ADHD Coping Strategies You Haven’t Tried
These 80 reader-tested ADHD coping strategies — high tech and low tech — might seem eccentric at first, but don’t we all? Use them to see your ADHD in a new light, and to dial in your best life.
Every issue of ADDitude features articles by experts giving their best advice for dealing with ADHD challenges. Their tips and strategies have changed many lives for the better. But everyone diagnosed with ADHD has his own set of challenges and favorite ways to meet them, based on circumstances, personality, and the severity of symptoms.
Many adults and parents who live with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) use strategies that they’ve devised themselves, modified, and refined. These tips don’t appear in articles about ADHD, but they work beautifully. (One tip that will help any adult with ADHD get up on time in the morning, for instance, is setting your coffeemaker to brew at 7 A.M. — and removing the pot. If you don’t get up, you will have a kitchen counter covered in java.)
What works for you may not work for someone else. So we compiled a wide range of tips, from our readers and the ADDitude community, for handling the challenges that adults and parents face every day. The tips worked for them, and they might work for you.
For Adults: Best Tips For Disorganization
I invite people over for dinner or a visit, so I have to clean up to get ready for them.
I carry a colorful wallet, so I can find it quickly in my handbag.
A few times a year, I get a clutter companion to help me sort clutter into four piles: “keep,” “toss,” “donate,” and “age.” I revisit the “age” items three months later, and make a decision then.
I create a document “hot spot” for time-sensitive documents. I place up to five papers there, each representing a different task that needs to be attended to within the next 24 hours.
I stay organized by hanging a list of tasks to do on the inside of my front door. I see it several times a day, including every time I leave the apartment.
I attach electronic fobs to my keys and other important items. I press a button on the base unit and follow the beeps to my keys.
I keep a small plastic baggie in my purse for receipts and another in the glove compartment of my car.
I store items that are used together near each other, so I don’t have to run around to get the things I need to do a job. I keep wrapping paper, tape, scissors, and ribbons in the same closet.
I clean up in stages. I’ll dust everything one day, clean the sink and toilet while my daughter is in the bath, and vacuum all the rooms on another day.
I turn on music and keep moving while I clean and tidy up from room to room.
I write important things down on brightly colored paper. It’s easier to find an orange or green to-do list if, and when, I misplace it.
After I clean up my dining room table, I set the table, so that I won’t put stuff on it again.
I write myself a note and stick it right in my pocket. When I reach for something in that pocket, I see what I need to do.
For Adults: Best Tips For Impulsive Moments
I say the Serenity Prayer a lot. In situations in which I might be impulsive, I tell myself to “play the tape forward.” It makes a huge difference for me.
My wife has been good at helping me be aware of my impulses. My biggest strategy is delay. I let a totally urgent impulse (usually a purchase) wait for a few days, up to a few months. If it’s really important, the “need” will still be there.
I turn an imaginary key in my pocket to “lock” my mouth when I want to say something impulsively.
I start each day with a five-minute mindfulness session, and I set a daily intention, which I focus on throughout the day. For instance: “Today I will notice my emotions and urges before acting on them.” I also set a reminder to do this, to keep me focused on it.
To curb impulsive shopping, I ask myself: Do I really need it? Do I absolutely love it? Do I know exactly where it will live at home? If I want to make an impulsive clothes purchase, I have rules: It has to fit me perfectly, look great on me, and I have to have a place in mind to wear it. If I answer no to any of these questions, I don’t buy it.
My impulse buys have been greatly reduced by using my smartphone camera! I take a picture of anything that looks awesome that I want. Later on, I look at the picture or show it to my husband, and decide if I still want it.
I mentally erase the faces of people that I have an urge to say something personal to. This helps me address the problem, not the person.
Google Keep is my favorite “jot down idea” app, because I can set reminders for my habit. When I jot down what I want to say, the impulsive feeling is quelled.
I plan ahead. I make sure I know who, what, where, and when before I go to an event or a meeting.
One of my favorite relaxation techniques has always been to clean house. It keeps me focused and physically engaged. When I clean something, anything, and make it look like new, I feel not only satisfaction but accomplishment.
When I am stressed, I read through e-mails that are unimportant. It distracts me, so I can calm myself down.
Meditation. It calms me, and helps me clear my brain of life’s challenges. I feel like I can start fresh.
Music and exercise! I was a dancer for 10 years, so turning on music and moving my body settles me very quickly. I also run, do strength training, or get outside, no matter what the weather is like. The smells, sounds, sun on my skin, and the beauty that surrounds me calm me immediately.
Listening to audio books satisfies my desire to read, and lets me think about the book, not the rest of the world.
The more I look at my phone, the less I can settle my mind. By putting the phone down, I unplug from social media and the Internet, reminding me that it’s only a small part of my life.
