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4 Tips to Help Kids with ADHD Stay Organized

Posted by Jennifer Nail on Jun 2, 2016 5:53:47 PM

Most children need help staying organized, keeping belongings neat and being on time.  This is because the areas of the brain that help us with these skills are still developing (and may not be finished until we are in our thirties!).  Kids with ADHD and/or impaired executive functioning often need even more help, even with seemingly simple tasks like handing in completed homework.   Parents often tell me that they are tired of nagging and fighting, but if they don’t, they are afraid their child won’t succeed.  If you feel like a broken record, or if you just want some tips for your organization toolbox, these strategies might help. 

Boy with ADHD and Backpack going to School1)  Help your child clean out his backpack every evening before doing homework.  

Isn’t it amazing how messy a school bag can get in one day?  To stay on top of clutter and reduce the chance of losing important things (and finding an old lunch buried in the bottom of the backpack), help your child organize his or her backpack each evening before doing homework.    Remove any papers, writing utensils and loose items and help your child put them in the right place.  Everything should have a home—a folder for papers, a pocket for pens and small case or pouch for electronic items like chargers and calculators.  Then, add any extra items needed for the next day, like special projects or gym clothes.  Use the same routine for organizing daily, and soon your child will be able to do this will less help from you, and organizing might just become a habit! 

2)  Get a back-up plan for all those papers.

Have you ever gotten a call or email from your child’s teacher telling you that your child is missing a whole month’s worth of homework assignments?  And you’re baffled, because you dutifully sat with him every night and helped him through all those long division problems?   If your child is the one who is always misplacing permission slips, or does his homework but it somehow never makes it to the teacher, it’s time for a new game plan.  Ask your child’s teacher if he can scan and email his homework as soon as he finishes it.  He can still bring the completed paper assignment the next day, but the scanning method will provide a back up in case that paper mysteriously wanders off.   This is a great strategy to include in your child’s 504 plan if homework completion is a target for improvement.   

3)  The timer is your friend!

When you ask your daughter to set the table, do you often find her somewhere else, like sitting on the steps playing with the dog?  When you ask her why she didn’t do what you asked, does she say “I forgot?”  Using a timer can help.  It may sound counter-intuitive to rush a child who already has trouble paying attention and completing activities, but setting a time limit can help kids stay on task and make it harder for them to wander off without finishing.  Lots of kids think it’s fun to beat the clock!  You might also get to nag less—the timer will let your child know when time is up and the activity should be finished.   Over time, using a timer will help your child develop a sense of time and how long different tasks should take.

4)  Tired of repeating yourself?  Make lists with pictures and words.

Children with trouble paying attention have trouble remembering multi-step directions, even for things they do every day.  Create a list of everyday tasks, like cleaning out the backpack, putting clothes in the hamper, and charging electronic devices.  Some kids will benefit from having pictures of each of the tasks too.  Have your child check off or cross off each item when it’s finished.  Then you’ll know whether things are finished without having to nag or get in a power struggle.  Once your child masters using the list for basic everyday activities, you can create other lists for chores, like picking up toys, setting the table or cleaning the bathroom.  Include a picture of what the finished product should look like and all the supplies that are needed.   When your child says he’s finished, help him compare his work to the picture of the desired end result and fix any steps he missed.  Be sure to praise your child for his effort and attitude, even if the final product needs improvement. 

CHADIS is a unique screening, decision support and patient engagement system designed to streamline and optimize healthcare by providing Clinicians with evidence-based data that improves diagnosis and management of health, emotional, developmental and behavioral concerns.

Ask your physician for any of the many resources CHADIS has on ADHD.

 For more information on ADHD:S

Posted by Jennifer Nail

Dr. Jennifer Nail is a research associate at the Center for Promotion of Child Development through Primary Care with a background in child clinical psychology. Dr. Nail also has had additional post-doctoral training both in mental health and epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine Division of Child Psychiatry. Her published research is focused on treatment of child anxiety and child exposure to trauma. She is project manager of the CHADIS NIMH funded ADHD questionnaire validation research and decision support development projects.

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