Thursday, 4 October 2012

Helping Children with ADHD Tackle Homework

Imagine being at a theater to watch an orchestra perform.  This particular orchestra has mixed reviews: when they concentrate they are amazing! But when they have difficulty communicating they are horrendous.  The musicians take their starting poses and the conductor raises his baton, which suddenly falls to the floor. Everyone is frozen; the proper ‘go’ signal has not been given.  The conductor grabs hold of his baton, gives the ‘go’ signal and the music begins.  The entire orchestra, however, seems anxious and communication difficulties persist.  As the melody continues to be out of tune, the conductor abruptly gives the ‘end’ signal and runs offstage.  He feels like a failure and resolves to quit his job.  

Now imagine you are a child and the conductor in your brain is having communication difficulties, just like the conductor of the orchestra.  Quitting life is not an option so what do you do?  Welcome to the mind of a child with executive functioning weaknesses, one of the core deficits of ADHD. 

The brain’s conductor, or our executive functions, control our actions and emotions, such as our ability to take initiative, manipulate between sets of information, problem-solve, plan, organize tasks and materials, and self-monitor (control impulsivity and hyperactivity).  These are all key parts in becoming successful and independent.  But what should we do when the brain’s conductor is having a hard time doing his job, especially in the case of children?  Is success possible?  The answer is absolutely YES! They just need our help… especially when it comes to homework! 

Homework can be difficult and frustrating for children with ADHD since it involves the heavy use of executive functions.  There are lots of steps involved:
-The homework must be written in the agenda.  This in itself involves finding the agenda, figuring out the date and writing down the work (usually while looking back and forth between the board and the agenda—and at all the distractions in between).

-The proper materials must be brought home. This involves finding the agenda, remembering the date, turning to the proper page, reading the homework, remembering the materials needed, finding those materials, and putting everything into the backpack.

-The homework itself needs to be broken into smaller steps and organized.

-The child must do the homework, assemble it and place it in the backpack.

-The work must be brought to class and handed in.   

Children can become very frustrated and discouraged when doing homework.  Let’s use these strategies to set them up for success!

1.     Plan a schedule that is non-negotiable
Children with ADHD need a firm, consistent schedule.  With your child’s help, make a list of things to be done after school: homework, play/free time, supper, shower, bedtime, etc.  Then, together, design a schedule giving each activity a time slot and post it in plain sight. You can also come up with a plan/secret word to remind everyone to stay on schedule!

2.     Set clearly defined expectations
By setting specific expectations for your child to follow, homework can become structured and stress free!  Expectations should be discussed in a positive manner and everybody working with the child (parents, babysitter, tutor, etc.) should be on the same page. 

3.     Make a ‘cool-down’ zone
Pre-designate an area for your child to express frustration.  Place a blank piece of paper across from the homework area and explain that if your child feels frustrated/angry, to walk over to the paper, write down or draw out the problem, take a deep calming breath, and then return to the homework.  Once the problem is put down on the paper, it is left there.  This is not a punishment but a special gift of support.

4.     Develop a meaningful reward system
When developing a reward system, involve your child to ensure that he/she is working towards something meaningful.  Also, remember that rewards do not always have to be material things!  Kids love earning 20 minutes of special one-on-one time with a parent, a short extension on free time, or a visit to the movie theater.   

5.     Keep to your word!
Remember that consistency is key!  You must follow through on both positive and negative consequences, even if your child tries to negotiate, throws a fit and/or promises to do better next time.  Also, if you must give a negative consequence it should be short and appropriate. Praise, on the other hand, can be more outrageous and loud!

Keep in mind that what works for one family does not work for all families.  Stay focused, keep your head up and with hard work, perseverance and creativity, homework will become easier for everyone! 

Robin Bernstein is a life, academic and ADHD coach for youth. For more information about her services and upcoming workshops please visit

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Who have you inspired recently?

Inspiration: to produce a feeling or thought to inspire confidence in others.
I once asked a very wise woman if she thought that I would be successful in the helping profession, even though I carried a lot of personal baggage.  It was something that I was always worried about: how my self-esteem issues would affect my ability to help others.  What this very wise woman told me was surprising: “Of course!  I don’t know anyone that enters the helping profession that has not overcome challenges.”  I consistently need this type of positive reinforcement and feedback to be assured that I am doing the right things and not sabotaging my own success.  And even when the feedback IS positive, I have a hard time believing that someone could have that type of encouraging response about me: have I really succeeded and have people really begun to regard me as valuable?  I consistently have difficulty believing what I am hearing and seeing.  That is why I became even more stunned when the very wise woman told me that she had read some of my blogs and that nobody would ever be able to tell that I carry this type of baggage with me.  And this got me thinking: Why do people do things?  What is their motivation?  What do they get out of it?  And what does it take to give?  