I garden for two hours a day.
I do Zumba. I have to focus so hard on getting the steps right that I can’t think about anything else.
My Bible and Christian and classical music calm me. I have memorized many verses that remind me of my worth in God’s eyes. I also refer to verses that remind me that I can do what I need to do.
Going for a walk in the woods helps, as does planning some time in the day when I’m allowed to just daydream.
For Adults: Best Tips For Getting Things Done
The Google calendar on my smartphone, with its reminder notifications and e-mails, is a lifesaver for me. Because it is on my phone, I am likely to have it with me at home, at work, or on the run.
E-mailing myself is a good way to keep track of work that has been accomplished or is underway. My e-mails remind me of things to do while my mind is focused on something else.
Call me old-fashioned, but sticky notes and making lists are key for me to remember what I need to do.
As an online college student, I paste my school assignments for the week into an e-mail I send to myself. As I complete assignments, I remove them from this list. It is impossible to lose the list.
I have one notebook that I write everything in.
My smartphone is my backup brain! Forget paper organizers. I take pictures when I see something that catches my interest that I want to do something about. I don’t have to write down a phone number or other information.
Google Calendar helps you organize your schedule by blocking out your time in different colors — very helpful for people with ADHD who need things to stand out.
A family calendar keeps everyone’s activities written down in one place. “Mom’s Taxi” is doing much better at dropping off and picking up the kids because there’s a calendar hanging up in an obvious place.
I use a Passion Planner. It’s a regular, pen-and-paper planner, but it has monthly “check up” questions to see how my month was. I can assess how I did with managing my time and get positive quotations to inspire me.
I use a pen/paper/calendar approach. Writing things down helps me to remember them, and hanging the calendar in a busy area gets me to notice when things are happening/due.
For Parents: Best Discipline Tips
When my son acts up, I take a time-out. I say, “I need time alone” and go to another room for a few minutes. Now he occasionally does this, too.
I never let my out-of-control child cause me to respond to him in kind. I talk to him in a calm voice.
I sit down with my child and make up reward coupons. The coupons are for whatever he loves to do — stay up late on a weekend night, eat pizza, earn $5. The point is to motivate the child to learn self-control.
I help my daughter feel valued, loved, and competent. When I do that, she is more likely to listen to me when I ask her to do something or not do something.
I keep my words to a minimum when I discipline my son. Words are like tires. Each time they rotate against the pavement, they lose tread and become less efficient at starting, stopping, and steering.
When I give my son commands, I use the same basic sentence structure for each one. For example, “Justin, you need to turn off the television” or “Justin, you need to put your shoes in your closet.” He soon realizes that any time he hears his name followed by “you need to,” he must comply.
I have a plan in place for when my teen misbehaves. If he skips school, calls me names, or breaks curfew, I know what I will say and how I will act, so I can deal with things calmly and constructively.
We do not criticize or punish him for things that are not under his control — such as the biological symptoms of ADHD. An adolescent with ADHD who has an emotional meltdown is not being “bad” — he is being emotional.
To avoid getting angry at my son’s misbehavior, I think like a cop. When a policeman pulls you over for speeding, he doesn’t yell at you or tell you how awful you are. He says, “Do you realize how fast you were going? License and registration.” You did the crime, you get the punishment. My son doesn’t intuitively know what’s expected of him and what’s going to happen, so I make a point of telling him ahead of time.
I talk softly, so that my son has to quiet down to hear me. His curiosity causes him to listen up.
For Parents: Best Tips For Getting Teachers On Your Team
Be as nice as possible and volunteer frequently for school activities. The school tends to help the child of the parent who is always helping the school.
We work best with teachers when we keep communication lines open. We ask for their suggestions to help us work together effectively. We acknowledge that our children’s needs require extra time and effort from them, and we make sure to thank them.
I e-mail teachers with positive feedback. Homing in on those teachers who accept your child, and encourage him, gets better results than trying to change a teacher who may never understand.
Show respect to the teacher, and he will respect the needs of your child.
I call teachers by their first names. It breaks down the parent-teacher barrier and encourages open discussion and partnership.
I bring a snack to teacher meetings. The teachers appreciate it, and it gets the meeting off to a good start.
I always start the meeting by telling my son, “This is the team that wants to see you do well at school. They want to know what will help you. Can you tell them what you think will help you do your best, and why you think it will help?”
The teacher and I share information, which has made us closer. We use a behavior card that goes from home to school, and back, each day. I send the teacher handy tips that I think are helpful from websites that address attention deficit.
I sometimes give a quick reminder to a teacher about the basics of an ADHD or Asperger diagnosis. It helps to re-focus her to be more positive in working toward a solution.
