It’s time for another Ask Dr. Leman, “My daughter is smart, but won’t do her school work or be organized.” Today’s episode focuses on how to deal with disorganized children who can’t seem to keep their focus. Learn more about Dr. Leman at


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Introduction:                       Hey hubby, what should we do with Lily? She’s driving me nuts. I know. We should ask Dr. Leman. He knows everything about parenting.

Introduction:                       Welcome to Have A New Kid By Friday with Dr. Kevin Leman and Doug and Andrea Terpening.

Doug:                                         Well, hello. I’m Doug Terpening.

Andrea:                                    And I’m Andrea.

Doug:                                         And we are super-duper-duper excited to be with you again, and so glad, if this is your first time here, just to let you know, this is for your education and entertainment purposes only. If the subject matter raises any concerns for you or your child, please go seek a local professional for help. Well, Dr. Leman, it is so good to be back recording these podcasts with you again.

Dr. Leman:                             It is. You know, we should have our people guess just which one of the three of us is the smartest. Everybody guess. Guess what? The answer’s Andrea. She keeps us in line. She’s got a lot of organization in her, because sometimes Dougy-boy goes out in left field and I find myself in right field and she reminds us that we’re supposed to be in center field.

Andrea:                                    Well, somebody’s got to do it.

Doug:                                         Yeah.

Dr. Leman:                             Somebody’s got to do it. She’s a momma. She got kids.

Doug:                                         And I love how she’s always so gentle with us. Right, Dr. Leman? She’s like, “Have you guys actually thought about this?” “No, we didn’t, actually.” So … Well, I’m excited to do this question today from Beeja, and again, just to let you know, go to and you can leave your own audio question there, and we would love, love, love, love, love, love to answer it.

Doug:                                         I haven’t said this in a long time, but if you go to, you’ll see a little way to sign up with your email and you’re going to get these pocket phrases from Dr. Leman sent to you. And we’d love for you to do it and be part of it. But let’s jump in to this question.

Beeja:                                       Hey, Dr. Leman. My name is Beeja, and I am calling about my 13-year-old daughter. She’s the sweetest, the smartest on so many levels, but she struggles with organization. She is diagnosed with ADD for a few years ago, and she is on medication a few times a day for that, and it helps her with her focusing a lot. She is much smarter than I ever was and she does well academically and learns quickly, but she struggles with organization. Several times during the day I get notification of her being tardy for class, and she’s late with almost every assignment if she even remembers to do them. She has a really hard time getting stuff together for the next class, and her locker is always a mess so she can’t find things.

Beeja:                                       School is helping her out by letting her come in 30 minutes earlier to work on the homework that she’s late with, but I’m wondering if there’s anything else you guys do for kids that struggle with this at your Leman Academy of Excellence? My daughter has about 80% to 100% on her tests, so I know that she understands what she’s doing. She’s very disorganized here at home, as well. We have everything labeled for her to put stuff away, but they don’t mean anything to her. So, we are kind of just letting that go. But at school, I feel like her grades doesn’t reflect what she actually knows, and I know that’s early to worry about the grade, in seventh grade, but I just want to find a way to find her, so she has success in the future. Thank you for taking my question. Bye.

Dr. Leman:                             You’re welcome, and thanks for the question. You know, let’s start … The good news is you’re on the right track. You know, you talk about labeling and you say, well, it doesn’t mean much to her and all that. I think you need to physically put in her locker at school, for lack of a better term, drop ins. And they are color-coordinated, so they’re different. Different colors for different subjects. So, she can take her assignments, her work sheets, whatever she’s doing and put them in those envelopes.

Dr. Leman:                             Kids who have ADHD — and just disorganized people in general, okay — you can do your best to organize them from A to Z, but good luck. I would vote for, let’s get all subject matter in one big catch-all in that locker room. So, the stuff is at least in a general area. Now, in that drop, and I’m envisioning this to be about 12 inches wide and about 12 inches deep so you can actually put 8×11 paper in it, et cetera. There’s going to be disorganization in that. That’s a given. But at least all the subject matter is in one place.

