Tuesday, April 5, 2011

My Child's Brain and Organization

Do you know students who are naturally organized?  They have a locker that is neat; everything has its place?  Unfortunately, my oldest is not one of these naturally organized kids.  His locker is a clutter of materials.  I don't know how he finds what he needs in his transition from class to class.  I've organized it and cleaned it out at least three times this year (no doubt he did not even notice). It is easy to just blame him for his lack of organization but my quest to better understand what causes this disorganization is what has helped and will continue to help me support him.  To be honest....the blame lies with his brain.  I know that sounds rather ridiculous, but it is true.  Brain research has been something I've studied in the last several years in order to try to serve students more effectively.  The truth of the matter is the undeveloped frontal cortex of the adolescent.  Brains develop over time (many years, in fact).  Our society is not as simple as it used to be and our children cannot move at the slower pace our society used to move.  The demands our society places on adolescents/teenagers is grossly unfair to their development.

The frontal cortex of the brain is responsible for getting things accomplished. According to Taking Charge of ADHD, by R.A. Barkley our frontal lobes allow us to filter out distractions, prepare for the future, figure out how long something will take to complete, multi-task, and alter a plan if needed.  These are key things we expect adolescents/teenagers to do without much help from parents or teachers.  It is a shame we expect our middle school students to be capable of executing such complicated functions when their brain is not even fully developed yet.  I encourage you to read up on brain research.

After placing blame on the brain for disorganization and inability to perform certain tasks, the process of supporting one's child begins.  The first thing parents must remember is that Rome was not built in a day and neither will your child's frontal cortex fully develop in a day.  Always remember, in addition, that your child does not want to be unsuccessful either.  Fighting with parents over homework and housework, not being able to find or remember things, or getting poor grades on a report card are not fun for kids either.  The key in helping one's child is to listen to him or her.  It is only through listening that parents will find ways to help support him or her as the frontal lobe develops.

Staying positive is another important part of helping one's child.  Constant criticism is not something I bet you'd like to hear from your boss, and it is not something a child enjoys hearing from a parent.  It can actually have the opposite impact.  Find something to praise.  Punishments do not teach skills (I've learned this one by personal experience).  It doesn't mean that consequences are not to be given; just give them without a blamey or nasty attitude.  This is not a war and neither the parent or the child is the enemy.  Talk about what works and what doesn't.  Keep communication lines open and remember that under this disorganized mess is a real child.

The next articles will focus on helping parents determine the child's organization style and applying that knowledge to a system of organization and study skills.  Always remember that most skills cannot just be taught once and then never reinforced.  Repeated instruction and support will lead to the development of sound habits. 

Barkley, R.A. Taking Charge of ADHD. New York:  Guilford Press, 2000. Print.

Kutscher, Martin & Moran, Marcella. Organizing the Disorganized Child:  Simple Strategies to Succeed in School.  New York: HarperCollins, 2009,  Print.

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