Deciding Whether or Not to Let Our ADHD Kid Fail

Sweet Pea, when you are done looking at the shiny thing, I'd like to talk to you.

We go to see a Psychiatrist for Sweet Pea’s medications, and when we are having a tough time, we see a Psychologist, too.  You may remember me writing about Professor Dumbledore.  He is amazing.  He worked with Sweet Pea for a couple of years and somehow managed to get him to stop hitting his brothers, get himself ready most mornings, and generally act less special.  Unfortunately, Professor Dumbledore recently retired and we are now in the market for a new Dumbledore.  Ugh.  I’d rather look for a new hairdresser (Which I also need, if you have any recommendations).  Anyway, in the time between therapists, we saw our psychiatrist as sort of a stop-gap measure.  She is also amazing, but it’s a different experience.

This is a great work by Keith Haring depicting me after Sweet Pea told me he had a BIG project due the next day that he had supposedly turned in 2 weeks before.

We went last week for a medication tweak/behavior tune up and she and I got to talking about homework and missing assignments.  I briefly caught her up on our recent efforts to help Sweet Pea turn in missing assignments and to actually do homework/projects when they are supposed to be done rather than 2 weeks later which makes my head explode.

Husband and I are attempting to use a carrot and stick approach (Luckily Sweet Pea loves eating carrots and hates being whacked with sticks).  The carrots for Sweet Pea in our scenario are lots of praise, the feeling of pride in a job well done, and (hopefully) a good grade.  For an ADHD kid, the only one of those things that makes any lick of difference is the immediate praise.  The feeling of pride is something we are working on with him, but it is sort of a nuanced feeling for Sweet Pea to manage just yet.  Since he can’t think 5 minutes into the future, the only time good grades are rewarding to Sweet Pea is the moment he receives the grades.  We are still dreaming the dream, so when the grades come in, we cheer and jump up and down about the good ones, and talk about how the others could improve.

In addition to avoiding his schoolwork, Sweet Pea has taken to lying about what his assignments are and what he has already completed.  This is why God invented the eboard.  Sadly Man messed up an otherwise perfect concept by not keeping it updated to the minute, which is what you need when confronted with a 12 year-old who avoids schoolwork with only slightly more vigor than he avoids soap.  But, since it’s all we’ve got, we sit down with Sweet Pea every afternoon and look at all the different subjects’ eboards and see what needs to be done.  After he builds up our trust a little, there will be less need for this.  But for now, Trust and Verify.

See? Look how friendly ProgressBook looks. Don't let her fool you, she is a heartless, heartless bitch.

Then there is ProgressBook. ProgressBook is the website the school uses to post all the kids’ grades and ProgressBook is my new frenemy.  She is my frenemy because she acts like we are friends and like she’s doing me a favor, but after every interaction I wind up feeling bad.  She is the best information I have about what assignments Sweet Pea is missing, so I can’t break up with her.  However, like the eboards, without real-time updates, her use is limited for us.  Plus, she is a little ill-tempered.

You may be saying, Wow.  That’s a lot of work for you. Yeah, no kidding, and sometimes the wheels fall off the bus and it doesn’t happen and he forgets to do something and we forget to ask and we forget to check.  But, the plan is to get him used to sitting down every day and checking the boards. The idea is to teach him the process of homework and studying so he can do this himself and eventually become a responsible citizen of this planet.   The plan is to ease ourselves out of the process.  Pipe dream?  Maybe. But as The Donald himself said, “You have to think anyway, so why not think BIG!”

What’s the alternative?  Now I have wound my way back to where I started this post.  Toward the beginning of my discussion with the Psychiatrist, when I was telling her about our efforts to keep Sweet Pea from failing, she said,

Shrink: You know, there are two schools of thought on this…

Me: Yeah.  I know.

Shrink: The other alternative is-

Me: To let him fail…

Shrink: Yeah.

Me: I wonder if it would do any good.  Grades aren’t motivating for him.  Good ones make him briefly happy and bad ones make him feel bad about himself.  Neither inspire him to work.  What do you think?

If this train driver's mom had made him study, this never would have happened.

The doctor talked about how when kids start to fail in school, it can start a pattern of failing, increased teacher frustration with your kid, crappy self-esteem, and even worse academic performance.  It’s a vicious cycle.  Ugh.

So, it turns out that my plan B isn’t that great, either.  It kind of feels like a train wreck either way.  Until and unless something changes, I guess we will keep plugging along trying to get him through.  In the mean time, Keith Haring’s art certainly imitates my life.


Update:  Read about what happened a year later on this same issue here.

Image Credits:  Dumblydore from Wikipedia, ProgressBook from, Keith Haring’s Untitled (Exploding Head) from  it sold for $492,000 at a Sotheby’s auction.  Zowie! Train wreck from Wikipedia.

About Adventures From Cloud 8

I am a stay at home mom who now and again sneaks away to be an in-home family therapist. My husband and I have 3 boys: Sweet Pea (12), Pickles (9) and Pumpkin Pie (4). Oh yeah. We have Doodle Dog, too. You guessed it! He’s a boy. At least he pees outside.
This entry was posted in ADHD, Funny Parenting Blog, homework, Parenting Boys, Sweet Pea and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Deciding Whether or Not to Let Our ADHD Kid Fail

  1. Faith says:

    I think there is a vast difference between ‘letting someone fail’ and ‘allowing someone to experience the consequence of their actions.’ I think that ‘letting him fail’ would entail not helping him at all, thereby all but assuring that he will fail – in other words, you could have helped him to prevent it, but you chose not to in order to ‘teach him a lesson.’ That’s kind of what happened to me in grad school (profs could see I was struggling and either ignored me or terminated their working relationship with me). It really, really hurt.

    I think ‘letting him experience the consequences’ means that you help him to the best of your ability and according to his needs and age, etc (which it seems like you are doing IN SPADES and you deserve a medal, if not a halo) but accept that sometimes, it’s not going to be enough, that he is human and humans screw up deadlines sometimes, and that screwing up a deadline means losing points, etc. I had ONE professor in grad school who had the guts to fail a seminar paper of mine because it wasn’t up to par. Most professors took a look at my crap papers and just passed me anyway. If they even read the papers at all. This professor told me to rewrite it and if it was good enough he would pass me. (I did, it was, he did). He didn’t shield me from the consequences – he had enough respect for me to be honest with me. That also hurt, of course, but it was also a huge relief to at least be taken seriously by someone rather than be ignored.

    I guess to me it’s the difference between punishing someone for being who they are and having the issues they have and accepting someone for who they are and working around those issues.

    Um wow, that was a lot of writing. Maybe I should have just offered to write a guest post instead? (I will, if you want!)

  2. Yes! Yes, a thousand times yes!

  3. Martha says:

    I agree with Faith. Helping Sweet Pea learn how to keep on top of assignments, learn good study habits, and manage his time (which ADHD kids struggle with) is different than marching into the school to run interference with the teacher or have a child’s grade changed when an incident occurs. Help him with the process to the best of your ability (which you are doing), and allow him to feel consequences (positive and negative) when he makes mistakes or achieves his goals. Parenting is hard!!! Your walk is a few years ahead of mine, but I can see me in the same place!

    • Thanks Martha. It is really easy to get lost in the chaos and self doubt. I am astounded how much of my parenting time this kid takes up! Luckily he is worth it. If he doesn’t grow up to be a happy, interesting, productive human, I am absolutely going to throttle him. Pls keep me updated with your kid who is fascinated with shiny things. xoxo

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