Ask the Experts

Q: My Child Has No Concept of Time!

Time is three-dimensional: It has a past, present, and future. Plus, it’s always moving forward. The abstract nature of time makes it tricky for kids to master, especially if they have ADHD. Here, learn how to help your child increase their awareness and mastery of time.

Q: “My son is 9 and was recently diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). He has no concept of time even though I provide minute countdowns. His room is constantly cluttered and asking him to keep things better organized always ends in a battle. We’ve posted two visual aids in his room—one that shows him what his room looks like when it’s neat and the other one shows him the steps involved in his morning routine.” – Mummy.G


Hi Mummy.G:

I want to focus on helping you teach your son some time-management strategies and its been a while since I’ve offered organizing tips and tools. If you’re looking for help with organization, please feel free to scroll through my ADDitude columns for specific articles I’ve written on the subject — there are quite a few! Or feel free to visit my website at orderoochaos.com for tons of great ideas.

Now let’s tackle time!

Sadly, a magical elixir for learning time-management skills does not exist. But I recommend keeping this “mantra” in mind as you help your son: You need to see time in order to learn how to manage it.

If you want to truly help your son be on time, then make time as visible as possible. Start by hanging analog clocks! Yes, you heard me. My #1 tool for leaning about time is a good, old-fashioned analog clock. Simply put, an analog clock with hands lets you see time move — and where you stand in relation to the rest of the day. Analogs also help you understand how long it takes to complete a task and how much time you have before you need to go on to another activity. Bonus!

[Free Resource: A Routine That Works for Kids with ADHD]

So hang a clock in every room of the house your son uses (including the bathroom) so he can see the passing of time when he is getting dressed for school, eating breakfast, doing homework, showering, etc.  His “time sense” will start to develop as he sees time move.

And that is the key ingredient. We live in a digital world and, frankly, digital clocks are not going to cut it if you really want your son to be able to see his time. Or plan it.  Why? Because time is three dimensional. It has a past and a future. A beginning and an end. It never stops moving.

The hardest lesson I had to learn as a parent was to stop telling my children what to do all the time. And I noticed in your question that you wrote that YOU provide minute countdowns for your son. If you truly want your son to learn time management, you need to transfer some of the ownership on to him. How do we do this? By talking less and questioning more. Let me show you an example.

What is your plan…?

I love this question because you can put almost anything at the end of it. “What’s your plan after school?” “What’s your plan after you finish dinner?” “What’s your plan for getting your homework done tonight if you have rehearsal for the school play?” The list can go on and on.

[Free Resource: ADHD Time Assessment Chart]

The purpose of asking this question in this manner is to help your son begin to develop a sense of time; to see ahead of him and to begin planning accordingly. It’s also a wonderful and organic way for your son to begin to formulate routines and schedules, and to remember what he needs to accomplish in the process.

One more “timely” tip: Use alarms and timers. They can help your son become more aware of time. I find the sounds jar you out of whatever you’re doing and allow your mind to focus on what’s in front of you. Set multiple alarms if he needs it make sure he transitions or gets started when necessary.

If you want more tips for time management, check out our one-hour “It’s About Time” video on my website, filled with tools to help you get your son time managed. Good Luck!

[Free Resource: Routines for Morning and Night]


ADHD Family Coach Leslie Josel, of Order Out of Chaos, will answer questions from ADDitude readers about everything from paper clutter to disaster-zone bedrooms and from mastering to-do lists to arriving on time every time.

Submit your questions to the ADHD Family Coach here!

Updated on November 20, 2019

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