Managing Time

My Daughter, The Time Traveler

I wasn’t doing my daughter any favors by managing time for her. How my teenager with ADHD learned to manage her own schedule.

A whiteboard with markers to help children manage time and not be late for school
Whiteboard with dry-erase markers

I poked my head into my teenage daughter’s room at 11 a.m. It was another lazy summer morning, and Lee sat at her desk Skyping with a friend, oblivious to the time. She was still dressed in pajama pants, her red hair an uncombed mass of curls. Her room was a mess.
“I’ll be in the car,” I said.

“What? OK.”

“I’ll be in the car” meant get ready and get ready fast. I walked to the car, got in, put on some music and relaxed. I knew it would still be five minutes before we left, but it was much better than a year ago when it looked like this:

“Twenty minutes!”

“Ten minutes!”


And finally Lee’s response, “You forgot 15!”

I was a human alarm clock, and I wasn’t doing either of us any favors.

Back then, I had tried giving her a timer to follow, but when it sounded, she just ignored it, happy the loud ticking had gone away. But she couldn’t ignore my knocking and barking out the time. It was a routine we’d developed that enabled Lee to be ready on time.

I also knew that year before high school was time for her to develop and rely on her own strategies to get out of the house. But how could she when ADHD made it so hard to be punctual and remember everything she had to do? At the same time, I was tired of being a helicopter mom, hovering nearby. “Did you brush your teeth? Your hair? Remember your lunch? Where are your sneakers?”

Lee inevitably threw open her door and glared at me, a mass of confusion swirling in her wide brown eyes. “One thing at a time!”

Something had to change.

We started with a list of everything Lee needed to do before she left the house. It was written in black bold marker and we hung it on her bathroom wall. She made sure her iPad was set to go off at the same time each morning. And we bought a large, conspicuous wall clock for her bedroom and hung it by her door. I told her the time we’d have to leave the house and gave her one prompt, usually “Ten minutes,” followed by, “I’ll be in the car.” If she chose, like today, to Skype instead of getting dressed, she’d have to change in the car.

At least she was developing her own methods for making it on time and, if she didn’t, facing her own consequences. Last week, when she didn’t leave time to find her favorite shoes, she had to wear the backup ones, which gave her blisters. This week, she took off her favorite shoes outside her door, so that they were easy to locate. She was happier without me hovering nearby. What teenager wants to take orders?

Even though she cut corners, still forgot things, and rolled into school looking like she just got out of bed, at least she was starting the journey into adulthood by her own clock. However, I will let you in on a little secret. I start the countdown five minutes earlier than the intended time. That’s my strategy for giving her a head start.