Dear Dr. Sylvia

Underachieving Mother Needs Guidance

January, 2016



I was an underachiever when I was younger and still struggle with this. I also was diagnosed with Attention Hyperactivity Deficit Disorder (ADHD). My husband and I both have difficulty establishing routines and responsibilities for ourselves, which clearly makes it hard to set and reinforce responsibilities and routines for our children. How can I guide our disorganized and underachieving children so that they can reverse their underachievement?



It is not unusual for very capable adults to visit my clinic with concerns about both their own underachievement and that of their children. Adults often go to coaches or counselors to help them develop strategies for their own careers. I am not sure from your description whether you are concerned about your present career or only your problems with organization. It is possible to get help with both. An excellent book for refocusing yourself toward an appropriate career is The Joy of Strategy — A Business Plan for Life (Bibliomotion, 2013) written by Allison Rimm.

If you are only concerned with organizational strategies for you and your children, a counselor or tutor who works specifically with organizational skills can absolutely benefit you both. People with ADHD can learn to be organized, although it’s harder for them than for others. You may have to make a game out of the organization process until you and your children learn it. A good supply of stickers or stars and teamwork can ease you along this route. It will be an absolutely helpful investment of your time, and you will discover how much more efficient you can become.

If your children are actually underachieving and not only disorganized, I would suggest you read my book Why Bright Kids Get Poor Grades And What You Can Do About It. It will help you examine at least ten important issues, including: 
1.    Appropriately high ( but not too high) expectations
2.    Your child’s work ethic
3.    Competitive resilience
4.    Possible disabilities
5.    Appropriate curriculum match
6.    Peer environments
7.    United, positive parenting
8.    Parent support for school
9.    Appropriate role models
10.  Reasonable balance between achievement and social life.

These are the top ten issues that lead to achievement if they are handled correctly and underachievement if they are not.

As you can see, you brought up some complex issues; but there are many ways you can help yourself and your children.

Dr Sylvia RimmDr. Sylvia Rimm is a child psychologist and clinical professor at Case University School of Medicine, author, newspaper and magazine columnist, and radio/TV personality. For free newsletters about organization, ADHD, and/or underachievement, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope for each newsletter and a note with your topic requestto P.O. Box 32, Watertown, WI, 53094. Read Dr. Rimm’s Articles for Parents and Teachers and submit family questions online at All questions are answered.

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