pieces of fruit beside a lunch box full of food and bottles of juice and milk on the right

Opportunities for Kids with ADHD to Learn Life Skills

4 min read

I have seen my kids, who have ADHD, struggle to plan out a series of tasks or organize their studying. Kids with ADHD need to practice these life skills to become confident students and independent adults.

I know that they struggle with executive function (EF) like many kids with ADHD do. Task initiation, planning, time management, and self-awareness in their actions are all challenging for my kids because of their ADHD. I feel the need to help my kids manage all of their daily and weekly activities.

So as I spent another week drowning in work, laundry, groceries, dishes, and raising kids I was struck by an idea.

How did my to-do list become this long?

And then another idea.

Why should all of these tasks be mine?

Rebalance demands on Family Life

I began to reassess where all these pressures and expectations were coming from and how I allowed that to happen. I began to see a sneaky pattern of society and school pushing so many tasks on ME that I thought it was my responsibility to accomplish all of them.

In pushing unnecessary expectations on parents and caregivers we feel burdened and overwhelmed and our kids lose the chance to learn how to plan, how to speak up for themselves, and how to make informed decisions that direct their lives.

We must create a better balance of responsibilities and learning opportunities for kids with ADHD.

Expectations from Society Lean too much on Parents and Caregivers

Have you had to review and sign a reading log or homework chart for your child? I find nothing to be a bigger waste of my time or my kid’s time. Sorry teachers. But this is a mom who is concerned with efficiency and meaningfulness.

We all have a limited number of hours in the day and I think those hours should be spent on meaningful tasks. The brainpower of a kid with ADHD should not have to use energy on remembering to show their caregiver the reading log after school.

In my experience my kid usually remembers to show me the paper in the morning rush, after breakfast and as everyone is dashing to grab keys, backpacks, and put on shoes.

Instead of my kid trying to control their mental focus on the reading log I would rather they actually READ the book, REMEMBER what they read, and be able to have a detailed CONVERSATION about the story.

Biking to school as a way to practice time management

Another topic that irks me in the same way is school transportation. I live in an area where busing to school is not common. Most families live close enough to their respective schools that the kids must walk or bike or the adults drive the kids to school. Every morning. And then pick them up every afternoon.

How much of a caregiver’s day can be lost to driving kids to and from school?

On one particular day my kid was biking to school. He was running last that morning and I was stifling the urge to yell at him to move faster. I did however keep reminding him of the time. I wanted this moment to be a life lesson – letting reality give him the consequences, not me.

As he biked off to school I saw many cars returning from dropping off their kids. I wondered if the other parents would judge me for making my kid late to school. For a moment I felt guilty.

I felt a strong urge to shake off that guilt. Where did this expectation come from that the adults were in control of where the kids are on time or late? Maybe this is an artifact from when the kids were toddlers an we had to control their movements and time management more carefully.  Or maybe we feel the pressure from the school (whether real or imagined) to make sure our kids are on time.

But kids who are in school, even elementary school, are capable of being in control of their time management.

If we steal this opportunity from the kids to manage their time then we stunt their development and their ability to strengthen their executive function skills.

Kids with ADHD need MORE practice on their planning, organizing, and decision-making…not less!

How to Decide which Responsibilities to Give Back to the Kids

Start by thinking about how many things you help you kid with in one day. This could be packing a lunch, organizing a backpack, reminding them to plug in their school laptop, or anything else.

Then think about which task or part of a task you can transfer to the kid. You know your kid best and you know what they are capable of doing.

Sure, they might not pack their lunch the same way you would and it might take a little longer. But if you are able to stay patient and not take over the task, then you are creating a learning opportunity.

This might even involve you walking OUT OF THE ROOM so you do not have to watch how the kid is doing the work.

Packing lunch teaches kids how to plan and organize

A kid packing their own lunch involves a range of skills and series of decisions.

  • What do I want to eat today?
  • Do I want to repeat what I ate yesterday or am I in the mood for something different?
  • Opening fruit cups took too much time. I will just pack a whole apple.
  • I like having a snack to eat during math class so I will pack extra crackers.
  • I want a ham sandwich. Where do I find the bread, ham, and mayo? Then I’ll need a bag for the sandwich.

All of these thoughts in the kid’s brain are guiding them to learn from previous experiences, plan a series of tasks, organize tangible objects, visually scan their kitchen for what they need, and physically pack everything in the lunch box so so it fits (this last one works on spatial relationships).

Just look at all the skills your kid was able to practice because you let them!

For a kid with ADHD whose executive function skills might lag behind those of their peers this extra real-life practice builds confidence and strengthens EF skills without the kids realizing it.

I consider this a win-win situation for all involved.

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Related posts: Empower Kids for School Success, Sharpening Observation Skills, Focus on the Learning Process, not the Grade

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