Managing Time

Be On Time! Teaching Sequence and Schedules

Most children — with or without ADHD — struggle to organize and manage their time effectively. Here, learn how to use calendars and clocks to teach your child the value of strong priorities and to help him be on time more often.

Close up of stopwatch signifying the way boredom stretches time for ADHD people
Close up of stopwatch signifying the way boredom stretches time for ADHD people

How Do I Get My Child with ADHD Be On Time?

Getting organized and learning to be on time are not innate skills. Any child — with or without ADHD — must create and maintain organizational systems that make sense to him. For children with ADHD, whose ability to organize, prioritize, and manage time is affected by neurological deficiencies, setting up and maintaining organization routines can be quite difficult.

That’s where you come in. Understanding and managing time is a huge part of being organized, so think of yourself as your child’s time management consultant. Work with her to not only master time concepts, but learn to take control of time. Make sure your child is involved when setting up routines so that she will be invested in finding what works best for her. Help your child practice her skills on a regular basis, and follow through with the systems you create together.

Continue for tips on how to help your child with ADHD master time concepts and start on the path to better organization and time management.

Teaching Sequence to Kids with ADHD

Children first learn about time by being exposed to sequence and routine: First you have a bath, then you have a story, then you go to sleep. Eventually, sequences include the concept of before and after: Before dinner you will take a bath. In kindergarten and first grade, teachers often put up a daily schedule and use words and pictures to review the sequence of the day. Reinforce these concepts at home by making sequence clear to your child by giving specific verbal cues — first, next, then, before, after — as you develop your own routines.

Ask questions as you go about your routine: What comes next? Do you remember what you did first? Reinforce sequence comprehension by giving a series of directions using verbal cues, and make it fun (“First do ten jumping jacks, then write your name backwards”) and have your child give you directions as well. Tell him that you are doing this to help him learn how to listen carefully and pick up on important words that tell us what order to do things in. Ask him to point out words that are related to time. A child who masters the concept of sequence will be better able to organize and prioritize tasks down the road.

[Free Sample Schedules for Reliable Routines]

Concepts of before and after eventually develop into yesterday, today, and tomorrow, and develop further into past, present, and future. Again, as your child learns these concepts, support them at home. Talk about future vacation plans or reminisce about his last birthday party.

Be On Time! Calendar Skills for Kids with ADHD

By the end of first grade, your child should know the names and sequence of the days of the week. He should also know what days come before and after any day you name. As your child grows, the calendar will help him develop other skills, like accountability. He can see when you will or will not be available to help with a project, and can plan accordingly and assume responsibility for himself.

Introduce the calendar concept to your child with weekly calendars. The weekly format works best for children with ADHD as they tend to live in the present and they will more easily be able to learn the concepts of yesterday, tomorrow, and so on.

Fill in the dates on the calendar at the beginning of each week. At the top write the month in name and its number (October = 10th month). Next to each day, write the numerical month and day (Monday, 10/24). This will help your child make associations quickly and not have to count 10 months from January on his fingers.

Calendars offer a multisensory learning opportunity: It is a visual record of activities that works kinesthetically as you write down and cross off activities, and it prompts auditory reinforcement as you talk about the day’s events. Write out everyone’s schedule each week including appointments, dinners, sports practice and so on. At the end of each day, have your child cross off completed activities. Discuss the next day’s activities as you emphasize, “This is what we’ll do tomorrow, Friday.”

Be On Time! Clocks & Timers

By second grade, students are introduced to the clock and are taught to tell time. Clocks are reviewed again in third grade — and after this children are expected to infer that calendars and clocks can be used to determine the sequence of events and create routines. Unfortunately, many kids, particularly those with ADHD, do not make these leaps and can become lost in school as a result.

Which are the best clocks to teach time to kids with ADHD? Digital clocks present time as a static present-tense thing, greatly affecting kids’ ability to conceive of and gauge time. Analog clocks show that time moves — and let a child know where she stands in relation to the rest of the hour or the rest of the day. We need to reintroduce analog clocks so children can “see” time and learn to place events in context.

Practice telling time with your child at home. Ask her for a different way to say 6:45 (a quarter to seven, for example). Point out that the clock numbers 12 to 6 relate to after the hour, while 6 to 12 relate to before. Reinforce ideas like this over and over so your child can gain ownership of clock time.

More time-practice:

Set a Timer. To motivate targeted behaviors (like smoother transitions), tell your child he has five minutes to finish his work, and set an alarm to signal when time is up.

Late Again? If punctuality is a problem, include it as a goal on a daily report card or as part of a behavioral contract with your child’s teacher.

Beware of Dawdling. Children with ADHD often use delaying tactics — like sharpening a pencil — to put off doing tasks they find boring.

[Read This: The Best Timers — Recommendations from ADDitude]

Be On Time! Planners

Another essential time-management tool is a planner. Just like adults, children need a place to keep track of deadlines, appointments, and other information. A planner will help your child manage all she has to remember — assignments, team practice, birthday parties — and also enter her class schedule, a friend’s number to call for homework help, and a detailed description of homework and due dates. The most effective book will have the same format as the teacher’s planner. Help your child go over her planner regularly. With guidance, she can learn to write down all homework deadlines and avoid last-minute cramming and unpleasant surprises.

More planning practice:

Check Off That List. Create a daily to-do list and help your child get in the habit of crossing off accomplished tasks like “bringing lunch money to office” or “return library books” at school and at home.

Write It Down. Ask teachers to take a few minutes at the end of the school day to lead students in recording assignments in their planners. Teachers should present assignments both verbally and visually.

Be On Time! Time Estimation & Prioritizing

Schools assume that by fourth grade a child’s understanding of time and sequencing has translated into the ability to manage a daily schedule and homework. Yet it’s not realistic to expect a child with ADHD to go to her room, sit at her desk, and do all of her homework at once. So help her practice prioritizing.

First, figure out together how many homework assignments she has tonight, which are due tomorrow, and which of those is most challenging. Encourage her to start the most difficult homework first, when she’s fresh and energetic. Consistent use of the planner will help your child learn how to prioritize and manage assignments.

Practice Time Estimation

Make a game out of predicting, timing, and checking your student’s estimates of the time needed for various activities. How long does it take to walk from the kitchen to the mail box? To complete an assignment? You can also ask teachers to request and log your student’s time estimates.

A number of the above tips were adapted with permission from and How to Reach and Teach Children with ADD/ADHD, Second Edition, Copyright 2005 by Sandra F. Rief.

[Your Child’s ADHD Is an Iceberg]