When my son, William, was in 3rd grade, his teacher, Mrs. Carter, called me at home one evening. She wondered what we did to help William complete tasks. Did we use checklists? Incentive charts?
“We’ve tried about everything since kindergarten,” I said, trying to think quickly. Even though I was a child psychologist, anxiety clouded my thoughts when it came to my own child.
Then I remembered our morning checklist. I explained that if William and his younger sister completed and checked off their morning responsibilities by seven thirty a.m., they each earned a dollar. I still had to remind William to check his list a few times, but it helped us all get out the door.
“That’s great. I’m so glad I called. The more consistent we can make home and school, the easier it will be for William,” she said. “He’s such a sweet kid. Smart as a whip too.” Ms. Carter paused, as if she were about to say goodbye. Then she asked for my opinion about how to help William track instructions during independent work time. Since he loved to read, she wanted to use an incentive to help him in these areas.
I explained that William’s math teacher put sticky notes with page numbers on his desk during independent work time to help him stay on track. He said it worked very well.
Ms. Carter thanked me again. I took in a deep breath and stretched out my legs on the ottoman as I absorbed her positive energy.
Ms. Carter saw all of him. Not just the ADHD.
The Reading Chair & Sticky Notes – Learning Support Fails
When I picked William up from school the next day, he didn’t have his usual grin. He trudged toward the car and climbed in the back seat, pulling the door closed hard.
“What’s up, buddy?” I asked, craning my head to catch a better glimpse of him before we headed home.
“Ms. Carter is embarrassing me in front of my friends. That’s what’s up. I don’t want her to treat me different than the other kids,” he said, arms crossed.
“How so? What’s she doing to make you stand out?”
“She’s giving me special time in a big reading chair for listening; she’s got a picture of it taped on my desk. Then she sticks stars on it when I do my work,” he added with a cringe, his hand against his forehead.
“Is that the part that’s bothering you the most? The picture of the chair on your desk?”
“No, I hate all of it! I don’t want extra reading time in a special chair. Nobody else gets it. I’m not a baby,” he added, pressing his watery eyes.
“That’s not even the worst part. She keeps graffitiing my desk. She never used to be so dumb,” he added, buckling his seat belt.
“What do you mean?” I asked, pushing back a grin at his choice of words. Still, I felt badly that our well-meaning plan had backfired. The last thing I wanted to do was embarrass my son in front of his classmates.
“Ms. Carter keeps putting stickers with stupid notes on my desk,” he said, pulling a Casper the Ghost comic book from the seat pocket in front of him.
“I don’t get it, William. Doesn’t your math teacher do the same thing?”
“He only does it once, at the beginning of math class. Ms. Carter is always putting notes on my desk. She’s damaging my reputation.”
Here’s what I learned from the Reading Chair/ Sticky Note Fiascos
- Finding the right learning supports for our kids is tricky business. For example, just because William’s math teacher found success with sticky notes doesn’t mean his other teachers would have the same results.
- When we find a strategy that works, we need to be careful not to overuse it. For example, while Mrs. Carter was well-meaning, her overuse of praise and sticky notes embarrassed William in front of his classmates.
- Children are often more sensitive about their learning differences and classroom supports than we realize. That’s why we should always try to involve them when problem-solving with teachers about how to help them in school.
- Finding the right learning supports for kids is an ongoing process. The tough part is that we have to keep changing the supports to complement our child or adolescent’s growing maturity. The awesome part is that in the process, our children learn all kinds of things, like how to become self-advocates and collaborate as part of a team.
In the end, our children become the experts in their own learning and a support to others, which is beautiful to witness. Just this past weekend, William, who is now twenty, attended one of my talks in New York. Afterwards, he gave several parents great advice about how to help their kids with ADHD. He said it felt great.
The next day, William saw me responding to a woman from my Facebook support group who described feeling totally overwhelmed with her newly ADHD diagnosed five year old son. The woman said she felt like she’d been doing all the wrong things.
William disagreed. He asked me to tell her that she’d already done several right things, like getting her son tested and then joining my support group for parents raising ADHD children.
Wrapping Up: When Learning Supports Fail
- Remember that our children / adolescents are sensitive about their learning differences. They don’t want to look different from their peers. That’s why involving them in finding the right supports is well worth our time and effort.
- As a parent, I’ve learned that persistence and optimism are qualities that serve me very well. If a learning strategy is a bust, that’s okay! Just keep trying to find ones that work well and try to stay positive. Children and adolescents are resilient. We all are.
- Try not to overuse learning supports (e.g., sticky notes, gold stars, praise).
- Remember that as our children and adolescents mature, their learning supports need to change accordingly (e.g., gold stars won’t fly with most kids beyond 3rd or 4th grade at the latest. Instead, teens tend to prefer added priveleges, like extra computer time at school).
Your ADHD Guru,