Teen girl reading book All kids — but especially those with ADHD — tend to do better when there is routine and predictability in their lives.

But what happens when their world has been turned upside down and those routines thrown out the window? How are parents to manage without the usual support systems like daycare, school, babysitters, family, and friends to help? Even as schools plan to re-open in the fall, there is a strong likelihood those openings will be staggered, partial and include hybrid learning models.

Here is a process to help parents and caregivers like yourself manage during these chaotic times.

1. Triage

Triage means deciding which tasks you absolutely must get done immediately and which have the highest chance of actually getting done. Focus most of your energy on those tasks.

Choose a time to sit down for five minutes once per day. This will be your triage time. Link that time to something you already do. For example, if you have a cup of coffee first thing in the morning, link your triage time to your coffee. The goal is to spend no more than five minutes figuring out what you, and your children, absolutely must do for the day ahead versus what can be put off. Everything that will get done immediately is called a “Must-Do” item. Everything that can be put off for now is called a “Nice-to-Do” task.

2. Assign responsibility

In addition to deciding what will get done, decide who is responsible for each task. This will help everyone stay accountable and keep people from stepping on each other’s toes. It also helps kids to know when they’ve done enough. If someone completes all of their “Must-Do” tasks, they can choose to get a jumpstart on the “Nice-to-Do” ones. But that is a bonus, not an expectation. Do not nag or wheedle kids to do the “Nice-to-Do” tasks. Just convert those into “Must-Do” items for tomorrow!

Assigning responsibility is one of the most important steps. Think about responsibility as what your child is currently actually capable of doing. The key here is to assign responsibility based on who is going to see a task through. If you wish your fourth grader was able to make sure he did all of his work, but he really hasn’t shown you he can do this consistently, it’s best to identify yourself as the person who is responsible. If you cannot manage to do that task with everything else you have going on, then move it over to the “Nice-to-Do” side of the list. No sense setting people up for failure — neither your kids nor yourself.

3. Share out

After triaging tasks, choose a daily time to share out. Use your existing routines — rather than a specific time of day — anchor this task to make sure it happens. For example, try doing this over breakfast or while the kids are brushing their teeth, instead of “8 in the morning.” This strategy allows for flexibility.

Let everyone in the family know which tasks are their responsibility for the day. See if they have any questions. Going over tasks first is a good way to avoid arguments that arise from kids and parents having different expectations of what a task should look like when completed.

Explain where the list will be so they can check it. Let your kids decide how they want to indicate they’re done: crossing items off, check marks or a triumphant announcement (that then you cross off for them).

4. Set the stage

Our homes are typically not situated to promote independent working for sustained periods of time. Psychologically, most of us are not suited to do our best work where we normally eat, sleep and play.

Help your kids know when they should be on-task by giving them a work location. When they want to relax, they can, but they should be in a relaxation (or play) zone. This way, you’ll know when they are intentionally not working instead of simply off-task.

Keep in mind that an effective work environment varies by person. If you notice your kid can get his work done in the kitchen, then that can be his work space! If your kid insists she works better on the couch but you never see work getting done there, then it’s time to find and use an alternative space. Your rule should be: Judge by the outcome.

5. Get the stuff

Make sure you and the kids have everything you’ll need. It’s much harder to work if you’re constantly stopping to get things you need and to put distracting things away. Decide up front which electronics are allowed in the work spaces and why. Maybe your older child needs a computer to get onto Zoom classes, but not his phone. Maybe taking a break on the tablet is fine, but then the tablet should stay in the relaxation/fun area.

As you’re setting up the environments, make sure everyone understands where electronics can and cannot be.

6. Start

Many parents of kids with ADHD report that starting a task is the most challenging aspect of schoolwork. Respond to difficulty getting started by making the first task smaller. For example, instead of “Do a math worksheet,” the first step could be “Enter your name into the math assignment.” Then praise that progress; let your kid know that getting that done was crucial to the assignment. After all, it was! Keep it light and positive. Keep helping your child see the next small step they can do until they’re on a roll. Then you can step away and attend to other things.

7. Check In

You probably don’t have the time right now to hold everyone to their highest possible standards. Your goal is to get through the day getting done what you absolutely must while preserving your relationship with your children. Eventually, the pandemic will end. Your children will go back to school or daycare full time. What will remain is your relationship with them. To that end, follow the steps here for an effective check-in.

The goal of the check-in is to gather information and provide encouragement for any remaining tasks. Work it into your schedule when it’s least inconvenient for you. Avoid the trap of asking questions and potentially getting lied to in return.

Don’t ask, “Did you do all your work?” Instead, ask to see the assignment page and then ask for your children to show you each of the assignments they’ve completed. Try to spend very little time on the check-in. The check-in is to make sure tasks are getting done, not that they’re perfect. Avoid criticizing performance on tasks that already done. Instead, focus on encouraging your child to wrap up the remaining tasks.

8. Wrap up and reward

At the end of your day, take stock of what everyone completed. Anyone who got all their “Must-Do” tasks done earned something, including you! Small rewards like a cup of tea, an extra story at bedtime, or watching a five-minute video on YouTube are all acknowledgments of hard work that don’t create additional demands.

Anyone who didn’t get all their “Must-Do” tasks done gets them added onto their list for the next day, and they can try again. Save yourself from lecturing, punishing, arguing or even discussing. The day is done, it won’t make a difference; it will only make your kid feel resentful heading into the next day. We want a clean slate!

Summary

Putting new behaviors into place requires knowing when they’re needed. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, consider initiating this sequence of events to help your kid or teen with ADHD stay organized.

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Contributed by: Christina Di Bartolo, LCSW


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