Learning Disabilities and ADHD Articles


How to Help Children with LD & ADHD Observe and Evaluate Themselves

Filed under:
Executive Functions
Written by:
Dominique Bonneville, Counselling Psychology Practicum Graduate Student
June 6, 2022

Have you ever struggled to figure out a way to improve your productivity? Do you know which of your behaviours might be unhelpful to you? If so, you have used self-monitoring to increase your self-awareness. Self-awareness might be the tool your child needs to increase their self-awareness and improve their academic performance!

What is Self-Monitoring?

Self-monitoring is an executive functioning skill. It relies on the other executive functioning skills including flexible thinking, working memory, and self-control. As we’ve seen through this year’s previous articles, executive functioning skills can be particularly tricky for those with unique learning needs, including Learning Disabilities (LDs),  Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or both. 

Self-monitoring is simply the process of paying attention to our thoughts, processes, and behaviours. It systematically keeps track of what we are doing to improve our practices and productivity. This process of self-monitoring can be split into two main categories:


  • The process of observing our thoughts, behaviours, and actions. An example of this is mentally noting how one completes their homework tasks. 


  • The process of actually recording our thoughts, behaviours, and actions. An example of this is when a person records their thoughts, behaviours, and actions by writing in a daily journal to document their progress on certain tasks.

Self-monitoring can be used as a tool inside the classroom and in the home environment to decrease undesirable or unhelpful behaviours in children. For children with LDs and ADHD, these behaviours include talking out of turn, getting distracted during class or homework time, and having a low-level awareness of their behaviours and the consequences of such behaviours. Decreasing these behaviours is achieved by helping children monitor, track, and evaluate their behaviour and compare it to an identified “target” or preferred behaviour or action. Self-monitoring can then act as a tool to increase children’s awareness of their actions and how they compare to their preferred or targeted actions. Additionally, self-monitoring can identify when a particular behaviour or strategy is no longer useful or helpful, signalling a change is needed. 

For example, if a child believes that setting a timer to complete homework is helpful, they would do this while also monitoring and recording their ability to get their work done during a specified time period. After a few days, parents, teachers, and the child can review their progress to see if anything needs to be adjusted. Maybe the child finds that the timer is helpful, but they notice their attention is wandering after the 20-minute mark. In this case, possibly shortening the homework time to 15 minutes may result in more productivity. This process of observing and recording behaviours can be hugely beneficial in increasing self-awareness, decreasing undesirable behaviours, and advocating for the supports that they need! 

Self-Monitoring, Learning Disabilities and ADHD

Children with LDs and ADHD are less likely to engage in self-monitoring and self-correcting behaviours on their own. LDs and ADHD can impact a child’s ability to control urges of impulsivity, sustain attention, and remain engaged in schoolwork. For these reasons, it can be helpful for students with LD and ADHD to self-monitor to strengthen their sense of self-awareness and self-control. Self-monitoring can be a concrete way for those with LDs and ADHD to learn about their thoughts and behaviours. Self-monitoring helps them know what is working and what could use some additional support. For example, self-monitoring can get students with LDs and ADHD in the habit of asking themselves (or being asked by teachers and parents) helpful questions such as:   

  • Are the strategies in my IPP actually helpful for me? 
  • Am I meeting the expectations of my teachers?
  • Am I meeting the requirements of my assignments? 
  • How can I use my awareness of my thoughts and processes to evaluate my performance?
  • How can I use my awareness of my thoughts and processes to evaluate my behaviours? 
  • What has been working well for me that I can do more of? 
  • Have I reviewed my work for mistakes or missing pieces? 

Self-monitoring helps improve academic performance, social skills, and behavioural practices.  For students who struggle in the classroom, self-monitoring interventions improve academic performance and productivity, the accuracy of schoolwork, and the identification of helpful tools or strategies. Self-monitoring can also help improve self-awareness, self-confidence, and self-efficacy. Overall, self-monitoring supports children in understanding themselves and their needs in academic, behavioural, and social settings. 

How Can I Start Using Self-Monitoring With My Child?

Self-monitoring can occur anywhere, including at school and in the home environment. Self-monitoring can make a big difference if used within the classroom environment. For example, self-monitoring at school can start with having students check their work to prevent careless mistakes. They could compare completed work with the assignment requirements. Or, before writing a test at school, students could test themselves while studying to gauge their level of knowledge comprehension. Parents and teachers are encouraged to help students get started with self-monitoring. However, they should be sure to include the student in the process, so the child has some ownership of it and sees how it all comes together! Here are some suggestions for getting started with self-monitoring:

  • Identify & define action(s) to monitor. Self-monitoring can be used to increase desired behaviours OR to decrease unhelpful behaviours. First, identify what actions you want to monitor and then define what you hope to notice about those actions over time (increasing vs. decreasing).  Examples of desired behaviours to increase might include comparing assignment drafts to assignment requirements, checking completed work before handing it in, being kind to peers, or completing assignments on time. Examples of unhelpful behaviours to reduce would be talking out of turn, rushing assignments to get them done, or skipping class. 
  • Identify & define “target” actions. In addition to self-monitoring current actions, it is helpful to identify and define what a target or ideal action would look like. It is helpful for parents, teachers or both to get involved in clarifying and negotiating what their expectations are of the child. It can also be helpful to check class and assignment requirements to ensure target actions match school expectations. Checklists and graphic organizers can help in setting expectations.
  • Find a way to record actions. Recording children’s actions can be a crucial step in self-monitoring and help with increasing their awareness and accountability to themselves. It is hard to change our actions when we are not aware of them! In this step, create a helpful system for tracking actions that makes sense to you and your child. Try using some of the following strategies for recording actions or behaviours:
    • Behaviour Checklists: add the target behaviour/action to a chart or calendar and add a checkmark or sticker every time that behaviour is completed. 
    • Rating Scales: create a scale to identify and monitor behaviour changes specifically. For example, the scaling statement could be “in the past week, I was able to ask for more help/support when I needed it.” The response options could be “1=always, 2=almost always, 3=sometime, 4=almost never, 5=never”. 
  • Create a routine or schedule. Pick a time of day or day of the week when self-monitoring is set. Perhaps it is most likely to get done in the morning at the breakfast table or right after school. Find a time that will consistently be used for self-monitoring and add it to the calendar. This way, it becomes a scheduled activity.  
  • Create a reward system to celebrate successes. Make it fun for kids! Create a family game or reward system to celebrate behaviour changes. For example, plan a family movie night if your child completes a target action more than two times in a week. 
  • Have a plan for routine check-ins. Keep checking in with your child to see how things are going. One main goal of self-monitoring is to increase self-awareness. Therefore, making sure the self-monitoring plan remains helpful over time is key. If there are pieces of the plan that no longer seem helpful, don’t be afraid to switch things up! 

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