First Person

10 tips for parents of kids with ADHD

By Ben Glenn

When a child is diagnosed and labeled with any kind of disorder, this can be just as hard on the parent as it is on the child. As a parent, I know first-hand that there are few things as frustrating, scary and unwelcome as the news that something is wrong with my kid.

Now that I’m a parent, I really feel for my parents. They had it rough with me from the get go.

Photo credit: Polina Osherov

I decided to come into the world a full two months early and was stuck in an incubator in the hospital for weeks hooked up to all kinds of tubes and wires. After getting released from the hospital, I continued to struggle with asthma.

When I was diagnosed with a learning disability in the third grade, I’m sure my parents were wondering what else was going to go wrong with me. Between trying to put food on the table and keeping up with three active boys, my parents had their hands full and the last thing they needed or wanted was a “special needs” child.

Looking back, I know that my parents did the best they could for me. My mom in particular encouraged me and took an interest in my schooling, but both her and my dad knew very little, if anything about learning disabilities and absolutely nothing about ADD/ADHD. In 1981, when I was put into the special ed classroom, ADD had been known as ADD for just one year, renamed as it was from the completely confusing “Hyperkinetic Disorder of Childhood.” I was not physically hyperactive, so my ADD remained unrecognized until I was an adult, but I spent my school years with my brain racing, my attention wandering and my productivity severely impaired. It was all blamed on my LD, but deep down I knew there was more to it.

Thankfully, now, resources are plentiful and accessible, so you must get actively involved in your child’s quest to manage their ADD/ADHD.

Tips for parents

  • Read everything you can get your hands on about ADD/ADHD. Educate yourself first and foremost. Know what options, rights and opportunities your child has open to her. Also, get out and meet and network with parents of other ADD/ADHD children. It can be a wonderful and uplifting experience to be around people who know what you’re going through and other parents can be a great source of ideas and information to help you help your child.
    • Make yourself available to share with your child what you know about ADD/ADHD. (You need to be sensitive in your approach based on your chiId’s age and personality. For example, a younger child may need for you to take the initiative to sit down and have “a talk,” ‘whereas a teenager may need more “space” and you should wait for them to come to you to have the conversation). Don’t sugar coat or omit important information, but also, don’t scare them or over-dramatize. The idea is to give your child a sense of control by providing relevant information that will help demystify their diagnosis and prevent their over-active imaginations from going wild.
    • Examine your own attitude towards ADD/ADHD and how you now view your child. Are you disappointed? Scared? Angry? Take the time to be aware of any negative feelings and to figure out why you feel the way you do. I know this sounds all touchy feely, but the truth is unless you understand what’s going through your own mind, you won’t be able to offer your child the Ievel of support and encouragement that he needs in order to successfully bring his ADD/ADHD under control. Set aside any expectations and ambitions you may have had for your son or daughter and encourage them to pursue those interests where they show the greatest aptitude and giftedness…even if they are non-traditional or unorthodox.
      • Pay particular attention to your child’s self-esteem and work hard lo boost it at every turn. Praise her when she succeeds at even the smallest thing. Remember that ADDers love praise and thrive on recognition. It may be very hard to find praise-worthy things about her, but you must try. This is crucial.
      • Involve your child in any decision-making you can. Anything from what brand cookies to buy at the supermarket to the best place in the house for him to do homework. Kids generally feel like they have no say in anything anyway; A diagnosis of any perceived disability will only convince him further that his life is completely out of his control. This may lead to an attitude of apathy, causing your offspring to use the word “whatever,” far more frequently than you can handle. Offering opportunities to make decisions (and then live with the consequences of those decisions), should help him begin to gain a sense of ownership and control over his life.
      • If the “techniques” and “strategies” you have been using to help your child are not working, don’t be afraid to try something different. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that because your child is the one with the challenge that she should be the one to make changes in her behavior, but this is counter productive thinking. It’s up to the adults to be creative and think outside the box. Sometimes only after we make changes in our attitudes and behaviors can we open the door for our child to respond in a positive way.
      • Create a fun reward system. Along with generous praise, kids with ADD/ADHD are motivated and respond very well to tangible displays of frequent appreciation.
      • The parent with the best organizational abilities should partner up with their child to help them set realistic goals in any and all areas of their life. Breakdown big tasks into small chunks and celebrate the completion of every stage of the project. Consistency in doing this will give your child an opportunity to experience and savor the feeling of “success” and accomplishment. That is a reward in itself and will serve to motivate him to continue setting goals.
      • Watch what you say to your chiId and how you say it. Become aware of your tone and facial expressions when speaking with her. ADDers are notoriously sensitive and perceptive – they will pick up on the smallest nuances of negativity or sarcasm and spend hours obsessing about the conversation. Never put down or tease your child – they will be hurt deeply and it will take one hundred kind words to undo one negative one. Build ’em up, don’t break ’em down.
      • It is entirely possible that you yourself have ADD/ADHD. It runs in families (my mom and both brothers have it). If so, take it easy on yourself. Take the time out to reward yourself for being the best parent you can be. Take a break from your parental responsibilities, even if just for the afternoon, and treat yourself to some “me” time. Parents need to be praised and rewarded as well for all our hard work.

