Although time management can be challenging for anyone, kids with learning disabilities and ADHD often have a harder time with it than other students. If your child struggles to complete assignments, misses deadlines, procrastinates getting started, or doesn’t know where to begin, he or she needs to brush on basic time-management skills. It is important to help your child understand that just like any other muscle, strengthening the time-management “muscle” takes consistent training. Following are tools and tips to help your child master these important skills, which are fundamental to success—particularly as students reach higher grades.
Time Management Strategies
- Use a planner. Whether your child uses a paper planner or an electronic calendar, make sure her planner is set up as a grid system so she can see her week at a glance. Have her record all her class assignments, after-school activities, work commitments, and plans with friends. This will allow her to know what she needs to do and when she has time for planning to get other things done.
- Start with the tough tasks first. Encourage your child to do the hardest, longest or least-liked activity first so that he will find it satisfying to move on to tasks he finds less daunting or more enjoyable.
- Show time passing. Hang an analog clock in each room that your child does homework in so she can see the “sweep” of time. Analog clocks (as opposed to digital clocks) show that time moves and lets your child know where she stands in relation to the rest of the hour or the day.
- Make tasks achievable. Your child is more likely to complete his assignments if they are broken down into manageable parts. It is easier to write one paragraph for an essay in an afternoon than it is to complete the entire research paper. Have him check his planner for available pockets of time and schedule accordingly. Setting unrealistic goals can set children up for failure.
- Break tasks into manageable parts. When tackling a long-term project, work with your child to establish the goal of the project and break down each step into manageable parts. Assign deadlines for completing each one. Rely on visual organizational aids like planners, post-it calendars, or wipe boards (my favorite) to record all important information and deadlines.
- Estimate time. Help your child determine how much time he needs to complete tasks. To become more realistic about how long tasks take, have him write down time estimates and then compare them to the actual time it took to complete the task. The more he records and corrects how long it takes him to do something, the better he will become in narrowing the gap between estimated and actual time.
- Use timers. Devices such as timers and buzzers can help a child self-monitor and keep track of time. For example, during quiet or reading time, a timer placed on a desk can help your child know exactly where the time is going, and also help her become aware of when transitions to other activities will take place.
- Set it to music! Music is rhythm and rhythm is structure. And we all know that students with learning differences and attention deficits need structure. Music can help a student plan what to do next, anticipate and react, as well as soothe and regulate the brain. Have your child create a 30-minute playlist of music he loves. The key is to play the same playlist every time he sits down to work. Eventually the music will act as a time marker and he’ll know that when he hears Bruno Mars he’s in the homestretch.
- Get active. Put “energy” into her tasks by having your child stand up to read or walk the dog while she reviews her notes. Or set up homework stations around your house and play “Hide the Homework.” Adding energy and fun to her daily routine will keep her motivated and on-task.
Learning to manage time requires learning new behaviors, developing unique strategies, and a great deal of patience. I equate it to running a marathon. As your child’s “coach” it’s your job to help him identify his struggles, improve the skills essential to carrying out important tasks, and assist him in developing strategies and tools to make it to the finish line!
Leslie Josel is the Principal of Order Out of Chaos, an organizing consulting firm specializing in student organizing and chronic disorganization. She is an ADHD specialist and the creator of the “Academic Planner: A Tool for Time Management.”