How to Not Have an Irresponsible, Helpless, and Failing ADHD College Student

College Students with ADHD    February 1, 2016

college students in a row croppedWhen your child is a college bound senior, you want him to be prepared so when he enters college, he is part of the 50% that eventually graduates with a degree. You’ve spent years helping him with study skills, taught him right from wrong, and worked tirelessly to mold him into a capable, academic young adult. They are just about at the finish line…preparing to graduate from high school and go off to college…your job is just about done!

But wait…in all that prepping for college, what about some of the lesser known essential skills that students need once they head off for college? Skills like resiliency, self-advocacy, problem solving and resiliency. Being able to balance newfound independence with increased responsibilities. And basics like how or when to sleep, eat, shower, do laundry. Not having these key life skills can undermine any academic aptitude or test taking tactics and have students packing up their dorm room and books before the Thanksgiving break!

So, as a parent, how do you help support your ADHD college student in transitioning successfully to college without nagging or giving unwelcome advice? How do you continue to be part of their support system and provide guidance through these murky waters? The answer? Even before your son or daughter is transitioning to college, you transition to being their coach. A parent coach so to speak, who is supportive, motivating, empowering and definitely not nagging or judgmental. At this time in an ADHD student’s life, it’s time for parents to take a step back and land the helicopter so your student can take a step forward and take on responsibility for the academic AND life skills they will need at college. But how?

During the very limited months between high school senioritis and their first semester at college, it’s important for parents to take a back seat in a way that empowers their college bound student. This is the time for them to test the waters gradually, on their own, so they can develop the confidence in their own resourcefulness and succeed in this biggest transition yet in their (and your) lives.

To help your own transition from helpful parent to empowering parent coach, consider adding these ADHD coaching strategies to your parenting style:

LEARNING OBJECTIVES:

  1. Replace caution with curiosity. You have done your job, taught your child how to stay safe and take care of himself, and now is the time to replace your words of caution with curiosity. For instance, rather than nagging your soon to be college freshman to stay on the lighted paths, make curfew or travel in pairs, ask them how they plan to stay safe on campus? What happens when you don’t make dorm curfew? Or, Who would be good to pair off with when it comes to socializing. Being curious, including and eliciting input and problem solving with your students has them more fully committed, remembering and following through and might even reassure you that they have actually been paying attention all these years.
  1. Advocate self-advocacy. This is the time to practice letting go as parents and letting your student grow in the experience of taking responsibility and learning to self-advocate. Increased self-awareness for how they learn prepares them to enter college ready to request accommodations if they need them. Taking on the job of scheduling and attending doctor’s appointments has them stepping up and owning their own health. Becoming comfortable with small steps such as these will have them ready to navigate the bigger self-advocacy issues such as creating their schedule with their counselor and setting ground rules with dorm mates.
  1. Replace “why” with “who, how, what, and when.” “Why” questions typically put anyone on the defensive, making us feel like we have to explain ourselves. Asking questions that do not start with “why”, helps your student explore their own solutions and practice their own problem solving skills. Rather than asking, “Why are you taking beginning basket weaving in your first semester?” ask, “how will basket weaving help you reach your goals?” Or, “what is it about basket weaving that is interesting to you?” Or “who might you be able to talk with to find out about options similar to basket weaving?” Or “I wonder, when is the best time in your curriculum to take basket weaving.” Removing “why” from your vocabulary removes defensiveness from theirs.
  1. Encourage action. Taking one small action step, as soon as possible, is a good answer when uncertainty, overwhelm or indecision seem about to takeover. The sooner your student can take even one small step of action, the more likely they are to use that momentum to solve whatever problem has come up. As a parent coach you can brainstorm small steps your student can take when they feel stuck. For instance “what is the outcome they want?” “What can they do today to take action” “What is one small step they can take today that would start to solve the dilemma?” “What information do they need to solve this problem,” or “who might be able to help them?” There are many ways your student will continue to need you to be involved, but that contribution is encouraging them to explore options that will move them forward, rather than you picking up the phone to call the college, dean, administration, etc.
  1. Know the rules, but let your student play the game. As your student’s parent coach, it is helpful if you are knowledgeable about some of the school’s policies, requirements, deadlines, administrative structure, etc. Your job is to enhance your student’s ability to be resourceful and perhaps point them to the place to find the information they need. For instance, if your student is unsure about registration dates, you might offer, “I noticed an academic calendar on the website, you might want to check it out.” Or perhaps they call in a panic having forgotten their key and are locked out of their dorm room (it happens). It’s fine to acknowledge the problem with “how inconvenient” and then to ask them, “Who might have another key to your room?” or “Who might know how to get your room unlocked?” Or “Where can you hangout until your roommate arrives?” Remember that you are trying to help your student to be independent, use their resources, be a problem solver and chances are high they are not the first nor last to encounter certain troublesome situations.
  1. Keep communication open: Keep the lines of communication open. Being available to answer questions and respond to requested advice or to teach a new skill is very different than enabling and doing it for our children. Challenge yourself by remaining nonjudgmental and available for your child if they have questions, remembering to encourage their independence, problem solving, resiliency and resourcefulness as they explore their own answers and help you stay out of the “nag” zone.

College is an amazing time for both students and parents. As the responsibilities and relationships are changing, both sides are growing in new ways. Your child is entering into one of the most exciting times of their lives. Supporting, empowering and encouraging your student, as a parent coach, allows for both of you to enjoy this journey.

I would love to hear about your experiences with your transition to college. Let me know what worked and what didn’t work for you below.

Also, if you are interested in finding out how an ADHD coach can support you and your student to make this a smooth process, email to set up a complimentary ADHD heading off to college session.

2 Responses to How to Not Have an Irresponsible, Helpless, and Failing ADHD College Student

  1. Sean Desilva     February 2, 2016    2:05 pm    Reply

    That question asking strategy is an interesting one, and shifts the burden of making the decision onto the person doing it. I know I’m going to be using that on some people I know 😉

  2. Laurie Dupar     February 24, 2016    3:46 pm    Reply

    Hi Sean! Glad this was even a bit helpful. ~Laurie

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