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Using Timers to Help Kids with ADHD Finish Their Homework and Chores

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If you have a child with ADHD, you probably struggle with getting them to finish tasks like chores and homework. A timer can be a powerful tool to help them complete tasks not only as children but also as adults.

Time Management When Your Child Has ADHD

If you have a child with ADHD, time management is probably a frequent struggle in your house - especially when it comes to chores and homework. Kids with ADHD may be time blind. The typical non-ADHD child works on homework with an internal clock that lets them know how much time has passed and how quickly it is passing as they work. However, kids with ADHD don't feel the passage of time the way other children do, and they often struggle to plan even an hour into their future. A timer can be a helpful way to enhance an ADHD child's ability to finish daily tasks - particularly the ones they are less enthusiastic about (ie, chores and homework).

Timer Strategies

You may wonder exactly how a timer can help your child. While there are a lot of variations on strategies, there are a few tried-and-true methods parents in this situation have found that work well. However, how you use the timer needs to suit the task. Sometimes we want our kids to sustain focus, like when they are studying. Other times, we want tasks done in a reasonable amount of time, like putting away laundry or loading the dishwasher. Vary your strategies to suit the task at hand.

Timer Games

If you are trying to get your child to do chores, timer games may be a more effective strategy to help them finish quickly. I heard this one many times from parents before I tried it with my child - and it worked! The basic premise of a timer game is simple. Set a timer for 'x' number of minutes for a specific task. Let's say the chore is picking up the toys and putting them away. Explain that if your child gets it done before the timer goes off, then they can have 15 minutes of free time to do something they want. It can be phone time, play time, or whatever motivates your particular child. Students have said that if they suffered from a lot of anxiety over time limits, playing the game helped them learn how to work through it and persevere.

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The Pomodoro Technique

The best timer strategies I know are ones that other parents have taught me. However, every child with ADHD is different, so there is no one-size-fits-all strategy. There are strategies you can tweak to work for any child. One easy one is the Pomodoro Technique. The basic strategy is simple:

  1. Set a timer for 25 minutes.
  2. When the timer goes off, set it for a five minute break.
  3. After four 25 minute sessions, set it for a break of 15-20 minutes.

Some parents have shared with me that they needed to shorten the time frame because 25 minutes was too long for their child to focus, especially in the afternoon with ADHD medicine wearing off. They played around with the time until they found an amount that worked for them while still sticking to the rotation breaks. From both the parent and teacher perspective, this strategy works well when we want children with ADHD to sustain their focus rather than rushing to finish a task.

You can even set goals for each chunk of time to help break up activities to make homework time effective. For example, the first Pomodoro study segment centers on multiplication tables and is followed by a five-minute break. The second Pomodoro segment is to read a book silently; it's followed by another five-minute break. During the third segment, the child works on science questions, and after twenty-five minutes, takes a short break. Don't make the goal to complete the task in each segment but rather to focus solely on the given task.

Choosing the Right Timer

There isn't any single 'magic' timer that helps children diagnosed with ADHD complete tasks. Finding a timer requires considering a couple of factors, such as the age of the child, their degree of technological skill, and where and when they will be using the timer.

Visual Timers

A visual timer is often a good place to start looking when you want to find a timer to use with your child. When I say 'visual timer,' most of us probably think they are all visual - after all, we have to read them, right? A genuine visual timer is so much more than that. These types of timers work with kids of all ages, regardless of their ability to read or tell time. That is because the timers use color to help children develop awareness of how much time they have left.

For example, the Time Tracker uses stoplight colors to help a child keep track of time. It starts out green, turns yellow, and finally becomes red when the time is up. The actual 'time' display is very small, which may be less distracting for your child as they work.

Another model is the Time Timer. It has a traditional clock gauge on the front, and as time counts down the red background disappears to help build visual awareness of the passage of time. This model comes in all sorts of forms, from a phone app to a wrist watch. Regardless of the format of the timer, the visual of the red decreasing is constant. Even an old-fashioned sand timer can work as a visual timer!

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Timer Apps

If you have an older child, you may want a timer app. Some timer apps are more traditional, like the ones that come standard on Smartphones. However, some offer a handy added perk for parents. One such app is Forest. The way it works is that when your child needs to stop and focus on a task, they plant a seed and set a specific amount of time. The catch is that if they wander away from the app while they are supposed to be working, such as when checking their email, Facebook or texting, the tree will wither and die. That makes it a bit easier to see if they've wandered away from homework and onto Instagram. It will track the actual amount of time they focused as they continue to use the app, which can help parents and children identify and address issues.

Another helpful timer app for kids with ADHD is the Tomato Timer, which is designed based on the Pomodoro Technique. At the end of the interval, there is an option for a break, and the timer picks up again.

Timers can be Life Changers for ADHD Children

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Initially, when you start using a timer, it may feel like you are working on getting things done more than your child. However, the beauty of switching from nagging to timers is the skills it builds in your child with ADHD. Over time, as they get accustomed to the timer and mature, they can learn to manage it themselves. Many parents of students I teach say that over time their children have become better and more independent time managers after implementing timers. It's a skill they can carry with them into life to help them manage their ADHD and time blindness as they move into college and beyond.

Study.com has engaging video lessons that your child with ADHD can use for homework help or test prep. Learn more here.

By Rachel Tustin
June 2019
k-12 parenting tips & tricks

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