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Teaching Time Management to Kids

Children with ADHD typically have difficulty managing time. Time management is not a skill they acquire naturally. Children with ADHD have certain differences in brain functioning, particularly in the frontal lobe. The frontal lobe is responsible for executive functions. Executive functions include skill sets such as determining which stimuli to attend to and which stimuli to ignore, deciding what steps are involved in a project, planning our day, organizing our thoughts or work area, and managing our time.

A more structured teaching approach can be helpful to many children who struggle with time management (regardless of diagnoses or lack thereof). One way of providing this structure involves talking through your own thought processes as you invoke strategies for managing time. Saying things like, "I'm packing my lunch and getting my clothes ready tonight so I don't feel so rushed in the morning," brings the concept of how we manage time with preparation into the mind of your child. Sometimes this subtle teaching is all your child needs. Other skills you can teach in this manner include:

  • Leaving earlier than needed for appointments to ensure for unexpected delays, "Let's plan on leaving an extra ten minutes early just in case traffic is backed up."

  • Avoiding the allure of squeezing in one more task before you leave, "I really wanted to get some laundry in this morning, but we need to leave in five minutes and that's not enough time. It will have to wait until later."

  • Establishing repeatable patterns or structure into your day and week, "Today is Saturday. On Saturdays I pay the bills. Then we go get groceries."

  • Refraining from overbooking, "Sarah wanted to meet me for lunch today but I just had too much going on. We are going to meet her and Jimmy tomorrow after school at the park. You and Jimmy can play and Sarah and I can visit!"

  • Remaining calm when rushed, "I'm tempted to just hurry out the door but usually I end up forgetting something important when I do that."

  • Reserving time for relaxation in your schedule, "After a long busy work week, I like to just chill with a good book on Friday nights."

  • Setting reminders, "I have fifteen minutes to check email, then I need to get dinner started. I'm going to set the timer for fifteen minutes so I don't lose track of time."

  • Estimating how much time tasks will take and then evaluating your estimate, "I thought it would only take us thirty minutes to rake the leaves, but we were at it for almost an hour!"

In addition to talking through these processes for your own time management, you can use these strategies to help your child manage their own time. Set a timer for screen time or have your child pick out tomorrows outfit before going to bed. This gives your child opportunities to practice time management skills. Regardless go how difficult time management skills are for your child, or how resistant they may be, keep at it. If you are consistently teaching and implementing these skills, over time, your child will begin implementing these strategies out of habit!

by Trish Carter, LIMHP, LPC, BCN

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