When a child is disorganized and distractible, he needs more direct instruction in learning executive function skills. So how do you teach what seems to come naturally to some people? How do you teach a child if you share these struggles with them? Just how many Tootsie Rolls must be doled out before a child learns and generalizes a skill?!?
I recommend the book “Smart But Scattered” by Peg Dawson and Richard Guare. Billed as “The revolutionary Executive Skills approach way to helping kids reach their potential”, it is packed with practical ways to identify and address issues related to executive functioning. I found a copy at my library and it is available on Amazon.com as well. As for concerns about too many Tootsie Rolls, I feel your dental pain. Here’s the upside with our distractible kids…they love/crave/need variety so the rewards not only can be changed, they should be changed now and then. And if your family is like mine, you do not need more trinkets cluttering up your house. For example, you could use a reward to work toward a larger prize by having two zip-loc bags side by side marked in some way to make them distinctly different. A small set of Legos goes in one bag, with one piece being transferred into the “I did it!” bag with each completed task. You could tape the picture of the completed object on this bag for added motivation. When all the pieces have been transferred the child can make whatever the set was designed to make, or if your child is like my son he can make something completely different! This is also a great way for your child to earn back toys that have not been put away or have been forgotten under the bed or in the bottom of a toy box. In any case, the child is getting rewarded for completing tasks and learning patience while working toward a larger goal or prize. The rewards don’t have to be big or expensive, just rewarding. I used to sing the song “I’m proud of you” (from Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood) to my kids when they did something well. It cost me nothing and took only a minute, but the children got the acknowledgment they needed. The entire song went like this: “Proud of you, I’m proud of you! I hope that you are proud of you, too.” The song repeats one time and it’s over. To this day, my children remember this song. Since you may not always be physically with your child when she completes a task, try recording a celebratory song on an inexpensive recording device and have her play it for herself when she completes a task. She can keep it in her pocket or you can leave it at the task completion spot. Again, if things tend to get buried or misplaced at your house try using industrial Velcro to keep it in one place. And now…(drum roll)…for the distractible adult here are a couple tips we’ve tried over the years. First, and only moderately successful but better than nothing, when my easily-distracted husband sets out to do a task I remind him of his goal and loudly hum the theme from Mission Impossible. “You’re in, you’re out!” I helpfully remind him as he heads out the door. The other tip I’ve used on those especially scattered, brain fog days is to wear a recording device and tell myself what I need to remember. I record a message, then when I get to the top of the stairs or in another room (yep, it could have evaporated from my brain already) I listen to the message. Usually it’s something simple like “I’m going upstairs to get my sewing scissors.” Sometimes I throw in an encouraging message like “You’re the woman!” just to keep my motivation strong. Check your cell phone for an application that allows you to do voice recordings. That might be a good technology tool for distractible teenagers to use. It’s faster than writing things down and we almost always have our cell phones nearby. Plus, cell phones are less likely to be lost than scraps of paper with hastily scrawled notes on them.