How I’m Helping My Kids Stay on Track for Homeschool During Quarantine

This is a picture of what I’m doing today to keep my youngest girls motivated to stay on task with their school work (it matters to me that they’re motivated, rather than forced, otherwise it’s miserable for all of us!) This has been the best strategy so far.

You don’t have to be an artist to create these simple charts to help track & visualize tasks

You don’t have to have a fancy print-off, just trace their hands and be clear about which actions earn a sticker (or just have them color each finger or fingernail as they earn, if you don’t have stickers). You can be super specific or not. Just keep it fun! The girls don’t have 10 jobs each, we are just breaking bigger tasks into several smaller tasks here.

I threw in a little bonus for Lydia when she earned 5 stickers for the first hand, and the girls will earn a manicure from Mommy once they’ve adorned all 10 fingers. This system is better than what we were doing before, because it visually displays how much they’re progressing overall, rather than receiving micro-rewards for each step in the right direction (or enduring the push-pull cycle!)

Traditional weekly fill-in-the blank charts were doing nothing for us, because they proved to be too abstract. Of course, a chart will never “do” anything for us. We have to refer back to it frequently, we are the ones to do the “work”. Strategies fail quickly when we don’t apply any effort. Having a visual strategy can really enhance those efforts, though!

My kids are self-paced, which has its own challenges, but I imagine visualizing a “countdown” could also be useful for those children who seem to have endless Zoom meetings.

I have a bonus tip which I’ve shared with some of my younger clients: Make tally marks as you listen to online lectures. Use two categories, label them something like, “Stuff I already know” and “Stuff I didn’t know before” ~or~ “New” and “Review”. This gives your brain something to scan for, and scanning requires a lot less effort (and motivation) than active listening does. Think of it like when you’re in an environment with a lot of background noise and you hear your name; suddenly you’re at attention! Your name is something your brain is programmed to scan for, without conscious effort.

Depending on the subject, your brain can be somewhat casually scanning for “novel information or application” in order to try to add up tally marks, which may be used to gauge how well you were listening. Extra credit if you actually write down what the new information IS!!

Have a better day!
Love,
Janina

What’s Blocking Your Path?

“I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.”

Charles R. Swindoll

The other day my youngest daughter was putting up our play chairs all in a row to make a path for her to walk across. The problem was that her path was blocking my path. As I came up to her creation, my hands were full of things I was trying to carry to the kitchen.

“Great,” I muttered to myself, “now I can’t get through.”

My daughter had “blocked” my way with chairs, and the other end of the table was even more blocked because we’re remodeling. I decided she’d better move her little project somewhere else.

“Wait, what?” I questioned myself, “Did I seriously just say I can’t about this tiny little problem? This obstacle is totally surmountable!”

My daughter came in the room and asked innocently, “Do you like the path I made?”

“Yes, I do!” I proclaimed. Honestly, I didn’t even have to move the row aside in any way, I only had to step over to get to the other side. Fortunately for her, Mommy had been learning about perceived mental barriers, otherwise I might have felt irritated or even overwhelmed. Instead I was excited, and I wanted to share my insight with you!

I felt cheerful every time I saw the “Great Wall of Chairs” that I had to step over, because my brain was continually registering the assignment as impossible, and I kept practicing overriding that thought. It was strangely empowering. I was even motivated to sweep the floor (well enough to take a picture). 😉

Not every obstacle we run up against is so simple. Life is complicated and life is hard, but try to avoid telling yourself, “it’s TOO hard.” That’s called mental resistance. Having mental resistance about a problem we face only makes it more difficult to solve, or more difficult to endure.

Your brain is programmed to protect you from expending too much energy, and it tells you to avoid anything difficult or stressful. That kind of programming can work for us or against us. Don’t be afraid of the effort it will take to tackle a problem that at first seems too hard to face; or to experience a feeling that seems too hard to feel.

Those of us with ADHD experience a LOT of mental resistance when it comes to doing the most ordinary, mundane things. Rather than trying to escape, next time you run up against a wall of something you “can’t” get over, challenge that thought. Doubt what your brain is programmed to tell you, and see if your problem really can be overcome. Perhaps with more effort, and more external support, I hope you can feel empowered to do all kinds of things you never thought you could!

That is one of the great hopes I have for this blog; that it will inspire you to reach and grow beyond your own expectations. Start small, and when you notice an obstacle, you can think of it as an opportunity to practice overcoming.

Share what you learn! I’m excited to see what you come up with, and how a difference in perspective changed an experience for you!

What’s Next? (Don’t put it off!)

I’m going to walk you through my mental process of creative problem solving. Of course all the mental dialogue took place in seconds, but I’ll slow down the pace a bit to keep it comprehensible. 😉 Here we go…

Problem (aka circumstance): Last night I really wanted to start in on my latest recording project *but* I knew that I should get back into doing my evening routine, since my routines had been neglected for the past several days. All week I had the driving thought, “How much can I get done with this little piece of time?” “Ooh, here’s a dull moment, let me escape into this, my latest obsession…” (Classic ADHD thing)

Realization: I stopped a moment and recognized that everything I wanted to do was part of a rather endless project. (How many times have I told myself? “Don’t start projects at bedtime!”)

Resolution: Endless projects cannot be allowed to fill all available time.

Initial Solution: So, I turned my internal dial to “slightly more responsible”, and instead asked myself, “What is it I’m supposed to be doing right now?” 

Setback: That’s a complicated question, actually. I often get stuck in a hamster wheel of what am I supposed to do now? What am I supposed to do now? (Classic anxiety response to an ADHD thing)

Better approach: I found it to be more helpful to ask myself, “What’s coming up next?”

