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The Tale of the Two-Hour Stir Fry (aka Building ADHD Life Skills)

Every parent of a high-school student will tell you: Building ADHD life skills is critical — and so, so difficult. The task that might take you 20 minutes becomes a meandering, two-hour odyssey in the hands of your eager but easily distracted. And then there are all those dishes.

One great thing about having older kids is being able to tell them, “If you’re hungry, go into the kitchen and make yourself something.” We don’t say this often, but every once in a while Laurie and I are just done. Are we the worst parents in the world for forcing our kids to microwave their own Ramen noodles or peel the lid off their own fruit cup? We sort of doubt it. But building ADHD life skills can be hard. 

That said, we’re not yet ready to assign family meals to the kids — unless, of course, they get started at around 2pm. You see, my kids are easily distracted. Case in point: our oldest, Isaac, who asked me the other day if he could make himself some stir fry around 7pm, after the rest of us had already eaten dinner. I told him to go ahead.

“Let’s keep it simple,” I say. “Veggie only.”

“Ok!” he says.

So he goes into the kitchen. A few minutes later, I hear the “Hamilton” soundtrack blaring from our Bluetooth speaker. And I hear him singing along. Which is both precious and annoying. I let this go on for three or four songs before I shout to him, “How’s it going?” 

“Um, fine.”

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I don’t care for the “um” so I go into the kitchen and see he’s accomplished slicing half an onion. “Buddy,” I say, “How about we kill the music so you can focus.” 

He gives me a blushing grin and says, “OK.”

I go back in the living room and sit down. A few minutes later, I see Jayden go into the kitchen, and I hear the boys talking. I zone out for I don’t know how long until I hear their voices get louder, so I go back in the kitchen and find them in a full-blown argument.

“What’s going on?” I ask.

“Nothing,” they both say in unison.

“I heard arguing.”

“We were discussing who’s the better Marvel villain: Warmonger or Thanos.”

“Um,” I say. I’m not sure what to say next. I look down and see Isaac has finished slicing the onion and has started on a bell pepper. “Buddy,” I say, “It’s been over a half hour and you haven’t sliced two vegetables. Let’s focus here. And, Jayden, you gotta go. You’re a distraction.”

So Jayden runs off, but less than five minutes later I hear Vivi go into the kitchen and ask Isaac to borrow his Apple charger. “Nope,” I shout from the next room. “It can wait until after he’s had dinner.”

By now, it’s bedtime for the younger kids. So Laurie’s upstairs getting them settled, and she shouts to Isaac, “What’s up with this basket of clean laundry from last week? Did you have a game plan for putting away these clothes?”

“Um,” he says.

“After he eats,” I say — to him and Laurie.

Sometime around 8:30 pm he sits down to eat, but then I watch him spend another five minutes prepping his sauces: soy, Sriracha, and teriyaki. And he’s using them all. He spends so much time digging around in the fridge, I see the steam from his bowl peter out. “Dad?” He asks. “Where’s the sweet and sour sauce?”

“I think you had better eat,” I say.

I come back into the kitchen at 9 pm to tell him to get ready for bed, and find him watching a show on his phone, his bowl half eaten. “What are we doing here?” I ask.

“What do you mean?” He’s genuinely confused, so I slap my forehead. Literally.

“You’ve been in this kitchen for two hours now and you’re not done?!”

“Oh, yeah, sorry about that.”

As he hops up from the table, I shake my head and ponder the pros and cons of this whole independent meal-preparation thing. I like the perception that one less meal takes a burden off my back, but in reality it’s clearly outweighed by the amount of work it takes to keep him on task. Plus, I notice the amount of clean-up he obviously hasn’t noticed. So before he’s halfway out the kitchen I say, “Buddy?”

“Yes?”

“Dishes”

“Oh yeah,” he says, and flashes me another blushing grin. “Sorry about that.”

[Free Webinar Replay: Teaching Life Skills to Children and Teens with ADHD]

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