I calm him down before he starts — whether by playing with putty or a fidget toy. Oral stimulation takes the edge off, too: blowing bubbles, sucking sour candy or applesauce through a straw, or eating crunchy carrots. After this rest period, he is ready to go.
Because our son cannot handle normal household distractions, we take him to our public library every night when he has homework. I play on my computer or read a book while he does his work. He works and I relax.
We make homework a chore that he gets paid for.
I spend 15 minutes in the room with him, reading a magazine or organizing a drawer, until he gets underway with his homework. My presence settles his mind.
Hiring a tutor helped our teen organize and complete his work. He respects her, and his dad and I are no longer the “bad guys” in the homework battle.
Have her do it in school. My daughter was too embarrassed to be in a resource class, so she does her homework sitting outside the counselor’s office.
Joining a homework club has been a godsend. My son gets help right after school, while his meds are still working.
We scheduled an empty period in her school day, when she is most focused, to allow her to do her homework.
My son uses the “shifts approach” when studying. “Shifting” is not multitasking, it is having a student work on a subject until his attention starts drifting. When it drifts, he works on another subject.
For Parents: Best Tips For Kids Who Can’t Get To Sleep
I dim the lights in my twin daughters’ room, rock them in the rocking chair, read them a story, sing to them a bit, and then put on a special CD. They know that, when the CD starts, it is time for sleep.
We talk about my son’s day. We put all the good things on an imaginary disk and file it away in his memory bank. I ask him to delete the bad things, and he winds up falling asleep.
My daughter, who has ADHD and ODD, takes 5 mg. of melatonin before bed. It calms her down in 45 minutes, and helps her sleep soundly.
I have my son take a lukewarm bath or shower before bed, then have him read. The routine is reassuring to him and calms him down.
I give him a warm glass of milk and a nice, gentle back massage.
We play classical music and a repetitive video, like an animated ball bouncing across a TV or computer screen.
I turned my child’s bed away from the doorway, so he isn’t disturbed by light coming through it. And I bought a clock with a face that lights up only when it is pressed. Light is disruptive to a sound sleep.
I use a window fan to block out noise from the house and street. Also, I remove scratchy tags from pajamas, and I never combine flannel pajamas with flannel sheets. They stick together, which can prevent a child from settling down.
I have my child focus on her breathing while she visualizes an elevator, gently ascending and descending with every inhalation and exhalation. She is in dreamland in five minutes.
I lower the lights and have my son pray. I tell him to trust God to quiet his mind.
Best Strategies for a Better Life with ADHD
APPS 4 U: Do More Each Day
- My daughter uses the app Brili to accomplish routines that used to take more than an hour and required my supervision. With the app, she knocks things out in 40 minutes without supervision.
- I struggle with finances, and my husband and I fight about them a lot, especially when I make impulse purchases. The app YNAB is a godsend.
- I am always late for something — business meetings, dates, and so on — because I always start out late. Waze is a great traffic app that gets me to work and other places on time.
- Out of Milk helps me organize grocery lists. With this app, I scan in and categorize my household inventory, and set up specific lists for each place I will need to shop.
- We all forget our password from time to time, even if we don’t have ADHD. LastPass is a lifesaver when this happens. I create a master password, and the app gives me access to the 40 passwords I use.
APPS 4 U: Calm Down
- Headspace and Calm provide guided meditation. After a couple of minutes of listening, my brain is much calmer.
- I use an app called Breathe2Relax. It never fails to slow me down and come back to the present.
- I use BOLD Tranquility, which is like taking a 15-minute nap. It leaves me refreshed. I also listen to Yoga Nidra when my mind is racing. Its guided meditation scripts are calming.
- Naturespace delivers 3D nature sounds. The sound is so realistic that I feel like I’m actually at the beach, meadow, wherever.
APPS 4 U: Manage Time
- I love IQTell, which I use on my smartphone, iPad, and laptop. All of my e-mail and tasks are in one place, and as I receive new e-mail, the app allows me to turn it into tasks, projects, contacts, and calendars.
- Google Keep. It allows me to make a list and to set a reminder based on date and exact time.
- CalenMob syncs my school assignment calendar, Google Calendar, and Outlook Calendar into one place, so I don’t have to check three calendars. This has cut down on double- and triple-booking myself.
- The Pocket app saves links to articles I want to read later.
- I love Cortana. My phone is connected to my car through Bluetooth, so if I’m driving and remember something I need to do, I speak to Cortana to set a reminder.
- I use the Home Routines app. I check off my tasks, and the next day, the app resets them for me, based on what I have accomplished the day before. It’s invaluable.
- The biggest helper I have is an app called ColorNote. I can talk or type a new note at any time and put whatever I want into that note. Otherwise, I can’t remember where I put things I wrote down or what program I put them in.
Updated on May 3, 2019