You can lead a horse to a planner…


But you can’t make them write down the date of their midterm.  If there’s one question I hear more than all others in my coaching practice, it’s this:  WHYYY doesn’t my child use a planner effectively?  It’s such a huge point of family tension – the parent clearly sees how a planner can prevent school disasters, but the child is incredibly resistant to the idea.  Even more maddeningly, they often can’t clearly articulate their objections.  

It’s undeniable – using a planner is a fantastic idea!  It takes a load off your memory, it helps you visually break down big projects into little pieces, it gives you a place to doodle during boring classes, it can hold stray papers and phone numbers…the list of benefits is pretty much only limited by your imagination.  Why on earth would someone not want to develop the habit of using one?  Your child may even be willing to acknowledge that, yes, a planner would solve a lot of their painful school problems, but be unable to get it going.  Why??????

Like they say on Facebook: it’s complicated.

For kids with ADHD, there are two times:  right now, and some other time.  Think of the classic example of the science project.  It’s assigned well before it’s due, and if it’s written down in a planner, then they could look ahead, see that it’s coming up, and do a little work on it in advance.  What usually happens, though?  They forget until the night before it’s due, and then they’re up late scrambling to get it done, and everyone is dragging the next day.  To the ADHD mind, if it’s not happening right this very minute,  or if it’s not due in the morning, it may as well not exist.

How can I help them get started?

Encourage them to choose a planner.  They’ll most likely roll their eyes and try to hand you the first thing they lay eyes on, but if it’s not organized in a way that works for the way they read and write, they’ll never use it.

Some things that work particularly well:

  • a tough cover and spine. This is going to get pulled out and used every day!  A weak paperback binding is going to fall apart very quickly.
  • a page-per-day format. Monthly and weekly calendars don’t have enough room for assignments.  Strangely, neither do most planners specifically designed for school assignments!  Keep in mind, kids with learning disabilities and ADHD often have problems with small and precise writing.  Make it easier for them to physically write, and they’re more apt to do it.  Daily planners may be hard to find in office supply stores, but they’re relatively easy to find online.
  • pages at the back for notes. Encourage them to write down things other than assignments, too!  Need to call a friend?  Write it down!  Buy new socks?  Write it down!  This should be the place where they externalize all of their memory. Encourage it!
  • let them draw on it, put stickers on it, and personalize it. Remember Trapper Keepers with Lisa Frank stickers on them?  Yeah, me too.  So much better.

Encouraging them to use their shiny new planner is another matter entirely, but getting it in their hot little hands  in the first place is a major step toward getting those science projects done ahead of schedule and under budget.