      About the author: While in grade school, Ben Glenn was diagnosed with dyslexia and other learning disabilities. After being diagnosed with ADHD as an adult, he immersed himself in the study of ADHD, ultimately developing his simple and easy-to-understand approach, a radical, yet informative, departure from the scholarly books and experts who have come before him. Ben travels the country and globe, speaking to thousands sharing his personal experiences with ADHD. He is the author of “Simply Special, Learning to Love Your ADHD” as well as a three-part guidebook series developed for parents and teachers. He resides in Indianapolis with his wife and two children. For more information, visit


      First Person

      I’m a principal who thinks personalized learning shouldn’t be a debate.

      PHOTO: Lisa Epstein
      Lisa Epstein, principal of Richard H. Lee Elementary, supports personalized learning

      This is the first in what we hope will be a tradition of thoughtful opinion pieces—of all viewpoints—published by Chalkbeat Chicago. Have an idea? Send it to

      As personalized learning takes hold throughout the city, Chicago teachers are wondering why a term so appealing has drawn so much criticism.

      Until a few years ago, the school that I lead, Richard H. Lee Elementary on the Southwest Side, was on a path toward failing far too many of our students. We crafted curriculum and identified interventions to address gaps in achievement and the shifting sands of accountability. Our teachers were hardworking and committed. But our work seemed woefully disconnected from the demands we knew our students would face once they made the leap to postsecondary education.

      We worried that our students were ill-equipped for today’s world of work and tomorrow’s jobs. Yet, we taught using the same model through which we’d been taught: textbook-based direct instruction.

      How could we expect our learners to apply new knowledge to evolving facts, without creating opportunities for exploration? Where would they learn to chart their own paths, if we didn’t allow for agency at school? Why should our students engage with content that was disconnected from their experiences, values, and community?

      We’ve read articles about a debate over personalized learning centered on Silicon Valley’s “takeover” of our schools. We hear that Trojan Horse technologies are coming for our jobs. But in our school, personalized learning has meant developing lessons informed by the cultural heritage and interests of our students. It has meant providing opportunities to pursue independent projects, and differentiating curriculum, instruction, and assessment to enable our students to progress at their own pace. It has reflected a paradigm shift that is bottom-up and teacher led.

      And in a move that might have once seemed incomprehensible, it has meant getting rid of textbooks altogether. We’re not alone.

      We are among hundreds of Chicago educators who would welcome critics to visit one of the 120 city schools implementing new models for learning – with and without technology. Because, as it turns out, Chicago is fast becoming a hub for personalized learning. And, it is no coincidence that our academic growth rates are also among the highest in the nation.

      Before personalized learning, we designed our classrooms around the educator. Decisions were made based on how educators preferred to teach, where they wanted students to sit, and what subjects they wanted to cover.

      Personalized learning looks different in every classroom, but the common thread is that we now make decisions looking at the student. We ask them how they learn best and what subjects strike their passions. We use small group instruction and individual coaching sessions to provide each student with lesson plans tailored to their needs and strengths. We’re reimagining how we use physical space, and the layout of our classrooms. We worry less about students talking with their friends; instead, we ask whether collaboration and socialization will help them learn.

      Our emphasis on growth shows in the way students approach each school day. I have, for example, developed a mentorship relationship with one of our middle school students who, despite being diligent and bright, always ended the year with average grades. Last year, when she entered our personalized learning program for eighth grade, I saw her outlook change. She was determined to finish the year with all As.

      More than that, she was determined to show that she could master anything her teachers put in front of her. She started coming to me with graded assignments. We’d talk about where she could improve and what skills she should focus on. She was pragmatic about challenges and so proud of her successes. At the end of the year she finished with straight As—and she still wanted more. She wanted to get A-pluses next year. Her outlook had changed from one of complacence to one oriented towards growth.

      Rather than undermining the potential of great teachers, personalized learning is creating opportunities for collaboration as teachers band together to leverage team-teaching and capitalize on their strengths and passions. For some classrooms, this means offering units and lessons based on the interests and backgrounds of the class. For a couple of classrooms, it meant literally knocking down walls to combine classes from multiple grade-levels into a single room that offers each student maximum choice over how they learn. For every classroom, it means allowing students to work at their own pace, because teaching to the middle will always fail to push some while leaving others behind.

      For many teachers, this change sounded daunting at first. For years, I watched one of my teachers – a woman who thrives off of structure and runs a tight ship – become less and less engaged in her profession. By the time we made the switch to personalized learning, I thought she might be done. We were both worried about whether she would be able to adjust to the flexibility of the new model. But she devised a way to maintain order in her classroom while still providing autonomy. She’s found that trusting students with the responsibility to be engaged and efficient is both more effective and far more rewarding than trying to force them into their roles. She now says that she would never go back to the traditional classroom structure, and has rediscovered her love for teaching. The difference is night and day.