What’s interesting is that a lot of people who give do not even realize what they are doing.  At Inspirations Newspaper, for example, Mike Cohen, Wendy Singer and Yibing Shen may only be beginning to see how important and life changing their work is.  Inspirations Newspaper, sponsored by the English Montreal School Board, is distributed twice per year and provides readers with a snapshot of Montreal’s special needs community.  The newspaper’s name is fitting, as it itself details stories of inspiration, hope and success.  But the people who are responsible for sharing these incredible heart-warming stories are equally as special and inspirational.  

After including special needs angles in a travel column that he was writing for Exceptional Family, a magazine sponsored by the Miriam Home, Mike Cohen felt as though he was providing a specialized service to families.  It was this feeling that motivated him to approach the Director of Student Services at the English Montreal School Board, Lew Lewis, to propose the development of a publication addressing the local special needs community in Montreal.  Known as a go-getter who makes things happen, Cohen convinced the EMSB to sponsor and provide funding for the publication now known as Inspirations Newspaper.  Starting as a 12 page version with a few ads, it has filled a void in Montreal’s special needs community.  With the addition of Wendy Singer, Coordinator of Operations, and Yibing Shen, Layout and Design, along with various other contributors, the publication has grown rapidly and has received extremely positive feedback and praise.  

What makes Inspirations Newspaper truly unique is that the people who are responsible for the publication are inspirations themselves.  Since developing a relationship with Inspirations Newspaper over the past few months, I have gained a confidence that I never thought possible and reached new personal achievements that I never felt worthy of; I actually feel valuable.  And to think it all started with a short Facebook message from Wendy: “Hello Robin, Welcome to the Inspirations Facebook page! I remember reading your blog about The Big Blue Hug and thought it was wonderful.”  This produced a feeling and thought that inspired confidence in me, thus proving what the true definition of inspiration is really about.  

To find out more about Inspirations Newspaper and view their latest publication please visit: or

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Saving Education in Quebec

EXTRA! EXTRA! READ ALL ABOUT IT!  Post secondary students in Quebec are on strike and are protesting against a 75 percent increase in tuition!  Stay tuned to find out what will happen next in this saga between the government and its student population— actually, you can now find out more from your choice of the following sources: city news, provincial news, national news and international news.  

That’s right folks: Quebec is making quite a name for itself internationally!  But isn’t it time that we begin making a positive name for ourselves around the world? Shouldn’t Quebec begin to act as a positive trendsetter in the realm of education instead of smearing its dirty political business all over international headlines?  Well here is my little secret: I have a plan that could save our education system and turn our province’s image around!   

Here is my proposal: 

If the government does not back down on raising tuition fees, university students should accept the increase of $325 per year over the next five years (totaling $1625), on the condition that the Quebec government agrees to increase its contribution to elementary and high school funding for each student by $325 per year for five years.  Then, after the five years, both the students and the government’s contributions will increase based on the cost of living.  I, for one, think that this plan is genius!  If the government will not let up, at least hold them responsible for their spending!  Not only would the government get its way, but it would also directly be responsible for improving the quality of education in Quebec.  Imagine a government whose legacy was an improved education system?  What a dream. 

Here is a Technicolor version of my dream: I envision a society where elementary and high schools have all of the resources that they need.  This includes textbooks in all official languages, adequate supplies and proper technology.  These schools would also have teachers that were dedicated and passionate about their jobs and who were being paid for their value and worth (since the cost of education in Quebec would now be almost at par with the rest of Canada, so would teacher salaries).  There would be small class sizes, where students would thrive in safe, positive environments; they would learn based on their learning styles and receive individualized attention.  Also, all students with special needs, learning disabilities and behavioral problems would have the necessary resources allotted to them, for as long as they would need.  Additionally, there would be a full-time guidance counselor, social worker and nurse at every school, as well as the implementation of effective social skills programming.  Children would learn the skills they need in order to achieve success, thus decreasing the incidences of bullying and violence.  These programs would also help increase the building of personal relationships, which would in turn increase levels of self-esteem and motivation.  The end result: happier, better educated high school graduates.  

I imagine a Quebec society where the school system is superior to the rest of the world.  This society would be a place where being ‘at par’ with everyone else would just not be good enough. So, who’s ready to make a deal?  I sure am.