Dr. Leman:                             What we know about kids that have ADHD is they need focused attention, okay? And it’s difficult for them. The key is how do you help, as a parent, give a kid focused attention, without going in there and snow-plowing the roads of life for the child, in such a way as you end up doing the work and all that? And of course, many parents fall prey to that. So you have to be careful. You want to be helpful, but you don’t want to be doing things for your daughter that she could be doing for herself. That’s the axiom you have to live by.

Dr. Leman:                             So, when it comes to homework and, since she goes to Leman Academy, I can tell you there’s very little homework at Leman. Most of the stuff is done in class. This gets back to focused attention. With 24 other kids in the class, you know what? There’s a lot of diversion for a child. So, some conversation with the teacher about maybe where to place her in the classroom might be worth it. And when she’s home, I think she has to have a specific place that she does her work. It has to be free from distraction.

Dr. Leman:                             Now, you’ll have kids tell me, “Well, I can’t do my homework without the TV on,” or music or whatever. They lie like dogs. The fact of the matter is they can do their homework without music, without a TV, and with a kid who’s got ADHD, you want to make sure that those distractions are minimal. Now, checking homework is always a problem for me, for the same reason I said you got to be careful you don’t do too much for the child, but it might be worth it. Looking at her work, and if you see stuff that’s not completed, for example, maybe something had two sides on it and she did one side, just take that stuff that’s not ready and put it in a pile and tell her, “This one needs work.” In other words, do not become so demonstrative in your citing what needs to be done that you’re making her work your work.

Dr. Leman:                             I hope that makes sense. But those are a couple things that come to mind when we talk about kids that have ADHD. You mentioned medication. Many kids are medicated. I’ve never been huge on medication, but I can tell you, with certain kids it works wonders. But that’s a judgment call between you and your physician. I’ll let you deal with that as you see fit. But you did point out one other thing that I want to remind everybody about, and that is that kids who have ADHD, many of them are very bright. It’s not like they don’t get it. They get it. And the disorganization, if it drives you up the wall … Okay, here’s the litmus test. If the disorganization drives you up the wall then you need to back off as far as you possibly can. Because she’s going to sense that it bothers you which is going to complicate her everyday living. If the worst thing this kid is in life is disorganized, she’s going to be joined by millions of others and it’s not as bad as you and I make it out to be, quite frankly.

Dr. Leman:                             So, good luck, love her, expect the best of her, don’t let her off the hook for anything. Remember, any diagnosis — I don’t care what it is — is never an excuse for inappropriate behavior.

Andrea:                                    Dr. Leman, you mentioned the phrase “focused attention”. What does it mean to give her focused attention?

Dr. Leman:                             Well, you know, that sounds weird, but it’s almost like you take one ear and the other and you pull it in. So, you’re looking at her, eyeball to eyeball. Because these kids get distracted so quickly. In other words, they need that ability to focus in on the job that has to be done, but sometimes when you’re just talking to a child, you can obliquely talk to a child. You’re doing dishes and the kid is 12 feet behind you and you’re telling them something. Good luck. You need to have eye contact with that child. That’s the focused attention from the parent standpoint.

Andrea:                                    Okay.

Dr. Leman:                             But focused attention is our goal as a kid is going through life. You want them to develop the ability to focus. And of course, by definition, that’s one of the things that kids who have ADHD don’t do very well. They don’t focus. They’re all over the place. They start something and see a sweater that needs to be hung up and bingo, they’re out of the room and doing something different. And they’re off-track easy. So, anything that helps repetition, hours, a set time, and again, parent, you know your kid better than I do. So, is your kid better off to do school work when they come home from school? Do they need playtime for a couple of hours? Is it best done after dinner? What’s the best room in the house to have it done? I mean, there’s kids who probably work best at the dining room table of the home. There’s other kids who do better in their room. Well, that’s for you guys to figure out, not me.

Andrea:                                    So, just removing the distractions all around them, and saying this is the time or the place to either have this conversation or work on this thing, or, this is the place to look for such-and-such.

