Time is a tricky thing for kids (and adults) with ADHD. They often perceive the passage of time differently and may have trouble self-regulating which can make adhering to a schedule, being on time, and meeting deadlines difficult. Enter endless battles over getting to school (or anywhere for that matter) on time and staying up into the wee hours to help your child finish a project that’s due tomorrow but was assigned weeks earlier. The good news is that time management, like any other skill, can be leaned and improved. Here are some tips for how to help your child develop better time management habits.
Why is time management so difficult for people with ADHD?
Those with ADHD often struggle with the perception of time and the ability to self-regulate in order to stay on track and meet goals in a timely manner.
Every person with ADHD experiences time differently. Some have difficulty accurately gauging how long daily tasks and activities will take to complete. Others forget to self-monitor and adjust what they are doing at a given point in time to meet their goal. For many with ADHD, it’s a combination of both.
Here are some steps you can take to help your child develop a better awareness of time and the self-regulation skills needed to stay on track…
Make Time Visible
The first step toward helping your child develop a better sense of time is to make time visible. You can do this by using calendars, clocks (analog clocks are best), planners, and timers. The idea is to help your child develop an awareness of the passage of time as they perform certain tasks: How much time has elapsed and how much is left.
You’ll also want to have clocks in every room, including the bathroom (they even have waterproof ones for the shower). As a rule, analog clocks tend to be more effective than digital because they clearly illustrate how much time has elapsed and how much remains.
Keep in mind though that it isn’t simply about making your child watch a clock but rather helping them to understand that each task or activity has its own timeline with specific steps that must be completed.
Help Your Child Create a Timeline
Creating visual timelines is a great way to help your child consider and plan the different parts of each task or activity: the prep, the task/activity itself, and the finish. You’ll also want to include “checkpoints” so that your child can monitor what he or she needs to be doing at any given point.
You’ve probably already discovered that telling your child to “be ready to go at 8am” doesn’t work. Giving them a huge chunk of unstructured time leaves too much room for distraction. Instead, help them create a timeline of their morning routine with specific checkpoints. It might look something like this…
6:30am: Wake up
6:35am: Brush teeth and get dressed
6:45: Eat breakfast
And so on.
Another great way to do this is to color-code an analog clock like the one shown below…
Courtesy of Kids Activities Blog
As you can see, the color-coding illustrates the intended task or activity for each segment of time.
Encourage Positive Self-Talk
To help your child self-regulate and monitor whether they are staying on track, teach them positive self-talk that they can use to check-in with themselves on how they are progressing.
A few examples include…
“Am I on track with my timeline?”
“What do I need to do to get ready to start?”
“Am I halfway done?”
“What do I need to be doing at the next checkpoint?”
“How much do I need to get done before the next checkpoint?”
Time Everyday Activities and Tasks
Children and adults with ADHD often have difficulty accurately gauging how long a particular task or activity will take to complete. Generally speaking, they underestimate how much time they’ll realistically need and end up scrambling to meet deadlines.
To help your child get a sense for how long typical tasks take, ask them to first estimate how long they think it will take and then time them actually completing the task or activity.
Afterwards, sit down with your child and discuss the results. What are your child’s thoughts on their estimates compared to how long it actually took them to complete the task or activity? Was there anything they feel got in the way of completing the task or activity in a timelier fashion (distractions, lack of preparation, etc.)? Use this information to help your child plan for how to tackle these tasks in the future and use their time more efficiently.
Practice, Practice, and Practice Some More
Learning to manage your time effectively, especially when it’s not something that comes naturally, takes practice. The more you can help your child practice working through their daily routines, especially when you’re not in a hurry, the better. Eventually your child will become more aware of and better able to manage their time efficiently without your guidance.
Source: Maguire/ADD Coach Academy, 2016