ADHD: 7 Life Skills Your Child Needs to Master

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on June 24, 2016
4 min read

Most adults take life skills for granted. You know when to wake up for work, when to take medication, and how to balance your checkbook. Yet to a teen with ADHD, those tasks can be huge hurdles.

Kids with ADHD tend to be much slower to develop skills needed to organize, plan, and prioritize than their peers, says Cindy Goldrich, a certified ADHD coach and parenting specialist in Long Island, N.Y.

Kids and teens with ADHD know what they need to do. They just have trouble doing it. The good news is that life skills can be taught.

"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 to start teaching your child today.

You may be 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, a clinical psychologist and director of the Chesapeake ADHD Center of Maryland.

Let your child do things for herself now, like 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.

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 she finishes her homework. Once she gets to college, you won't be there to do that.

Goldrich says to teach 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 her remember other tasks, such as when to wake up for school, take a shower, and eat lunch. Then, have her set her own timers.

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 says keep a "launching pad." That’s a spot to put things kids regularly use, such as their keys and phone, if they have one. Then, they will always know where to find them.

Because money can be a real problem for anyone with impulsivity issues, help them develop 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.

Establish a budget together based on how much your teen will need for clothes, food, and other necessities. Have them talk with you about purchases. And because you get the statements, you can see exactly what your child spends.

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 or app. She can start to take ownership of this part of her life. But you'll probably have to refill her prescriptions and make her doctor's appointments for several more years.

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, values, and interests. A good way to do that is through clubs, sports, and community groups.

ADHD often includes impulsivity. That 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 she gets a speeding ticket. And she has to pay for her own ticket. Then enforce them.

If you're having trouble helping your teen build skills on your own, consider calling in a certified ADHD coach. As Goldrich says, "The coach can help them grow."