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ADHD in Girls

Any concrete middle school tips? I'm at wit's end.

My 12 year daughter is failing out of middle school.  She attends a charter school, as the public middle schools here are pretty rough.  If she continues to fail classes, she will be asked to leave. 
  The thing is, I can’t seem to help her to care at all.  The only sign that she does care is frustration, and as soon as it kicks in, she just gives up.  With her, it’s always been as soon as something is at all challenging, uncomfortable, or just not fun for her, she won’t bother.  I don’t know how to motivate her.  There’s nothing to give or take away that seems to work, and I have ADHD myself, so I’m not the best at coming up with organization ideas or plans to keep her on track.  HELP, I’m about to lose it.


I started to reply last night, but…lol…my ADD daughter needed my attention.  I found it frustrating, because I really was trying to draft a thoughtful and helpful response.

My darling daughter is 13, in middle school, and both she and her mother (me) have ADD.  So your situation sounds very similar to mine.

I guess my first question is:  what reaction do you observe from her when the topic of not continuing at that school comes up?  In other words, how does she seem to feel about that?  What are her thoughts?

That would be my starting point.  In terms of gathering data.

Immediate steps:  refocus yourself.  Imagine life without her.  How awful.  Imagine what you would lose if she were somehow severely impaired and unable to function at a minimal level.  I know this sounds crazy.  But that approach helped me.  I decided, no matter what, that at least I have her.  That she is a gift.  And as a result, I lightened up.  I lightened up in both my inward and my outward behavior.  I let go of as much anger as I could.  I lowered my expectations.  I try to appreciate every good moment. 

It is a struggle, for me.  I want a straight-A student who is totally on top of her game, who keeps not only her room but the whole house tidy, who helps ME with MY symptoms!!  LOL It’s true.  I want that.  But I accept that that is all coming from inside ME.  From what I want and from what I need and from my own ego.  Meanwhile, here’s this person struggling with middle school (UGH!!), with puberty, with a thousand things going wrong every hour of every day and with a chorus of voices and faces and attitudes/grade reports all telling her how bad and wrong and late and dumb and disorganized she is.

How can anything good come from that?

That is the point I reached.  I reached a point where it suddenly didn’t matter so much.  I reached a point where I had to say, what if she had been in a terrible car accident yesterday and were lying in a hospital bed on a respirator right now, instead of sitting next to me in the car as we drive home from school? From a normal (well, typical) day at school.  Thank God!!  Thank god she is okay, and that she is here with me, and that there is still a chance for us to, at the very least, sit, not talking to each other, in the car listening to the radio on the drive home.  Or maybe she IS talking. A mile a minute.  So much that I can’t pay attention to it all and I’m trying but my ADD is not helping me here and maybe her feelings get hurt but the point is, SHE IS TALKING TO ME.  And I am trying.  And we have each other.  And this time will pass and she won’t be sitting in the car with me anymore, she’ll be off somewhere in the world hopefully with fond memories and thoughts of me, of how everything else sucked in middle school but at least her mom was there, and her mom understood.

I’m sure this isn’t terrifically comforting.  To have to go to such a dark place, such as imagining her in the hospital, in order to appreciate her gifts…well…I can imagine some people reading this and being appalled by that.  All I can say is that that is what helps me to put things into perspective. 

Your daughter has strengths.  She has gifts.  She has interests.  You may not value some of them, because I didn’t/don’t, and I only say that in reference to my daughter’s interest, for example, in makeup.  She has spent countless hours following other teenage girls on youtube talking on and on and on about which blush brush is “awesome”, etc. I am not impressed.  But I say that with a smile.  Because it was a phase and it has passed, like most things that happen at that age, and like most things that happen at any age when you have ADD.

I take it one day at a time.  I’m sure there are better ways to get through life.  I’m sure somebody else would “parent better” whatever that means.  I’m MOST SURE, however, that I am enjoying my relationship with my daughter, as much as our daily challenges allow.  I love her.  I tell her that multiple times a day.

Also, I am seriously considering getting those CD’s from Kirk Martin’s son Casey, who talks about how bad he felt until his dad changed how the entire family approached Casey’s ADD.  This is in reference to those “celebrate calm” emails that you may or may not be aware of and I am in no way affiliated with them, but as an ADD mom to an ADD teenage girl, who can ignore something called “Celebrate Calm”?  lol…I mean, okay, yes let’s do that already.  grin

Good luck to you.  This is much harder than people tend to acknowledge, and I don’t understand why there isn’t a brass band every morning celebrating ME just for getting us out the door every day, to be honest.  I’m sorry if this wasn’t helpful.  If nothing else, just know that I am reaching my hand out for yours and giving it a squeeze.  Hang in there.

Posted by hitwcidb on Oct 30, 2013 at 8:31pm

Just so you know, I said all that because first you have to lay a foundation down.  Get her to relax her guard with you.  Get her to trust you.  Get her accustomed to feeling good feelings when she’s dealing with you.  First, you have to get her to a safe place.  To see YOU as a safe place. 

I say THAT because you said your daughter doesn’t seem to care.  And while I’m sure she gives the appearance of not caring, I tend to think she probably cares so much that she has gone numb.  It is maybe her only defense. 

She does not know how to change her situation.  She does not know how to improve things.  She does not have a clear goal in mind, forget about having a plan or a path for getting to a goal.  These are my assumptions.

That is why I said, first off, what are her thoughts about her school situation?  How does she feel about changing schools?  Because that might help HER to tap into her feelings and get her a little more invested in how to approach the situation.

None of us can force someone to care about something.  Caring about something represents an emotional investment or commitment.  And she’s not in a place where she can afford such a thing, it sounds like.  You can’t get her to care if she has shut down.  That is why I was talking so much about the relationship between you two.  She can’t care (about anything) if she’s numb.  First you have to thaw her out.  Then, when she is able to smile and laugh and find good moments, then she will have more strength for dealing with some of the not-so-good stuff.

