Guide ADHD Kids to be Mindful, Organized, and Empowered

(4 min read)

We all get caught up in busy lives of school, work, making meals, cleaning dishes, going to sports and activities, and countless other tasks. As adults we might think it’s easier if we do everything for our kids. We can probably do it better and faster. But this results in kids losing opportunities learn necessary life skills like planning, organizing, scheduling.

Kids with ADHD can struggle with executive function: a set of mental skills that include working memory, flexible thinking, and self-control.

Giving kids with ADHD more autonomy over their daily routines allows them to practice and strengthen their executive function skills. Do you think your kid needs to be more organized? Here is my process for guiding kids to create routines that work for them .

  1. Mindful – adults work to become more mindful of which tasks they can give kids control over while kids learn to become mindful of their new responsibilities
  2. Organized – 4 steps to help kids with ADHD create organizational systems
  3. Empowered – kids learn what works and what doesn’t and then trust themselves to make new decisions

Promoting Mindfulness in Kids with ADHD

I had an “aha!” moment several years ago and realized that I was doing too much for my kids. If I am constantly putting away my kids toys and clothes, then they don’t know where to find them. I will be the one who is asked, “Where is my red sweatshirt?”

I became more mindful of ALL the tasks that were getting done in a day and that I was doing them all. So I thought about which tasks I really needed to do and which ones I could let go. I related it to my kid’s school teaching them about “must dos” and “can dos.” I “must” cook dinner – kids are too young for that. And I “can” organize the school papers and junk that accumulates in the backpacks. That one’s not a “must.”

I kept a running list in my mind of the “can do” tasks – tasks that I could offload and give to the kids. However I knew I needed to make this transition in small steps and with proper support. Instituting an entirely new system to organize clean clothes, school items, and toys all at once would be too much. One area I chose to focus on was the backpack and school-related items.

Adult-created Organization for School Supplies

I thought about the path my kids walk through the house when they get home from school, what is within reach, and how much time they would really spend hanging up a backpack and unpacking its contents.

  • We installed wall hooks at their eye level and close to the door.
  • We used magazine file bins on a nearby countertop to hold papers and other objects that seemed to accumulate inside the backpack.
  • The kids were told to grab all the “papers and stuff” and put them in the bins every afternoon.
  • Then I would help them sort through on the weekend: we would make “keep” and “throw away” piles.
  • The “keep” items could be returned to the magazine bin.

This was a step in the right direction to give kids more responsibility. But the routine was created by me. I realized I needed to teach the kids how to create their OWN routines and systems.

Show kids with ADHD a Process to help them Decide how to Organize their Stuff

Telling a kid with ADHD to “clean your room” or “put away your clothes” is too vague. Each item needs a place to be stored and it’s best if the kid gets to choose these locations. We can guide the kids to THINK and DECIDE how they want to organize their clothes, toys, books, or anything else! Start discussing these four steps with your kid.

  1. Can you SEE the object you want if it’s in a PILE of things?
  2. If an object is PUT AWAY and you don’t SEE it, do you REMEMBER that it’s there?
  3. Think about the LAST PLACE you are usually standing when you are FINISHED with an object.
  4. Then think about where you will be standing the NEXT TIME you need to use that object.

Visit my Printables page for a FREE DIGITAL DOWNLOAD of this graphic plus four EXAMPLES of this process in action!

This set of steps is a process that you will repeat many times. Please do not feel that there is a “right” way to organize anything. And be ready for ideas to not work seamlessly the first time. Adults and kids must be prepared to try, gauge whether the idea was a success or failure, and then TRY AGAIN if needed!

Feeling Empowered from Opportunities to Try, Fail, and Try Again

Asking a kid to make all the decisions about where to store all of their toys or clothes can feel overwhelming! As adults we need to create an environment that welcomes mistakes and missteps. We can model for the kids that mistakes might not feel great but we can LEARN a lot from them.

For example, if your kid plays basketball they probably have a uniform. Up until now you have been washing, drying, and hanging the uniform in the kid’s bedroom closet. You tell your child that you will still wash and dry the uniform but then had over the clean uniform to the child to put away. Ask them, “Where do you want to put this until you need to wear it again?”

The kid might say they want to put the uniform in a drawer. Several weeks go by and each game day the kid is telling you, “I can’t find my uniform. Do you know where it is?”

Instead of criticizing their choice of where to put the uniform you can help them find it and move on. But in a calmer moment you can mention, “I’ve noticed that it’s hard to find the uniform when it’s in the drawer. Do you think you need to put it somewhere else?”

This is how we keep the conversation going and create an environment for growth that is free from shame for making a mistake.

Related Resources for Helping Kids be Independent and Organized:

Visual Schedule for Kids

Write Notes on the Mirror

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