      The biggest change, though, is in the relationships between students and teachers. Gone is the traditional, authority-to-subordinate dynamic; instead, students see their teachers as mentors with whom they have a unique and individual connection, separate from the rest of the class. Students are actively involved in designing their learning plans, and are constantly challenged to articulate the skills they want to build and the steps that they must take to get there. They look up to their teachers, they respect their teachers, and, perhaps most important, they know their teachers respect them.

      Along the way, we’ve found that students respond favorably when adults treat them as individuals. When teachers make important decisions for them, they see learning as a passive exercise. But, when you make it clear that their needs and opinions will shape each school day, they become invested in the outcome.

      As our students take ownership over their learning, they earn autonomy, which means they know their teachers trust them. They see growth as the goal, so they no longer finish assignments just to be done; they finish assignments to get better. And it shows in their attendance rates – and test scores.

      Lisa Epstein is the principal of Richard H. Lee Elementary School, a public school in Chicago’s West Lawn neighborhood serving 860 students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.

      Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that Richard H. Lee Elementary School serves 860 students, not 760 students.

      First Person

      I’ve spent years studying the link between SHSAT scores and student success. The test doesn’t tell you as much as you might think.

      PHOTO: Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

      Proponents of New York City’s specialized high school exam, the test the mayor wants to scrap in favor of a new admissions system, defend it as meritocratic. Opponents contend that when used without consideration of school grades or other factors, it’s an inappropriate metric.

      One thing that’s been clear for decades about the exam, now used to admit students to eight top high schools, is that it matters a great deal.

      Students admitted may not only receive a superior education, but also access to elite colleges and eventually to better employment. That system has also led to an under-representation of Hispanic students, black students, and girls.

      As a doctoral student at The Graduate Center of the City University of New York in 2015, and in the years after I received my Ph.D., I have tried to understand how meritocratic the process really is.

      First, that requires defining merit. Only New York City defines it as the score on a single test — other cities’ selective high schools use multiple measures, as do top colleges. There are certainly other potential criteria, such as artistic achievement or citizenship.

      However, when merit is defined as achievement in school, the question of whether the test is meritocratic is an empirical question that can be answered with data.

      To do that, I used SHSAT scores for nearly 28,000 students and school grades for all public school students in the city. (To be clear, the city changed the SHSAT itself somewhat last year; my analysis used scores on the earlier version.)

      My analysis makes clear that the SHSAT does measure an ability that contributes to some extent to success in high school. Specifically, a SHSAT score predicts 20 percent of the variability in freshman grade-point average among all public school students who took the exam. Students with extremely high SHSAT scores (greater than 650) generally also had high grades when they reached a specialized school.

      However, for the vast majority of students who were admitted with lower SHSAT scores, from 486 to 600, freshman grade point averages ranged widely — from around 50 to 100. That indicates that the SHSAT was a very imprecise predictor of future success for students who scored near the cutoffs.

      Course grades earned in the seventh grade, in contrast, predicted 44 percent of the variability in freshman year grades, making it a far better admissions criterion than SHSAT score, at least for students near the score cutoffs.

      It’s not surprising that a standardized test does not predict as well as past school performance. The SHSAT represents a two and a half hour sample of a limited range of skills and knowledge. In contrast, middle-school grades reflect a full year of student performance across the full range of academic subjects.

      Furthermore, an exam which relies almost exclusively on one method of assessment, multiple choice questions, may fail to measure abilities that are revealed by the variety of assessment methods that go into course grades. Additionally, middle school grades may capture something important that the SHSAT fails to capture: long-term motivation.

      Based on his current plan, Mayor de Blasio seems to be pointed in the right direction. His focus on middle school grades and the Discovery Program, which admits students with scores below the cutoff, is well supported by the data.

      In the cohort I looked at, five of the eight schools admitted some students with scores below the cutoff. The sample sizes were too small at four of them to make meaningful comparisons with regularly admitted students. But at Brooklyn Technical High School, the performance of the 35 Discovery Program students was equal to that of other students. Freshman year grade point averages for the two groups were essentially identical: 86.6 versus 86.7.

      My research leads me to believe that it might be reasonable to admit a certain percentage of the students with extremely high SHSAT scores — over 600, where the exam is a good predictor —and admit the remainder using a combined index of seventh grade GPA and SHSAT scores.

      When I used that formula to simulate admissions, diversity increased, somewhat. An additional 40 black students, 209 Hispanic students, and 205 white students would have been admitted, as well as an additional 716 girls. It’s worth pointing out that in my simulation, Asian students would still constitute the largest segment of students (49 percent) and would be admitted in numbers far exceeding their proportion of applicants.

      Because middle school grades are better than test scores at predicting high school achievement, their use in the admissions process should not in any way dilute the quality of the admitted class, and could not be seen as discriminating against Asian students.

      The success of the Discovery students should allay some of the concerns about the ability of students with SHSAT scores below the cutoffs. There is no guarantee that similar results would be achieved in an expanded Discovery Program. But this finding certainly warrants larger-scale trials.

      With consideration of additional criteria, it may be possible to select a group of students who will be more representative of the community the school system serves — and the pool of students who apply — without sacrificing the quality for which New York City’s specialized high schools are so justifiably famous.

      Jon Taylor is a research analyst at Hunter College analyzing student success and retention.