How do we help a teenager with attention and organisation difficulties, yet keep the relationship positive? A teenager with attention and organisational difficulties may or may not have a diagnosis of ADHD. However, you’ve noticed that their performance on tasks varies, sometimes even from moment to moment. This could be because of:
- their amount of interest in the task
- the amount of structure in their environment
- the presence of distractions
- the incentives for task completion
Difficulty in controlling attention can be observed as irregularity in focus and memory. For example, your teenager may be able to focus (or hyperfocus) on something that is interesting or rewarding to them. On the other hand, they may struggle to stay focussed on tasks that are difficult and require effort. You may notice that they have trouble:
- organising or finishing tasks
- paying attention to details
- following instructions or conversations
- remembering routines
Side effects of a teenager with attention and organisational difficulties
These problems with attention, organisation and focusing can contribute to difficulties at home. Relationships with parents can take a lot more effort and your teenager can feel misunderstood. Your teenager’s inconsistent performance can be frustrating to those around them. This can result in others mistakenly assuming that they are being lazy, noncompliant or manipulative. However, they cannot help having these difficulties, so try not to get frustrated with them because of it.
These difficulties can also contribute to problems with life at school. Attending school and learning in class requires increased attention, organisation and planning. Your teenager may often lose homework or resources, have difficulty organising their thoughts, and have problems with planning. For your teenager, going to school can be stressful, increasing their fatigue and isolation. Having these difficulties can leave your teenager more vulnerable to low self-esteem, anxiety and depression.
For people with ADHD, there are important differences between their brains and those of people without an attention disorder. Having attention and organisation difficulties can mean that your teenager faces daily struggles with how they feel about themselves. They may have a self-view that is negative and be vulnerable to poor self-esteem compared to their peers. However, this is less likely if their parents understand their struggles and how to help a teenager with these difficulties.
How to help a teenager with attention and organisation
- Work out ways with your teenager to help them work toward goals that are achievable and improve productivity. Part of this can be facilitating consistent expectations and clear routines that are visible. For example, a schedule of important dates on the wall, or checklists for various times of the day.
- Develop systems with your teenager that support organisation. For example, checklists, visual timetables and sticky notes, phone alarms and other aids are helpful to support attention and planning issues.
- Find the balance between supporting your teenager with organisation and providing the space that they need to feel independent. Try not to completely take over so that they can begin to develop organisational skills.
Set aside time to check-in regularly
This could involve talking about how they are coping with their learning at school. Try to keep the discussion focussed and positive and always praise what has been achieved. Not only will this increase their compliance, but it will keep the relationship with them positive. For example, “I appreciate that I only reminded you once to feed the dog tonight”. It is important for each parent to use the same set of expectations for the behaviours they want to encourage. Always be open to your teenager when they want to talk through any concerns that they have.
Provide incentives for completing difficult tasks or starting a new habit
Such as special opportunities that they will enjoy. If a consequence needs to be implemented, do this immediately and for a short period of time. Try not to be overly reactive, keeping calm and measured when setbacks happen.
Avoid placing overly difficult demands on your teenager
This is because it can be too difficult for them to comply due to inattention, lack of interest or lack of ability. Prevent escalations of negativity where a parent ends up lecturing, yelling or punishing them as this will engender feelings of anger, further non-compliance and impact the relationship. Set aside a time when all parties are calm to discuss any areas of disagreement or conflict.
Want to learn more? Book an appointment with one of our psychologists or visit our clinic and wellbeing store in Bulimba.