Written by: Angela M. Pfeiffer, Ph.D. Clinical Psychologist
Time is a fascinating concept, really. When we are doing something we enjoy, time flies. When doing something tedious, it crawls like a snail. Of course, it never really changes, it just feels like it.
Most of us have a general sense of how long 5 minutes is, or how long it takes us to brush our teeth, or drive to work, or finish a project. This is not generally true for people with ADHD. A plethora of studies has shown that individuals with ADHD simply judge time much less accurately than those without ADHD. As a result, and much to the chagrin of parents, kids with ADHD often overestimate the amount of time they have left before having to leave the house and underestimate the amount of time needed to finish a homework assignment.
Something for parents to consider when trying to help your kids learn to manage time is the way time might feel to your ADHD child. For a child who struggles with managing her behavior or staying focused for more than a few minutes at a time, tedious, repetitive or boring activities (like math problems or writing spelling words 10 times each) can seem exceedingly long and soon become absolutely unbearable. Forcing her to endure such time demands is likely to result in frustration on your part and hers – unless you get a bit creative.
Now consider the opposite. Children with ADHD can also get over-focused in activities they love, and completely lose track of time. Classic examples are playing video games, watching TV, surfing the Net, and building with Lego’s. Their sense of time flies out the window during these activities. Kids (and adults) will only realize after something snaps them out of the zone that much more time than they thought has flown by.
Summer is coming to a close and school demands are back in play. So now is the perfect time to start to consider your child’s specific time needs. What are his interests? What activities cause her to lose track of time? What activities should be easy and take only a few minutes, but always take him forever?
Consider the following school time activities that may cause problems in your home because of your child’s difficulties with time:
· Having the TV on during morning or bedtime routines – does your child get “sucked into” the TV at the expense of getting ready? · Allowing him time on the computer before homework – does your child lose track of how long he is on the computer, therefore leaving little time for homework? · Doing homework – does your child get frustrated with homework, even homework that “should take only a few minutes, if he’s just do it!”? · Doing homework in silence – does your child seek stimulation in under stimulating environments? · Planning for long term projects – does your child overestimate the amount of time she has to do the project and underestimate the amount of time actually needed for the project? · Keeping track of when projects are due and tests are scheduled – does your child frequently seem to have no real sense of what her teachers expect of her? · Piano practice – does your child lose patience within a few minutes of practicing the same tunes? · Playing baseball – does your child tolerate long time in the outfield with no action, or does he get distracted, silly, frustrated or bored?
There are of course many more examples of ways parents struggle with their ADHD kids. But let’s start with these, just to hopefully get you thinking a little differently about these roadblocks.
· Leaving the TV off, unplugging the computer, and putting away the handheld videogames during those “getting ready” times is ADHD 101. This is a must. You can use screen-time for a reward when all ready, but not before, otherwise you risk them losing track of time. · Starting homework right after getting home, but allowing your child short breaks during homework to do something silly and/or physical (do jumping jacks, stand on his head, throw a ball with the dog, watch one episode of Spongebob), or to stand while doing homework can really help. Some kids find it helpful to cover half of the homework page, until finished with that portion. Both of these coping strategies help them feel less overwhelmed with what appears to them to be an endless task. Remember if it is tedious to him, it will feel like there is no end in sight, which can be very frustrating. Find ways to make it more tolerable. · Get your child and/or family a calendar. If you need to be in contact with her teacher to get assignments on the calendar, do that. You are not enabling her; you are modeling for her good time management. Break projects into small chunks and let her reward herself after each accomplishment. (Rewards don’t have to be monetary – baking cookies with dad, a bike ride with you, movie night, etc.) You want to encourage success because working on a project ahead of time may not come easily to her. · Set up homework time and place carefully, with your particular child’s needs in mind. Many books recommend eliminating outside noise during homework time. This can be counterproductive for some ADHD kids. If you find this is true for your child, experiment with different types of sounds. White noise, soothing music, classical music, jazz music, etc. You have lots of options. And, changing the music up periodically can make the environment just stimulating enough for your child. · Choose extracurricular activities carefully. If a child LOVES baseball or softball, great. But, if that down time is too much for her, don’t force it. Find a sport that is more active: soccer, hockey, basketball, karate. If you want your child to play an instrument, great. But again if your child does not have the patience to practice 3 to 5 times per week without a fight, you might need to wait until he’s older and it is something he is interested in.
One more thing to keep in mind when you are planning how to help your child with before and after school time commitments is the impact of medication on his mood and attention. Encourage a schedule that accommodates these ups and downs. For instance if you know your child is irritable around 6:00, try to get homework done before that time. If your child is really wound up right after school, give her a break before tackling homework.
More than anything, parents need to take a look at their child’s ability to manage time. If it is a struggle for your child, accept that this is the case, and treat it as any other skill that you need to teach. It may be a slow process, but your child will need your patience, understanding, modeling, and direction.