Every parent wants their children to make good choices and have a happy, successful life. In order for this to happen, children must be able to prioritize and manage their time well. Unfortunately, this doesn’t come naturally for many children or parents. These skills must be developed and practiced on a regular basis. And, if your child has ADHD, chances are, organizing and planning are even more of a challenge.
As a mom of an almost 8-year-old with ADHD and an ADD husband (the verdict is still out on my brain!) planning and organizing have been key sources of frustration in our family. Low executive functioning skills, due to ADHD play a huge role in this. Attention priority, procrastination, organization challenges, and hyper-focus are common ADHD symptoms which make planning and organizing all the more difficult. Attention priority, procrastination, organization challenges, and hyper-focus are common ADHD symptoms which make planning and organizing all the more difficult.
To further comprehend the disorder, it’s helpful to understand what’s happening inside the brain. This has been discovered through brain imaging which shows, in the most common types of ADD, a lack of dopamine in the prefrontal cortex which controls executive functioning. This basically means, what’s happening in the brain when we ask it to multi-task. It’s the ability to think ahead and organize; to ask “what should I do first?”
People with ADD and executive functioning skills have been found to be about 25-30% behind their calendar age so, a 7-year-old with ADD would have the executive functioning skills of a 5-year-old, a 15-year-old those of an 11-year-old, and a 35-year-old those of a 26-year-old.
Here are a few things you can do to ensure children effectively set priorities and manage time.
1. Fine-tune parents’ skills
In order to keep your children on time and focused on the important things, begin by fine-tuning your own priorities, routines, and time management skills. Not only are you setting a good example for your children now, but for the future as well. When your children have kids of their own, they will have a good idea of what they should do as a parent. Look at how you can improve your priorities, and routines, as well as your time management skills. Make adjustments where they are needed.
While this may seem like an obvious answer, it’s easier said than done, especially for the parent (and spouse of a parent) with ADHD. If you don’t have one already, I suggest starting with a morning routine. Start simple with a 5 minute mindfulness activity, sharing of your top 2-3 goals for the day, and being consistent about your start-time/transition to work or whatever you have planned for the day. Intentionality, mindfulness, and kindness towards yourself go a long way.
2. Identify wants, needs, and time limits
As you go through the day, let your children hear what you are thinking as you prioritize and make decisions. For example, “I want this chocolate bar but I don’t need it. I’ll wait to get it some other time.” “I want to stop by Janie’s house too, but we need to get the ice cream into our freezer before it melts.” If your children are a bit older, you may want to have a conversation specifically about wants, needs, priorities, and time limits. Depending on the children’s ages, you could make up a word game where you say a word and the children identify the item as a need or want. Older children can take it a step further. When they identify something as a “want”, they can then think of a scenario when the item would be considered a “need”.
3. Establish children’s routines
Following a routine is extremely important to babies and young children. They help the kids feel safe and know what to expect. While babies will have a limited amount of input regarding routines, they will let you know when adjustments need to be made. Young children are able to “help” establish parts of their routines. As you decide what to include and when to include it, give the children a choice and a voice when possible. This gives them a feeling of ownership and sense of control. When the children know that their opinions matter and you will help them make adjustments as needed, they are more likely to follow routines with less procrastination and complaining.
4. Keep track of time
Place at least one clock in each room of the house. As you and your children go about your daily activities, having the ability to check the time is the key to staying on a schedule. As soon as your children are old enough, give each one and age-appropriate watch. Depending on the activity, you may also want to have a few small timers in specific rooms such as in the kitchen and the study/work areas.
5. Plan and Schedule it
Maintain and check calendars. Each family member needs an individual calendar, which contains his or her own personal routines and scheduled items. As a parent, you will need to maintain a master family calendar or planner. This should include the highlights for each of the children and the adults. This information can also be added on a whiteboard in the kitchen. As information and plans change, everyone can make the update there as well as in their personal planner. This gives everyone a central place to find out what is going on. Can’t find Mom? A quick look at the whiteboard let’s everyone know she’s run away from home and will be back when she’s found her sanity.
6. Set personal priorities
On a daily basis, each person should set four personal priorities or “must dos” in their personal schedules. There should be at least one priority in each of the areas – school or work, home & family, self, and others or volunteering. Your children’s priorities may look something like this: School – 1. Study for tomorrow’s Science test. 2. Finish Math homework. Home & Family – 1. Take out the trash. 2. Wash dinner dishes. Self – 1. Watch favorite TV show. Others/Volunteer – 1. Help Jon with homework. 2. Mow the neighbor’s yard. When this is written out, your children should organize these priorities in the order of importance. In this case, there are seven top-priority items, so your children should order these from 1 to 7 and do them in that order.
7. Create a productive study/work area
Children need to study and work in an area that contains all of the tools and information needed to complete the task. Choose an area of the house that is quiet. While children sometimes prefer a bit of white noise in the background, the area should be rather quiet initially. The area should also be comfortable, with a variety of places to sit and work. This allows children to change positions according to current needs and moods. Check out my DIY homeschooling room ideas for small spaces with ADHD for more ideas.
8. Make a study plan
Outside of the family, school is the most important thing in your children’s lives. They spend most of their days learning and a good portion of their afternoons/evenings practicing what they have learned. To help them keep things balanced, work with them set up a daily homework/study routine and a study plan as soon as they start to school. Obviously, the plan will change as your children get older. However, begin by noting when and how each of your children learns best during the day as well as the afternoon/evening hours. Even if there is little or no homework in a specific subject, read over the notes made in class. Reviewing a little each day is far more effective than trying to learn everything just before a test.
9. Limit distractions
While limiting distractions and interruptions is important for everyone, it is very important for children who have difficulty maintaining their focus. Keep in mind that there are external distractions and internal distractions. In many cases, it is much easier to limit or avoid the external distractions. For the most part, it’s just a matter of manipulating the environment. Internal distractions are often a little more difficult to control. The solution in many cases hinges on the children’s ability to self-regulate impulsive behaviors and thoughts. Until children are able to do this on their own, you will need to help them identify the behavior or thought pattern and redirect them back to the task at hand.
10. Keep it organized
Organization is a major factor in time management as well as setting priorities and meeting goals. In fact, effective organizing is the glue that holds everything else together. For example, if a routine or schedule has been set up but nobody remembers what it is, the routine isn’t doing anyone any good. So, make sure that everything from routines to study tools and supplies are organized in a way that enables everyone to find the items and information needed in a timely manner.
At some point, everyone has had a difficult time determining what is important and what isn’t. Even after deciding what is important, it isn’t always clear when an action should be taken. Begin teaching your little ones early to ensure children effectively set priorities and manage time, keeping in mind the child’s developmental age rather than calendar age. Be kind, go slow, and remember this is a long-game, not something that needs to or will be learned overnight. It may take some trial and error but ultimately you’ll find your rhythm and be able to do what works…for you.
We are SO curious to hear what organizational and planning tips have worked for your family (hey, we are still learning, too.) Drop a comment below so we can share ideas!
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