By Stephanie Watson
You probably take some life skills for granted, like knowing when to wake up for work or take your medicines, and how to balance your checkbook. Yet to a teen with ADHD, those tasks can become huge hurdles.
Kids with ADHD tend to be much slower than their peers to learn how to organize, plan, and prioritize, says Cindy Goldrich, EdM, ACAC. She is a certified ADHD coach and parenting specialist with PTS Coaching in Long Island, N.Y.
Kids and teens with ADHD know what they need to do. They just have trouble doing it.
"This is not a challenge of intelligence, this is a challenge of performance," Goldrich says. "They need more structure and more skill support."
With college or a first job on the horizon, here are seven life skills you need to start teaching your child today.
You may have gotten used to doing everything for your teen. Break that habit.
"The teen years need to involve a gradual shift of responsibility to the teen," says Kathleen Nadeau, PhD. She is a clinical psychologist and director of the Chesapeake ADHD Center of Maryland.
Let your child start doing things for herself now, like doing the laundry, cooking dinner, or setting her own dentist and haircut appointments. She'll need those skills in a few years when she's out on her own.
2. Time Management
Kids with ADHD have a false sense of time. "They don't always accurately judge how long things should take," Goldrich says.
During middle or high school you make sure he finishes his homework. Once he gets to college, you won't be there to do that.
Goldrich recommends teaching time management skills with a timer. Figure out how long it takes your child to finish each assignment. Then, break up the total time into chunks.
"Set the timer for 20 minutes and take a 5-minute break. Do that a few times and then take a longer break," Goldrich says.
Use the timer on your smartphone to help him remember other tasks, such as when to wake up for school, take a shower, and eat lunch.
Resist the temptation to pick up the piles of clothes, books, and other messes in your child's room.
"If you keep organizing their room, they will not learn what works and what doesn't," Goldrich says.
Find a system that works for your child, such as bins or a bucket to hold their school supplies and shelves for their books.
Nadeau suggests keeping a "launching pad," a spot to put things kids regularly use, such as their keys and phone, if they have one.
Because money can be a real problem for anyone with impulsivity issues, start developing financial skills now. Some banks will allow you to open a bank account for your teen. Having their own account helps kids learn how to save and manage their allowance and the other money they earn.
"I would suggest getting them a debit card and a credit card," Goldrich says. Put a set amount of money in the debit account and a limit on the credit card. Because you get the statements, you can see exactly what your child spends.
Establish a budget together based on how much your teen will need for clothes, food, and other necessities.
If your child takes ADHD medications, get her in the habit of remembering to take them each day.
You can put her in charge of this, with a little help from a smartphone alarm. This gets her started with taking ownership of this part of her life, though you'll probably have to refill her prescriptions and make her doctor's appointments for several more years.
6. Relationship Skills
You are the gatekeeper of your child's friendships for now. Once he leaves home, you'll have less of a say in the company he keeps.
"It's important for them to understand how much they are influenced by the people around them," Nadeau says.
Encourage your teen to choose friends with similar personalities and interests. A good way to do that is through clubs, sports, and community groups.
7. Wise Decision-Making
ADHD often includes impulsivity, which makes teens more likely to get into trouble with drugs, alcohol, reckless driving, and other problem behaviors.
To help curb that impulsivity, focus on consequences. Set penalties, like no car privileges for 2 weeks if he gets a speeding ticket. And, he has to pay for his own ticket.
If you're having trouble reinforcing these skills on your own, consider calling in a certified ADHD coach. As Goldrich says, "The coach can help them grow."