How to Help Kids with ADHD Understand the Future by Improving Time Management Today

Boy with astronaut helmet on

Kids with ADHD struggle with feeling time which can make thinking about the future abstract and unreal. Time management is an executive functioning skill. Learning to cope with it requires accepting your challenges and understanding that it’s constantly changing. Many people with ADHD who struggle with time management tend to do two things that don’t work. Either they underestimate how long something will take, avoiding it until the last minute and then frantically racing to finish it, or they overestimate how much time it will take, feel overwhelmed, and don’t start it. These patterns negatively affect productivity and performance while increasing stress and anxiety. 

The ADHD brain and the now/not now pattern.

The ADHD brain is a now/not now. The brain is consistently inconsistent. Kids with ADHD have real challenges with focusing on anything other than the present moment. If the ‘now’ is fun and engaging, the ‘later’ can’t compete (it’s out of sight and out of mind). If the ‘now’ is boring and unpleasant, then the ‘later’ lacks all meaning or appeal–you can neither imagine getting through it nor feeling better once the dreaded task is complete. It’s a bit like all-or-nothing thinking combined with the flooding of intense emotions. Follow these tips for teaching your kids with ADHD to understand the future.

4 Kid-Friendly Tips 

Parents talking to twin boys and playing games1. Talk about time with your child or teen 

  • Identify areas of strength and challenges. 
  • Discuss periods of the day when a routine helps them manage time. 
  • Explore parts of the day where time management is complex. 
  • Ask about their perceptions of the past, present and future. 
  • Use analog clocks throughout the house. On an analog clock, the hands tell you the present time, and the open areas show past and future time. Digital clocks only display changing numbers, so we lose that critical visual display of past, present, and future. 

2. Make connections from the past to the present and speculate about the future–together

  • Nurture the concept of the future by strengthening your child’s ability to look backward and see how previous actions and decisions have affected the present. 
  • Use specific markers such as ‘the first day of school’ instead of ‘three months ago to make time real and concrete. This will help your child imagine a future scenario similar to this one. Linking the skills or activities used in the past to what’s coming up provides an acute sense of flow. 

Plan ahead on a sticky note3. Break the future down into manageable chunks

  • Use calendars and checklists for planning out the immediate future. Beyond that, weeks or months are abstract and could have limited meaning for your child or teen. 
  • Set up meaningful incentives to motivate your child to get their tasks done in a timely manner. If doing their homework immediately means your child might earn extra screen time later today or a different bedtime story, they could become more motivated. 

4. Use their imagination as your aide

  • Ask your younger child to imagine themselves as a superhero and ask how they might solve a problem or handle an unpleasant situation.
  • Ask your tween or teen what their older self might think about a current challenge they’re going through and what advice they’d give their younger selves. What simple actions would they want to take based on this advice?

Boy with imagination and book sitting on the floorWhen you engage their imagination about themselves as older or with magical powers, they can step outside of the concerns of the present into a realm of play and creativity. They are freed from logical thinking or memories of failure and have space to consider things from a different perspective. This process helps you work collaboratively on creating effective strategies for the present and the future. 

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