Moving from intention to action: Is coaching the missing piece?

One of the concerns that I hear frequently voiced by parents is the worry that their child with ADHD won’t be ready for the next step.  Whether the child is moving from middle school to high school, is a tenth grader overwhelmed by the demands of school, or is a young adult already in college, but struggling without the support systems she had at home, many parents share concerns that their children aren’t prepared for what comes next.  Often, health professionals or educational advisors have suggested coaching, and parents have questions.  After all, you have put other recommendations into place such as accommodations at school, medication trials to improve focus and attention, therapists, and tutors. Parents recognize that even though their child might have the best of intentions, they truly struggle to start tasks and see them through to completion, which leaves everyone frustrated. Nothing seems to change.

One of the things I enjoy most about coaching is being part of the process that can lead to transformational change. I get excited because this is my opportunity to share with parents that coaching can be extremely beneficial when a child, adolescent, or young person is ready to embrace change. Coaching might just be that missing piece that helps their child move from best intentions to action. ADHD coaching is unique from other types of coaching in that it combines Life coaching skills along with advanced training in the neurobiology of ADHD, Executive Function Disorder, and Learning disabilities. Coaching is a collaborative, non-judgmental partnership between coach and client with the goal of helping the client master the skills needed to be successful whether they have ADHD, EF, learning disabilities, or all three.

Coaching provides a framework of structure and support that empowers clients to learn new strategies and systems, which with time and repetition become new skills. We focus on building self-awareness, both of how their challenges present in their daily lives and awareness of their unique learning style. This allows them to discover their strengths and build on them. Clients identify goals they wish to accomplish (to make honor roll) or changes that they would like to make (no more late homework). Then they design the actions to help them achieve their goals. Oftentimes we will brainstorm different strategies or talk through different ideas until something resonates with the client that they are willing to try.

Managing progress and accountability is a very important piece of the framework. During our weekly meetings, we discuss progress being made toward their goals. What is working well, what is not? What needs to be tweaked or changed? What are your priorities for the next week and how do you plan to accomplish them?  What makes ADHD coaching unique is that we maintain frequent contact between meetings. While together we will discuss when the client will send an update on how things are going and of anything new, usually via text. Clients know that when they run into roadblocks or need to bounce ideas around that they are welcome to text me anytime. They also know that if I don’t hear from them that I will text them to check-in and see how they are progressing. Clients tell me that seeing a text from me helps them remember what they said they were going to do and get started.

We also manage accountability by implementing an incentive and reward program. The benefit of this is that the client is earning something that they really want. Knowing that they will earn an hour of video game time, or whatever motivates them most, once they have finished their homework, is the incentive to get started. Having frequent opportunities to earn the reward helps make it more attainable and fuels motivation, especially at the beginning of the process. Once they’ve started the task they are motivated to keep working so that they can earn the reward. Rewards are different for every family and vary by age. Older teens may be motivated by an extra hour of curfew, gas money, or sleepovers. College students may have been told by their parents that if they earned a certain GPA that they can bring a car to school or I might ask them how they can reward themselves for making progress on their goals.

The accountability piece is often the bridge between having the best of intentions and actually taking action to get started. Knowing that I am going to ask if they did what they said they were going to do can be a motivator for some. Even if the client did not follow through there is learning in talking about what prevented them from getting it done and the choices they made. For others, the opportunity to earn something they want or to do something that they love can be a motivator to move from intention to action.  Clients begin implementing the actions they designed to stay on track and things start improving. They report that they feel more in control and experience less daily stress. This motivates them to continue the steps that are working and with repetition, new skills are mastered and clients become more successful.

Coaching creates a safe place for clients to learn about themselves, their disability, and how to work around it. The approach of mapping out short and long-term goals combined with a supportive, collaborative partnership guided by an experienced coach can lead to transformational change in young people. Coaching can be that missing piece that shifts their best intentions to make progress into accomplished actions. It is very rewarding to have this conversation with parents and hear how relieved they are to know that with the support of coaching their child is in the best position to be ready for what comes next after all.