Why Is My Child Always Late?!
As an ADHD coach and, maybe more importantly, a mom, I know how challenging it can be to help our kids learn practical time management skills. It's a crucial skill for them to develop, especially as they prepare for independent living. It’s one of the biggest issues with ADHD, this difficulty with time management. How often do your kids lose track of time, run late or leave 5 minutes for something that we know will take 20?! It’s baffling because you know you taught them how to tell time! But did you teach them how time feels?
Most individuals with typical neurology possess an internal “clock” that generally gauges how much time has passed. People with ADHD often don’t have an internal concept of time or what an amount of time feels like. This is because their brains are wired differently, and they have a harder time processing information about time. They tend to think of now and not now, and the not-now gets forgotten. Summer might be a great time to tackle this issue. Are they going to camp or a job each day? Use those to teach them what time feels like because they may not know. And if they don’t know what 10 minutes feels like, they won’t get to the car in 10 minutes.
One common frustration parents share is their child's struggle with getting to school on time or finishing homework at the last minute. Here's the thing: Kids with ADHD are also frustrated. They often experience "time blindness," making it difficult to perceive time passing. Difficulties with time perception, such as a sense of time moving faster and difficulties in time-related tasks, may be a central symptom in individuals with ADHD or Autism. Help them get the feel of time by incorporating time-related concepts into daily activities. For example, discuss the time it takes to walk to school, the duration of a favorite TV show, or the time it takes to prepare a meal. Making time tangible in real-life situations enhances understanding. On top of that, issues with impulse control, distractibility, poor planning, and disorganization can make it even more challenging for them to master time management.
What causes some of us to be “time blind?”There are a few factors. Neurologically, differences in brain structure and function — including the prefrontal cortex and other areas responsible for executive functions — may play a role in time perception. For example, research suggests that people with ADHD may experience dysfunction in the frontal cortex, which is linked to time perception and executive functions. Dopamine dysregulation is also associated with attention and time perception and is often observed in individuals with ADHD. This may affect their ability to gauge the passage of time accurately. And cognitive processing differences may affect it as well. Some people may process information in a nonlinear or atypical manner, making it difficult to gauge time accurately.
Time Management Strategies
So, let's dive into some strategies and real-life examples to empower you and your child on this time-learning journey.
Many kids with ADHD struggle to feel time passing, so we need to help them see it move. Introduce analog clocks to represent time visually. Create a color-coded schedule using different colors for various activities. For instance, assign one color to homework time, another for playtime, and so on. This visual cue helps your child anticipate and transition between different tasks. Then, teach them how to work backward by starting with their desired time goal and subtracting the time required for different tasks. For example, if your child needs to leave the house by 8 AM, calculate how long it takes to have breakfast, get dressed, brush their teeth, and gather their belongings. By breaking it down, they'll have a clear schedule and understand how to manage their time effectively.
One of my clients has a 9-year-old with ADHD who struggled with getting ready for school on time. Using the backward design, his parents helped him understand how long each task took. Visual schedules or to-do lists with clear time blocks for each task or activity can help them visualize their day and stay on track. So my client created a checklist for him to refer to in the mornings, which boosted his organization and time management skills. Tommy now enjoys checking off each task and taking control of his morning routine.
You can also incorporate games that involve time, such as setting a timer for a quick cleanup challenge or a race against the clock for certain activities. Making it a fun and interactive experience can enhance their time awareness. While screen time can be an issue and a time-suck for our kids, it also offers some benefits. Explore educational games or apps designed to teach time management skills. There are interactive tools that allow children to practice setting clocks, managing schedules, and understanding time intervals. And remember to implement countdowns for transitions. Let your child know that it's time to move on to the next activity when the countdown is over. This adds a sense of urgency and helps in preparing for changes.
Now, let's discuss why parents must step back from managing their child's time. While taking control and ensuring everything is done on time may feel easier, it hinders their ability to develop self-management skills. Imagine this scenario: your child struggles to get up in the morning, and you become their alarm clock, rushing them through their morning routine. By doing everything for them, they learn they don't need to take responsibility because you'll always be there to rescue them. It's time to gradually shift that responsibility and empower them to manage their time. One way to do this is by keeping to daily routine and schedule. When our kids know what to do when, it takes all the stress and anxiety out of it for them. That leaves room for them to focus on their tasks and succeed. That success builds resilience and confidence. These little wins show it’s time for you to step back so they can step up.
The Importance of Independence
Start by discussing the need for change and why it's essential for their growth and independence. If you make it about something that will benefit them, they will be more open to listening. Choose one aspect of their routine to focus on, like waking up in the morning. Together, brainstorm strategies to help them empower themselves, such as using multiple alarm clocks or establishing a bedtime routine. Discuss the natural consequences of not managing their time effectively, like being tardy or walking instead of getting a ride. Patience and consistency are key as they learn and make progress. Once they master one skill, introduce another, and build their time management abilities step by step.
Emily, a 14-year-old with ADHD, had a habit of leaving her homework until the last minute. Her parents gradually shifted the responsibility to her by setting up a designated study area and discussing the consequences of procrastination. They also implemented a reward system: for every completed, on-time assignment, Emily earned points toward a special outing with her friends. This motivated her to manage her time more effectively and improved her productivity. With increased productivity came some belief and confidence in herself. Sometimes, “little stuff” is really going to have a big impact.
Why are we talking about motivators–isn’t that bribing? Traditional punishments rarely work and don't teach your child anything. Instead, focus on meaningful motivators that inspire them to make positive choices. Every child is unique, so take the time to understand your kids' motivating options. Remember, instilling effective time management skills in kids with ADHD requires love, patience, and consistency. Let's say your child loves waffles with whipped cream. You can use that as a reward for coming to breakfast on time..It's all about finding what resonates with them and using those activities or rewards to incentivize better time management.
Remember, instilling effective time management skills in kids with ADHD requires love, patience, and consistency. It might be tempting to do everything for them, but teaching them to manage their time will benefit them in the long run. Believe me, it will help you too. Imagine how it will feel not to nag, not to worry, not to constantly be on top of them, to get places on time. In turn, you will have more energy, more patience, and therefore less stress. Less stress brings fewer negative comments or exasperation, which means a better connection to your kiddo. And it means they gain more confidence, resilience, and perseverance. Talk about a win-win!!