I used to think people only said, “What’s next?” when they had accomplished everything they needed to and were ready to move on, but I’ve observed that “what’s next?” is a question that organized people regularly ask themselves, even when they’re NOT finished yet and NOT quite ready to wrap things up or move on. Hmm, curious…

Good advice: They check in frequently just so they can be ready for what’s coming.

Solution: I can do that. Since the thing that was coming up next for me was bedtime (a couple hours hence) I thought, “What do I need to do before I can start getting ready for bed?” I went through a mental checklist;

  • Drink lots of water
  • Set out medications and breakfast dishes for tomorrow
  • Be sure there are clean dishes for breakfast
  • Be sure there is no wet laundry waiting for me
  • Lock exterior doors
  • Check THE TO-DO LIST

Setback: UGHHH… My natural instinct is to feel overwhelmed at facing whatever is coming up next, even small things such as calling the doctor, emailing a teacher, setting up that darn voicemail (again!?) Sometimes I feel totally lost, unsure what’s expected of me, but other times, like tonight, I know what I need to do next and I inwardly groan, because I know I’m behind, so I don’t even want to think about it. 

**Dangerous thought! Quarantine it when found!**

Better approach: Thinking about a problem is the first step to solving it – don’t avoid that first step! What is it exactly our brains are protecting us from by steering is away from thinking about what’s uncomfortable? Be willing to ask yourself hard questions even when you’re NOT feeling “ready”. Seriously, just thinking about something can initiate the stress of being in the middle of the situation, and our brains seem to think everything will be catastrophic. (Classic anxiety thing)

**Getting into a habit of ignoring problems exacerbates the problem.**

Solution: With that thought in mind, I knew it was crucial for me to really face my upcoming responsibilities tonight, not just go on in blissful ignorance until I’m slapped upside the head by the panic monster after they become due.

Action: I sat down and began planning the next day, and eventually planned for the whole upcoming week (for the first time in a while!) I hadn’t felt very much like “adulting” when I started, but I accepted some temporary discomfort, and motivation showed up as I got into the groove. I reminded myself not to be afraid to merely think about something. I coached myself as I might coach a client:

  • Some of these to-do’s are more urgent than others, focus there.
  • Some things are already past due (oh THAT’S what I had been avoiding) but that does not mean I am a failure. No shame in imperfection.
  • Some things do seem daunting, but that doesn’t mean I’m required to feel overwhelmed. I have a choice.
  • Affirmation: I’m experienced enough – with breaking tasks down into smaller, bite-sized pieces – that I can really have faith in the process.

Result: When I was done planning I felt so much better! I knew that I had made a map that I could follow, and all was not lost.

Bonus: It’s a more wholesome pleasure to spend a few minutes outlining a blog post now with my responsibilities behind me, rather than having them looming large ahead of me.

Moral of the story: This is one of the most critical things for people with ADHD (or for anyone, really) to learn: When we are facing a potential conflict, like needing to decide what’s for dinner, or have a delicate conversation, or plan an event, our brain is wired to protect us from whatever it is that we fear, whether it is worth fearing or not. Have you ever noticed that?

Avoidance is so stressful! Living in the  moment is not what “being present” really means. Ease and instant gratification are only fleeting illusions. Living without regard to the future is a recipe for stress, disappointment, anxiety, and continued avoidance.

Better approach: We all can learn to recognize that not every fear crossing our mind is valid. When we live mindfully, we can notice those feelings that pop up, and we can scrutinize them. I would encourage you to get into the habit of cross-examining yourself when you feel like escaping.

Embrace those fears, look at your calendar for tomorrow, see what is coming up next week and beyond, and make a habit of actually doing it! (That’s a subject for another post!)

Tell me, what is it that you are avoiding right now? Is it something that’s coming up, or something that’s been building up?

Is This Blog for Me? (I Don’t Have ADHD…)

A person with ADHD is, first and foremost, a person. If you are also a person, you might enjoy the content of this blog. 😉

This is particularly true if you have ever experienced any of the following “symptoms”:

  • You have procrastinated
  • You’ve gotten distracted
  • You’ve been forgetful
  • You’ve struggled to get organized
  • You’ve struggled to prioritize
  • You’ve felt overwhelmed or “scattered”
  • You’ve been disappointed in how little you accomplished

Also if you:

  • Care about someone with ADHD and want to understand how to better relate to or assist them (good for you!)
  • Have imagination and can apply wisdom from someone else’s life to your own life, even though you don’t have exactly the same life! 😀

What if I don’t even believe ADHD is real?

  • That’s nothing we need to quarrel about. Consider any mention of ADHD to be shorthand for regular people who struggle sometimes with executive functioning skills (see list of “symptoms”, above). I believe the struggle is more or less universal, especially now that we have devices that can soothe and distract us at any time of day or night.
  • I don’t plan to promote any specific dietary or pharmaceutical intervention, or even natural remedies. I will leave that part of the discussion to the professionals.
  • I do encourage people to do some things for their general well being (such as regular sleep, exercise, developing confidence, nurturing healthy relationships, etc.)
I’ve lived it! I’ve been gradually learning how to turn my ADHD from a liability to an asset.

So, if you are someone who has a general fascination with the human brain and behavior and would enjoy reading a unique perspective on the subject, or better yet if you want real-life strategies to apply what you’ve learned, then WELCOME! This blog is for you

My aim is to share habits, strategies and coping skills that can help shape positive mindset and behavior. I feel that focus on these areas is a necessary part of any person overcoming any obstacle, whatever their struggle may be.