Why won’t my ADHD teen do simple tasks?

Why does my ADHD teen delay and avoid doing simple tasks around the house; it’s causing so many arguments in our family!

To us, as parents, it can feel like this is defiance and just being ‘difficult’.  We see the task as simple to do and when our teen ‘just won’t’, we think all sorts of negative things about them and the adults they are going to be…  We resort to rewards and consequences – we are trying to solve the problem and support them but because we don’t understand what is actually going on, this is often not helpful.

Can we reframe what we think is going on and see that our teen is actually struggling to get this task done and if it was simple to them, they would just do it (most of the time anyway – as we all do, they will try their luck occasionally!). Let’s think of this struggle in terms of the executive function differences they may have.

What are executive functions?

Executive functions are all the functions in the brain that we use to manage almost every task in everyday life – such as time management, planning and organisation, paying attention, emotion regulation, task initiation, etc.

All brains have a unique executive function profile but neurodivergent brains tend to have a spikey profile, which means that they manage certain skills easily but others are particularly difficult and they may need ongoing support and strategies for these.

Do These Scenarios Resonate With You and Your ADHD Teen Too?

Do you wonder if your ADHD teenager will ever be able to bring home every bit of their PE kit? It feels like they’re just not concerned about all the lost items.

Does your teen seem to have no concept of time, and is constantly running late for school?  No amount of threatening is making a difference.

Does your child never seem to be able to change their behaviour, no matter how many times you try to let them learn a lesson?  It seems that they just make the same error of judgement over and over again.

Executive function difficulties may well be playing a big part in this behaviour. Our children are not born with executive function skills in place.  In fact they are in the pre-frontal cortex of the brain and the latest neuroscience shows that this part of the brain, which is the last to mature, only does so at about 25+ years old.  Even then, for neurodivergent brains, some of these skills may still be really difficult.

How Can You Support Your ADHD Teenager’s Behaviour?

Understanding executive function differences and changing OUR expectations and our communication around them can support our young person.  It can remove the personal blame and failure they may feel and instead support them with practical ways to achieve success in these areas.

Comparing their abilities to peers of the same age is not helpful – the 3-5 year gap for neurodivergent brains makes a big difference in thinking about executive functions.  Scaffolding and supporting our child or teen to develop strategies and learn new skills is always the best way forward.

Assuming that they are doing the best with the skills they have can help us to respond to meet their needs rather than judging what we see in their behaviour.

They are most often not being purposely difficult and defiant, lazy or careless or any of the other labels that society puts on these difficulties with executive functions.

Dr Ross Greene says ‘kids do well if they can’. 

If we can take away the sense of personal failure and shame that often accompanies these difficulties, this means that our young person’s brain feels safer and less stressed, which means that executive functions can work optimally and with compassionate support, these skills can be learnt and improved.

We may need to scaffold for longer or more intensely for our teens but when they hear that you understand it’s not easy to ‘just do that task’ and you can collaborate with them to work out how you can support them to do it, they will be much more willing to work out a way forward. This builds trust and connection between you and this builds the capacity for developing those life skills too.

How Can I Help?

I run regular webinars and one of these was on Seeing and Supporting Executive Functions – it’s worth a watch!

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