What is an Observation Log?
Whenever I talk to a person who is experiencing ADHD themselves or they have an ADHD partner or child, one of my first questions is, “Do you keep a log of what’s happening and what’s not”? The answer I usually get is no. Now, after you read this blog post I want you to take away two important facts:
- ADHD people are “consistently inconsistent” whether they want to be or not, and
- No one, no matter how hard you try, can keep everything in your head! It’s exhausting, it takes up too much storage space in the brain, and there’s no reason to do it.
When I learned these two facts many years ago, I decided that I would grab a spiral notebook, tie a pen to it, and place it in the center of my home. I came up with the idea of calling it an observation log because it sounded much more inviting than the word journal. So now that you have this handy spiral notebook, how can it help you? It’s really very simple.
This tool becomes your storage place to hold ideas, questions, celebrations, thoughts, and anything else that pertains to the life of the ADHD person. It teaches you to observe and become more aware of emotions and feelings that are often at the root of many behavior and social problems. If you are a parent of an ADHD child, you will be developing the habit to make your life easier. Then you will be teaching your child to take responsibility for making entries as needed over time.
Note: Parents assume the role of CEO for their young children naturally. The ADHD child needs help and guidance to create new and positive habits that will carry them into their adult years. But when the child reaches Jr. High, when they are ready to assume more responsibility, it is the job of each parent to begin allowing the child to be accountable for themselves. By using this tool, you are teaching them to be more aware of how they feel, more alert to what’s working, what’s not working, and accountable for writing down information that will be helpful for future conversations with teachers, family therapists, doctors, and other support people. Don’t get caught up in being your child’s CEO after Jr. High. They must learn to take responsibility for their own actions as they walk through the process of making decisions prior to making choices and thinking through the consequences!
Listed below are some great tips to help you put this observation log to work for you:
- Date every entry you make in the notebook.
- You can divide the book into sections that are important to you and your family. Sections might include, but are in no way limited to, school, sleep, meals, medications, med alternatives, homework, ADHD resources, celebrations, gifts, goals, wishes, misc., and perhaps an area in the back for the ADHD child to doodle or draw in.
- Use sticky notes as dividers so they can be moved if needed.
- Or just begin at the front and work your way to the back of the notebook.
- 5”x7” spiral books work well for travel and putting into a small bag.
- You can have an 8”x10” for home use and the 5”x7” to take with you when traveling in the car (trips to the store, appointments, back and forth to school, etc.).
- Keep things brief and use bullet points when possible so it’s easier to find things.
- Allow anyone in the family to make entries into the notebook as long as it is factual and constructive.
- Provide opportunities for the ADHD person to add information (ideas for birthday gifts, drawings as she waits during doctor visits, friends he just met, places she wants to go, celebrations at school, and other things.
- When you keep the notebook open, with pen attached, in the middle of your home, you will see it and use it more often than if it’s closed and out of the way.
- Use various colored highlighters for quick retrieval of facts (blue = meds info, yellow = school progress, orange = celebrations, and so on).
- Use a pen with multiple ink colors for quick retrieval of notes.
Maintaining and using the notebook
- Keep a thin stack of sticky notes inside the back cover for various notes and reminders. Re-stick and reuse them over and over.
- Try to break the day into 3 or 4 chunks and get into the habit of making notes about
- mornings (getting ready for school or work)
- afternoons (progress in school, homework time, emotional status), and
- evening (effectiveness of meds, dinner time, ending the day, preparing for the next day).
- Be prepared to make more notes during weekends when there is less structure in the home.
- Always try to create structure with daily chores, meal/bed times, and other responsibilities so the children take pride in tending to the maintenance of the family home.
- Once the notebook is filled, write the name of the person on the outside as well as the date range that the book covers.
- Store all notebooks so they can be accessed in the future.
My son has thoroughly enjoyed going through his old notebooks. He found the names and phone numbers of friends he’d forgotten about. He would sketch pictures while he waited for me at appointments and he put those into a scrapbook. We would include his weight and height in the back of the book as he grew. It was his life on paper. Now he keeps his own book. But for me, it was my lifeline. I could simply open the book when we had a doctor’s appointment and there were the notes about various things. It made the doctor’s assessment so much easier and I didn’t have to try to pull data out of my head. If I needed to ask a question, there it was, highlighted and easy to find. I know how valuable these observation logs can be not only for the ADHD person, but for any person who experiences difficulties that needs tracking. Enjoy the journey of observation and awareness and remember your two takeaways – expect consistent inconsistencies and write it down! I’d love to hear how you have created and use your observation logs!
Celebrating you! Cathy