim? 

I don't know, that helped me a lot, when I got a picture of where I was GOING and thought about a road map, steps to end up there. Because that's what you're basically saying, that you have this vision for how you'd like to help her learn how to learn but you need steps to get there. 

 

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It's really abnormal for ten year olds to easily focus on school work when left to their own devices. ADD doesn't need to come into play. Kids are kids, not adults. 

If you want to take something like Self Driven Kids... well you're daughter isn't driving herself" if you're telling her what work to do. YOU are the one who wants her to do mathematics. So YOU have to sit with her an teach her not only the lesson, but why the lesson is the thing she's doing. You have an entire school career to get these messages across (fingers crossed), so as you can imagine, it is a long process. But it can be done 🙂 You can do it 🙂 

You may be interested in reading this, about the habit of attention. The whole time, keep in mind that habits are things we teach and reinforce, not something we tell our kids to adopt. 

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http://www.bfbooks.com/Geography-Through-Literature-Pack-PB?sc=18&category=860

https://www.oakmeadow.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/5_English_and_US_History_CB_sample-lesson-2020.pdf  

These might be two things to look at as examples of ways to bring in creativity, engagement, choice within structure. The BF guides are self-driven unit studies. The Oak Meadow curriculum is waldorf influenced with lots of creativity and a pleasant pace. 

When my dd was that age, we did a BF guide, the one I linked, and enjoyed it, yes. It was something she could do independently while having some structure so she didn't just drift. We never did Oak Meadow, but I looked at it a lot and could have just as easily and wisely chosen it, sure. It would give some structure with plenty of room for choice.

I always made her a weekly checklist at that age, and there would be BLANKS in it for her to log what she did. So it would say read and she would log what she read. We used reading genre diversity checklists some years to encourage diversity. It's an appropriate age to have delayed assignments, so she'd have the expectation to complete a book project by the end of the week and would have options to choose from like the Mrs. Renz projects, Michael Gravois projects, How to Report on Books forms, simply writing a summary/narrative, etc. 

Some weeks we did page number total goals, so it was like read 1500 pages this week, that kind of thing. I don't remember the numbers, haha. But a longer goal, self-directed, logging, but still a lot of structure, something that can go on the weekly checklist.

I viewed myself as a FACILITATOR so I was trying to provide her with masterful learning projects and also help her learn how to find her own. A 5th grader is right on that cusp, needing both. So then, if I was facilitating, I was going to put it on the list. So her checklist had a list of 4 things like that she could do after her main work was done and she could check them on the list as she did them. We did a book of napkin folding one year. We did opera in 5th grade, reading stories from opera each week and then watching the operas. Here's the book we used. It's hard to get now, oh my. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000C4SNEY/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title?ie=UTF8&psc=1

We would have appointment slots, agreed on times where we would meet so I could see where she was at with her work.

Your dc's education will be richer if you facilitate and mentor. 

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8 minutes ago, OKBud said:

You may be interested in reading this, about the habit of attention. The whole time, keep in mind that habits are things we teach and reinforce, not something we tell our kids to adopt. 

This is SO important. We want our kids to have success at meeting their goals. ADHD is littered with failure, concluding you're incompetent and unable, etc. We want to step up supports so they SUCCEED and then we TEACH them how to create those structures for themselves. Success breeds success. 

We EXPECT a 30% delay in EF development in kids with ADHD. We EXPECT them to need more time and nurturing to be ready to take these structures over for themselves. Basically 3-4 years delay. We EXPECT them to stay longer at arm and needing higher support to accomplish their goals. We EXPECT them to have a big mismatch between what the *want* to do and what they're *developmentally ready* to do.

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