Guest Blogs

The ADHD Paper Chain

I’ve discovered a very useful creative tool for helping children with ADHD better understand the passage of time and manage their anticipation.

I’ve been reading books about family traditions for a book review I just finished writing for Adoptive Families magazine, and I realized that we’ve started a new tradition with Natalie, for counting down to special occasions. It’s also an ADHD tip, of sorts, so I thought I’d share it with you.

Nat tends to be a concrete thinker, as I’d bet a lot of kids with ADHD and developmental delays are, so the concept of time can be difficult for her. She also has trouble waiting for — well, anything, really— and goes a little crazy when excited. Sound familiar?

Here’s a tip for helping your child gauge the time until birthdays, holidays, visits to grandparents, or other special occasions. Credit for this idea goes to Mrs. H; aka Beth Harmelink, the special ed teacher Natalie worked with last year.

About two weeks before school ended, Mrs. H had her kids make paper chains. Each link in the chain represented one remaining day of school.

You remember paper chains — to make a chain, cut strips of construction paper about 3/4 inch wide, and 4 inches long, in a variety of colors. Bend one strip to form a circle, and use tape, glue, or staples to secure it. Thread the next strip through your first circle, and form the second strip into another circle. A series of these interlocking circles forms a chain.

Beth had the kids write a number on each link of the chain, counting down from 10 to one. Nat brought her chain home, and we taped it up in our kitchen. Each morning, Natalie removed one link from the chain. When all the links were gone, it was the last day of school. Having this visual tool seemed to help Natalie understand the passage of time, and manage her anticipation a little better. She also got in a little practice with applied math. Best of all, she had fun!

In June, when Natalie kept asking how many more days there were before her birthday, Don helped her make a chain to count down. She loved it! She’s already asking how much longer it is until Christmas, and Don plans to make a Countdown-to-Christmas-Chain with her soon. He’s trying to hold her off for awhile. If they made the chain now, it would consume our entire kitchen!

Kids can get creative with making chains — add stickers, glue on sequins or glitter, or color-coordinate the paper to the occasion. They can write the actual dates on each link — Monday, September 15, for example. That will give them away if they impulsively cheat, and removed more than one link in the same day!

The paper chain can also be a great variation on a rewards chart. Instead of earning a sticker on a chart every time the child hangs up her backpack in the designated spot after school, for example, and after earning 5 stickers, receiving a reward, the child could take a link off of a paper chain each day. Write the reward on the last link, as a reminder of what the child is working toward. I know that any reinforcement we try with Natalie only works for a short time. We have to keep coming up with new systems to keep her interested.

This idea has a couple of hidden benefits-having the child actively participate in making the chain creates buy-in, and the project itself structures a bit of their time.

Natalie is terribly excited about joining Girl Scouts, and her first meeting is 2 weeks away. Time to make a chain!

DO try this at home! I’d love to hear if it works for you!

Thanks for the inspiration, Mrs. H!

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