An ADHDer's Perspective on How to Navigate Homework Conflicts
By Megan Buck, Certified ADHD Coach
As the parent or guardian of a child with ADHD, how many times have you had this conversation?
Parent – "Hey bud, don't forget you have homework to do." Child – "Yeah I know."
30 minutes later
Parent – "Hey bud, have you gotten to your homework yet?"
Child – "I said I'd get to it! Get off my case!"
Parent - "If you put as much time into your homework as you did the video games you'd probably be done by now."
Child - "I can't have anything!"
Parent – "Get your homework done or lose the video game."
Child – "You're ruining my life!"
As someone with ADHD, raised by neurotypical (NT, or non-ADHD) parents, I know all too well that the ADHD brain can be a tricky place to navigate, especially when dealing with feedback. Sometimes I'm not even sure why my brain reacts the way it does, but I'm slowly learning how this reaction affects different relationships and different aspects of my life, largely through the lens of conflict.
I have found, along with many researchers, that the ND brain is prone to something called Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria, and can struggle with emotional regulation. This means that when there is a threat of rejection, tension rises, emotions are escalated, and blowouts can happen. When does this present itself most? You guessed it - in conflict. So how can we work through this?
If your home is anything like mine was then school may be the focus, albeit a sore one, for most of your conversations. In my conversations, I'd hear about how things on my end weren't getting done…. or they were partially done… or my effort wasn't as good from subject to subject. Conversations around this created tension and eventually led to blowouts between me and my parents. As an ADHDer who is navigating conflicts more steadily now, here's how we can look at it without ending with a blowout.
1. Prioritize the person over the problem.
In look at the example above, we can see clearly as outsiders in the conversation that completing homework is the main goal. However, what an ADHD brain might hear in that initial comment is "I know you've forgotten already because you can't remember anything, so here's your reminder." So what we can say instead to make the person feel prioritized to ensure the goal is clear is: "Hey bud, it looks like there have been some challenges with completing homework, can we talk about it?"
2. Negotiate - don't debate. Along with the ADHD brain picking up on the fact that the NT person is noticing their struggle, they may also feel under attack. This comes largely from RSD and can cause a response that may seem disproportionate to an outside person. In order to lessen this feeling for the ND person, you want to be sure that the goal is clear when approaching the topic and be willing to negotiate.
If you come in with hard, fast comments, then the ND will shut down. "If you spent as much time doing X as you did Y…" type comments can be heard by the ND as "I'm not good at this thing even though I put time into it." We can try this instead: "Is there anything that you notice gets in the way of completing your homework? How can we work around those distractions?"
3. Leave room to breathe, talk, and brainstorm Sometimes when RSD kicks in the ADHD brain will look for an easy out with easy closure. "I'll get it done tonight!" might be the immediate response when talking about school work, but the reality of the situation makes that impossible to complete. This will feed into the spiral that contributes to these blowout-type conflicts.
What you can do instead is provide space to breathe when the conversation gets heated or hold space to talk - depending on the needs of the ADHDer in your life. This also provides space for brainstorming realistic solutions and finding awareness around what's getting in the way of reaching goals.
"I think we're both getting emotional right now, let's take some to think about how to move forward and meet up in 20" or "This is getting kind of intense, can we talk about what feelings are coming up here?" Some of these conversations are much more challenging than others, so remember to give yourself and your ADHDer some grace in this process. 4. Keep the Goal in Mind: If you're working towards helping your child get their homework done, then you'll want to think about how to support rather than punish. Studies show that providing positive support will make more changes than removing stimuli (such as video games) as punishment. Since the ADHD brain processes dopamine so much differently than the NT brain, it's important to consider how you approach rewarding behaviors that can impact the goal. Instead of saying "get the homework done or lose the Xbox", we could try "What kinds of support do you need in order to get your homework done?" 5. Keep it Fair This one takes practice, but it's always good to remember that it's you and your ADHDer against the problem, not you against your ADHDer. Any solution that is brought up in these blowout conversations should be put in place to move towards the goal, not to stop progress.
For support on how to work with the ADHDer in your life reach out about our upcoming cohorts or 1:1 ADHD coaching. We'd love to work with your family to help you move toward peace and feel empowered to grow together!