Look, I’m just another mom, so what do I know.  I am just saying what my heart feels.  I can’t imagine that anyone truly wants to have a bad day.  Nobody wakes up in the morning with the hope of being the worst at something.  So, of course she cares.  But so what.  At this point, it’s not really about that, is it?  It’s about, wow, everything seems to be more of a challenge than she can successfully navigate and she’s floundering and the most she can do is duck her head down and let it happen to her.  To ignore it while enduring it.

Concrete tips?  How about, choose one class.  Just one class.  Approach her teacher (I tend to use emails).  And make this class the class where she will conquer some of those challenges.  And put yourself on alert.  As a mom with ADHD, this is gonna be just as hard for you as it is for her.  Be fanatical with yourself about this one class.  It’s best to pick the class with the teacher most likely to work with you.  Put all due dates on your phone’s calendar, with reminders.  Email the teacher daily, if need be.  To confirm assignments and due dates and how to locate resources (such as, was tonight’s homework from the book or was it a worksheet that was handed out in class that didn’t make it into her book bag and so now what do we do?)  Get a study buddy in the class.  Be fearless.  Be shameless.  Seek out other parents who can send you the missing worksheet at 10pm.  Yes, I’ve done this.  Yes it’s embarrassing.  Too bad.  It is what it is.

And…yes…do all this while NOT yelling at her.  Ha.  That’s a lot to ask, I know.  But that relationship stuff is truly very important.  Don’t let the stress erode the relationship.  When it comes down to it, it’s about your relationship with your daughter.  Pretend she’s hopeless.  What then?  Are you going to hate her?  Is she going to disappear off the face of the earth?  You’re still stuck with her.  She’s an F student in a crappy school with no future (these are your thoughts, aren’t they?  I know because they are my thoughts), yet she is still your daughter and she’s gonna be around for the rest of your life, or at the very least, the next six years.  So step up, do YOUR best to be on top of this one class, stay on her to do work in that one class, all the while you maintain a loving and supportive tone overall.

I’ll send the brass band over to your house when they finish at mine.

Posted by hitwcidb on Oct 30, 2013 at 9:31pm

I loved the pp’s suggestions.  My DD is 5, so I can’t really give you concrete suggestions.  The only thing that stood out is that you said there isn’t anything you could do to motivate her and that you had tried giving and taking things away.  I’m really new at this but so far, 2 years into the game, I’ve found that negative reinforcement just doesn’t work.  What works is positive reinforcement. 

What that looks like for a 5 year old is sticker charts and rewards like returning confiscated toys at the end of the day and lots of really exaggerated praise for little baby steps like putting on your panties by yourself in the morning.

What does it look like in middle school?  Well, you can still use rewards systems.  I saw some pretty cool phone apps.  Stickers probably won’t work, but time with you, or with the TV or with the computer might.  Breaking things down into little baby steps might help (like yay!, you did 15 minutes of math, now you get to play music of your choice for 5 minutes, or now you get to switch subjects, or .... ?)  But like the prior poster said, the most important thing is to build your relationship with her so that she knows you appreciate her.

Posted by gracefamilydoc on Oct 31, 2013 at 6:59am

My 13 year-old daughter was diagnosed with ADHD in August after several years of declining performance in the public schools and teachers/administrators who didn’t even seem to think there was a problem.

Things we have done in the past few months that have made a big difference:

* Moved daughter to a private school. I didn’t appreciate the differences between public and private school until I started looking.  Here are the big advantages of the private schools for an ADHD child: (1) smaller class sizes—it is hard to get lost! (2) frequent breaks—at her school there are never more than two classes back to back without a long break (3) Participating in sports after school is required, and exercise is great for kids with ADHD (4) the school hasn’t questioned a single accommodation and will give accommodations even without an IEP!!! (5) after school study hall every day means that my daughter comes home with half of her homework already done, and (6) much better system for feedback than at the public school. After experiencing the difference between public and private school for now two kids with ADHD, and I cannot emphasize enough how unfriendly most public schools are for kids with ADHD. It is expensive, but many schools have scholarships so I would dismiss it out of hand even if you think you can’t afford it.

* We have a tutor coming in twice a week in the early evening to work with my daughter on executive functioning skills (organization, planning, study skills, getting ready for tests, writing papers, managing anxiety). My daughter has already asked if we can keep her tutor all the way through high school because it is so helpful.  Best of all, I am removed from all of the stress of trying to help her with school. My older high school aged daughter with ADHD is working with someone 3x each week. I would highly recommend this.

* We have been having my daughter work with a therapist on managing anxiety in stressful situations like taking tests.  In just a few meetings, is doing so much better in situations that are stressful and is also teaching her friends!

* Medication

Things are not to the point where I’d like them to be, but it is a night and day difference from where we were 6 months ago.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed that things will continue to go well.

Most importantly, echoing some of the comments above, make your job being supportive no matter what. Let someone else be the heavy if you can.

Good luck—things can get better.

Posted by adhdallaround on Nov 02, 2013 at 4:14am

@adhdallaround - how much do you spend on the time management/organizational organizational tutor(s)?  I don’t expect you to actually answer that.  But holy moly…what you describe is pure fantasy for me as a single parent living paycheck-to-paycheck.  Golly gee I wish I could do that too!!  I’m serious!  You don’t know how many hours I’ve dreamily stared off into space enjoying that exact fantasy.  If only!!!  You are lucky.  And your girls especially so.  GGood for you!  I’m envious, but glad SOMEBODY can get the help we all need.

Posted by hitwcidb on Nov 02, 2013 at 4:49am

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