Your Child Is Not Broken. Their System Is!

Your child is not broken, but their system is …

Here’s what I mean by that. You probably have recognized traditional school settings (system) are less suitable for ADHD kids. All the sitting still, listening quietly, and working independently can have our kids climbing the walls, daydreaming, and falling behind.

Kids in an ADHD-friendly school environment where they can move around and interact with others while learning increases their dopamine and therefore their ability to focus, sustain attention, and retain more information.

In the first scenario, does this mean our kids can’t learn? Heck no! This demonstrates that the system was in need of a change, not the child.

Here are 3 steps to recognize when something needs to change to better suit your child’s needs.

Step 1: Look for repeated patterns. 

Step 2: Assume it’s ADHD first. 

Step 3: Stay curious. Where might the system have broken down? Unsure where to look? Start with memory and engage your child.

Here’s an example:

Your high school graduate can now drive themselves to doctor’s appointments. They are getting ready for college and need to have multiple appointments for physicals, vaccinations and braces before heading to school in the fall. Frequently, they’ll be late to the appointments and have sometimes missed them altogether. This has been frustrating for both you and your teen.

Let’s walk through the steps. 

Step 1: This is definitely a repeated pattern. If you’re having the same fight over and over, that’s your cue that something is missing or needs to change.

Step 2: Instead of willful disobedience, let’s assume their ADHD is showing up here. Kids can smell judgment a mile away, so take some time to get into a calm state before talking to them about it.

Step 3: You reminded them about today’s 2 pm appointment last night and this morning. How could they have forgotten?! Remember sometimes ADHD brains have goldfish memories. A reminder at 11 am can be in one ear and out the other by 11:05 am.

Here’s where we examine the system. Ask your teen:

  • What other reminders would have helped?
  • Could they have written a post-it on the kitchen counter and the bathroom?
    On their arm?
  • How about an alarm on their phone telling them to get ready to leave?

Summer is a great time for teens to practice remembering their own appointments and setting multiple multi-modal (auditory, visual, kinesthetic) reminders to aid their working memories.

I once had an especially musical teen client that would sing herself songs to remember what her chores were. Another sat with their dad in the late morning (body-doubling) to draw their plan for the day in a comic design.

This is also a great exercise for parents with un-launched young adults. The more you can shift responsibility for remembering to your kid (acknowledging yes, they might “fail” and forget), and help them examine where the system broke down, the better their system can become.

Remember, you don’t have to do this alone. At the Center for Living Well with ADHD, we love working with children and adults to help them find their own unique ADHD-friendly systems so they can live life happily and independently.

Riley Karbon PCAC

Riley Karbon, PCAC

ADHD Coach and Life Coach, Executive Skills Coach

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