Time blindness, hyperfocus, and emotional dysregulation are just a few examples of things that steal a child’s ability to change from one task to another. Whether it is getting out of bed, going to bed, starting and completing a routine, turning off the screen, or leaving the house – many transitions for children with ADHD are challenging.
A very young child’s ability to plan into the future is short-term. The older a child gets, the longer they are able to plan into the future. However, for most children with ADHD, there are only two measurements of time: now and NOT now. The “now” is what is happening at a particular moment. The “not now” is where the future lives, whether it’s an hour from now, tomorrow, next month, or even 5 minutes from now.
With this black and white way of thinking, it makes transitions very difficult for children. Imagine living “in the moment”, whether you’re watching your favorite show, in the middle of a video game, or cooking your favorite dinner, and you were told that it was time to leave right now. You would want to finish what you were doing, right? This is how children with ADHD feel. If they are enjoying the activity that they are doing, they don’t understand why they need to stop, and they don’t anticipate it.
So what can you do to help transitions go smoother?
One way to make transitions easier is to build in rewards. If the task you want them to do does not include one, it can be difficult for them to self-motivate. A simple one could be to praise the child for being good and making good choices, big or small. This can show that you are paying attention to their effort. It could also be tangible items like a sticker chart or a prize bucket to pick from at the end of the day. Some children are most motivated by extra time with electronics, a later bed time, or more one-on-one time. It’s all about finding what best motivates each unique child.
Another thing that can be done is to create a visual schedule. It can help the child understand what is next in the day and what they need to be working on. It doesn’t have to have the child’s full daily schedule. Often times, making the schedules into a few smaller ones works better for a child. For example, having a morning routine, after school routine, night time routing, and so on. Placing the visuals in the kitchen, living room, or a place easily accessible for the child will be most effective.
You can also use timers or alarms as a way to help with transitions. Setting a timer where the child can see it can help them better understand the concept of time and numbers. Instead of using typical numbers for a timer, try using odd numbers like 7 or 13 minutes until the next activity. This can keep the child more involved and is more memorable for them. You can also use timers as a way of keeping children on task. You can set a timer for a certain amount of time and have the child see how much they can get done in that amount of time. This way is more like a game and keeps them motivated.
In some cases, a mental health professional might be able to help you and your child navigate some of these difficulties, especially if you feel you have exhausted your efforts. Therapists can also work cohesively with your primary care doctor and any medication prescribers your child might have to make sure their ADHD is being managed the best that it can be.