Dr. Leman:                             And remember the principle from Have A New Kid By Friday. B doesn’t start ’til A gets accomplished. So, school work is a priority, and if school work isn’t done, homework isn’t done, and child wants to be driven to the mall, now, I hope we all can say that answer in unison. We use vitamin N, which is, “No. We’re not going to the mall. Your work isn’t done.” Keep in mind, we’re not building in excuses for a child who’s got ADHD or any other disorder.

Doug:                                         When you talked about that disorganization drives you up a wall, that we need to let go of it, that’s hard for me to hear, because I think, “Don’t I want to teach them a semblance of discipline?” And as well, “They’re a part of this family, and this disorganization affects all of us.” So, how do I let that just slide? That seems wrong.

Dr. Leman:                             Well, you ask yourself, “How’s it been working out for me, the past four years that I’ve tried to micro-manage my ADHD kid?” And you’ll come up with the resounding answer: “It’s not working.” And it won’t work, because you’re too engaged in it. So, I wrote a book once called Have A New You By Friday. In that book, I say, “Stop, look and listen.” And stop, look at the situation. Listen to yourself. What do you normally do? What do you normally say? What’s the new you going to do differently?

Dr. Leman:                             So, you change relationships by thinking differently. And so, the thinking goes on in the adult. Now, the disorganization. If you’re a perfectionistic firstborn daughter, for example, you’re the mom, that disorganization is going to drive you crazy, because your world is everything has a place and a purpose and you’re highly organized. Well, everybody isn’t like you. So, when you impose your perfection on a kid who’s got ADHD, you’re going to have disastrous results. So, you’re going to have to walk away, do things different, disengage, don’t look. Whatever it takes.

Doug:                                         I got a follow-up question from me, is there different standards, then, for the kids that are non-ADHD in this regard, organization?

Andrea:                                    Like, in a family?

Doug:                                         Yeah.

Dr. Leman:                             No. I don’t think so. You’re still asking kids to do things that they need to do, but, you know, the kid that’s got ADHD, and he’s disheveled in his looks, and he’s not well organized, when he cleans his room, what’s it going to look like? If it’s shoveled out you can see the floor, there’s no dead creatures on the floor, if that was an ADHD kid of mine, I’d say that’s a pass. Go to sister’s room next door and everything’s spotless. Well, that’s who she is. She’s just like her mother. So, is one kid better than the other? No. That’s the joy of being a parent. You got to love them and they’re very different people. I have five of them. You have four, and we know that’s a true statement.

Doug:                                         So that is actually a really liberating thought, because, hypothetically, with our four children, one of them’s a little more organized and one of them’s a little more disorganized, and we keep pushing one to be organized, and yet, you’re right. If I just back off and just enjoy the other parts about him, this other child, that would be amazing.

Dr. Leman:                             Yeah. They’ll be out of the house before you know it, and you’ll be crying and waving goodbye. I mean, I’m just telling you. Life goes by quick, and don’t major in the minors.

Doug:                                         You’re right. Don’t major in the minors.

Dr. Leman:                             In so many things we’ll talk about on our podcast, it’s sort of the attitude that you bring to the situation that’s really going to be the saving grace of it. So watch out for your critical eye. Many of you know exactly how life could be or should be for other people, and that’s what gets you in big time trouble.

Doug:                                         Well, Dr. Leman, I’m always surprised by what you say, and I think that was fabulous, for Doug Terpening to remember to don’t major on the minors and let it go.

Andrea:                                    And hopefully for Beeja and her daughter, right?

Doug:                                         Absolutely. That’s right. It’s for others, not me. That’s why we’re doing this podcast.

Andrea:                                    But no, we learn every time. I think it’s fabulous.

Doug:                                         So, well, Beeja, thank you for your question. Thank you to the rest of you that keep sending these questions in. We absolutely, absolutely love it, and we look forward to the next time we get to hang out with you and add to your parenting toolbox.

Andrea:                                    Have a great day.

Doug:                                         Take care, and bye-bye.