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Helping your teenager to discover the tools and motivation to organize his life can make an immense difference in his academic progress and, in turn, his self-esteem. Here are some tips that he may find useful. But remember, study habits need to be individualized, and what works well for one person may not for another.

  • Keep the organization simple. Consider keeping just one folder for all work that is completed, another folder for all work that still needs to be done, and a third folder for graded work and notes from the teacher to the parents. When your student gets home, he can pull out one folder containing all the assignments he needs to complete. At the end of the evening, all of these assignments will have been placed in the completed work folder. At the end of the next school day the completed work folder should be empty, because all the work has been turned in. Complicated systems like color coding each folder for each subject may seem like a better idea, but can become overwhelming for many students with ADHD. Consider that more complicated organizing systems may be better but work best for students who are already well organized.
  • Use a daily planner or handheld computer to record school assignments, doctor’s appointments, and other meetings, and to schedule work on long-term projects. Again, keep it simple. Elaborate systems may be more detailed but more frustrating to use.
  • Use a backpack as the location for all schoolwork and supplies. Supplies can be kept in the side pockets, his assignment planner in a separate outside pocket, and his notebook in the main body of the pack. All schoolwork goes into the backpack.
  • Organize an assigned locker as a place to keep schoolbooks not needed that day—not as a trash can or repository for supplies and papers.
  • Make lists of tasks to be accomplished, ideas to be included in a written essay, people to call about a project, etc. The more short-term information a teenager has on paper, the less he has to hold in his head. Keep the lists in a designated place (a computer, a backpack, a “note box” at home, etc). Lists scattered throughout the house can be harder to find than remembering the information they contain.
  • Use an outline or flowchart format to take notes. An outline or flowchart can help a teenager understand the structure underlying the information he hears and can save him from having to write down every word.
  • Preview. If there are questions in the back of a chapter in a textbook, reading these questions first can help students know ahead of time what major points the author thinks he should take away from the chapter.
  • Break up large tasks into a series of small steps. Study for tests in a series of relatively brief periods over a number of days instead of cramming the night before. Good study habits can include surveying the topics to be tested; creating questions about the material, then rereading the material to answer his questions; formulating answers in his head or discussing them with you, a tutor, or a “study buddy”; and practicing writing down answers to questions that seem likely to be on the test. He could plan a writing assignment by doing the research one day, thinking about it the next, writing a first draft on the third day, and revising it on the fourth.
  • Set aside a routine time and place for doing homework. Most teenagers with ADHD can benefit from a routine, non-distracting environment for completing work. This may mean no television or Internet access unless it is required for an assignment.
  • Take advantage of his learning style. A teenager should pay attention to how he learns best. Is it easier for him to memorize by using abbreviations or acronyms (making a word from the first letter of each memorized term), looking at lists or charts, reviewing facts verbally with a partner, or testing and retesting himself on paper? Does he work better in short bursts or for longer periods? Alone or with others present? In his room or at the dining table?
  • Create “bypass” strategies. Teenagers with uneven learning styles can benefit from developing bypass strategies—strategies designed to help work around a particular problem. For example, if a student gets overwhelmed by a long-term assignment because of extreme difficulty with handwriting, a bypass strategy would be to get permission to use a computer. If a student has extreme difficulty “multitasking” (writing while thinking) and, because of this, loses track of his thoughts, it may be helpful to first dictate several ideas into a computer or tape recorder and then write them down, separating the 2 tasks and making each one more doable.


Last Updated
ADHD: What Every Parent Needs to Know (Copyright © 2011 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.