Helping ADHD Children Master Time

Children with attention deficit disorder often struggle to understand sequence, tell time, and prioritize — with their education paying the price. Find out how to help your ADHD student comprehend clocks, calendars, and other time management skills, here.


Clocks & Timers

By second grade, students are introduced to the clock and are taught to tell time. Clocks are reviewed again in third grade — and after this children are expected to infer that calendars and clocks can be used to determine the sequence of events and create routines. Unfortunately, many kids, particularly those with ADHD, do not make these leaps and can become lost in school as a result.

Which are the best clocks to teach time to ADHDers? Digital clocks present time as a static present-tense thing, greatly affecting kids' ability to conceive of and gauge time. Analog clocks show that time moves — and let a child know where she stands in relation to the rest of the hour or the rest of the day. We need to reintroduce analog clocks so children can "see" time and learn to place events in context.

Practice telling time with your child at home. Ask her for a different way to say 6:45 (a quarter to seven, for example). Point out that the clock numbers 12 to 6 relate to after the hour, while 6 to 12 relate to before. Reinforce ideas like this over and over so your child can gain ownership of clock time.

More time-practice:

Set a Timer. To motivate targeted behaviors (like smoother transitions), tell your child he has five minutes to finish his work, and set an alarm to signal when time is up.

Late Again? If punctuality is a problem, include it as a goal on a daily report card or as part of a behavioral contract with your child's teacher.

Beware of Dawdling Children with ADHD often use delaying tactics—like sharpening a pencil—to put off doing tasks they find boring.


Another essential time-management tool is a planner. Just like adults, children need a place to keep track of deadlines, appointments, and other information. A planner will help your child manage all she has to remember — assignments, team practice, birthday parties — and also enter her class schedule, a friend's number to call for homework help, and a detailed description of homework and due dates. The most effective book will have the same format as the teacher's planner. Help your child go over her planner regularly. With guidance, she can learn to write down all homework deadlines and avoid last-minute cramming and unpleasant surprises.

More planning practice:

Check Off That List Create a daily to-do list and help your child get in the habit of crossing off accomplished tasks like "bringing lunch money to office" or "return library books" at school and at home.

Write It Down Ask teachers to take a few minutes at the end of the school day to lead students in recording assignments in their planners. Teachers should present assignments both verbally and visually.

Time Estimation & Prioritizing

Schools assume that by fourth grade a child's understanding of time and sequencing has translated into the ability to manage a daily schedule and homework. Yet it's not realistic to expect a child with ADHD to go to her room, sit at her desk, and do all of her homework at once. So help her practice prioritizing.

First, figure out together how many homework assignments she has tonight, which are due tomorrow, and which of those is most challenging. Encourage her to start the most difficult homework first, when she's fresh and energetic. Consistent use of the planner will help your child learn how to prioritize and manage assignments.

Practice Time Estimation
Make a game out of predicting, timing, and checking your ADHD students' estimates of the time needed for various activities. How long does it take to walk from the kitchen to the mail box? To complete an assignment? You can also ask teachers to request and log your ADHD student's time estimates.

A number of the above tips were adapted with permission from and How to Reach and Teach Children with ADD/ADHD, Second Edition, Copyright 2005 by Sandra F. Rief.

More on ADHD Organization

Helping ADHD Students Get Organized for School

Stress-Free Morning Routines for ADHDers

School Organization 101

ADHD at School eBook –Prioritizing, Organizing, Time Management & More

More on Parenting ADHD Kids...

To share strategies for helping your ADHD child understand time, visit the Parents of ADHD Children support group on ADDConnect.

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TAGS: ADHD Time Management, Organization Tips for ADHD Kids, Back to School

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