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Tick Tock: Teaching My Kids Time Management

Find the personal angle to get your child to do tasks. And throw in a treat or two to prime the pump.

A man holding a watch he'll use for teaching kids time management
A man holding a watch he'll use for teaching kids time management

It’s easy to read a list of diagnostic criteria for ADHD in adults and pick yourself out from the crowd. Got that one. Yep. That one, too. Man. Wow. Yep. Yep. Dang. ADHD, despite its variances from person to person, is pretty clear to diagnose for some of us. What is difficult is teaching kids time management and convincing them they need these coping strategies for ADHD.

I have one child diagnosed with ADHD who shows no interest in my coping strategies. What do I know, right? I’m only Dad. Who cares that I’ve been living with ADHD for 50 years? Yes, 50. I was diagnosed with hyperkinesis at three weeks old. That was what they called ADHD in the ’60s. I couldn’t lift my head at that age, but up I’d come like Jack’s beanstalk if anybody put their fingers in my hands. I’ve tried all of my daughter’s life to share my coping strategies, but she’ll likely have to trip and stumble a bit on her own before she’s ready to process them.

My youngest, on the other hand, has undiagnosed ADHD. We’ve suspected it for some time, but she also has epilepsy, cerebral palsy, and learning disabilities, so if ADHD is in there, it is masked by the other conditions.

Even if she has pseudo-ADHD instead of true ADHD, there is much she can learn to manage her life. Tonight I had my first glimmer that maybe there was hope for her. She doesn’t have much patience for conversations that involve abstract concepts. “Do A, B, and C, and you can have Z” is sometimes more than she can follow, never mind “How do we organize A, B, and C so that we have time for Z?” Yet tonight, the years of trying to include her in the organizing process paid off.

We were running behind, so we had to eat dinner, return something at the store, do a library run, and drop my daughter off at a church function, all in 55 minutes. What helped is that only one of those tasks sounded boring—the store return. I spelled out clearly to her that we didn’t have much time to do everything, but since she was emotionally involved in most of the things we had to do, she was highly motivated.

I helped her see that we needed to eat first, but that dinner needed to be fast, so we microwaved something instead of preparing the pasta with sauce that I had originally planned. Then we ran out the door, which is something that she’s not very good at, and zipped into the store. Unfortunately, the store return took too much time. When I suggested that I do the library run without her so that she could be on time to her special needs group at church, she agreed. I almost fell out of the car. She may return to her normal myopic ways the next time we are in a hurry, but I am heartened that my years of teaching her how to organize herself yielded at least one success.

Teaching children how to be organized is difficult even without ADHD thrown into the mix. Here are some tips that help.

Find a way to emotionally connect your children to the tasks at hand. To make the store run happen, I involved candy. Other times, I teach them that cleaning their room helps them keep track of their stuff. Find an angle that strikes a personal chord.

Teach them that every activity takes up time. This task is the most abstract, but I have used pie slices and visuals to help them understand that they need to factor in time.

Don’t guilt them into being organized. The process works so much better if they think being organized is their idea. This is what I probably did wrong with my other daughter. I lectured too much. With my youngest, I guide gently. I teach on the sly.

Teaching children how to manage their time and tasks is a long process. Much of it depends on the maturity of the child involved, but there are things that you can do to help the process along. Keep at it!

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