One of the most common questions I’m asked by moms with ADHD is: How am I supposed to teach my child to be organized when I can’t organize myself? Now, if you asked me how many people in the USA have ADD, I could roll the statistics off the tip of my tongue effortlessly.
If you asked how you could set up a filing system, come up with a meal plan, figure out how to organize a closet, how to keep up with school papers coming and going, I’d have some pretty good tips to share.
But teaching children, particularly children with ADHD, how to be organized when we- moms with ADHD- are struggling with those challenges ourselves…well, there is no simple answer.
So it got me to thinking. When there are no simple answers to something in general, it calls for some deeper analysis of the situation.
For one thing, I believe that in instances like this, we have to consider two main options:
A. Change our expectations of ourselves and our children, particularly if they have ADHD or other executive functioning challenges.
B. Get outside help if the task is too hard/stressful stressful and creates tension in the relationship.
C. Ok, I lied. There’s a third: being honest with ourselves and our children by explaining how and why certain things are difficult for us. Time for a family class on ADHD 101.
Looking at the first option:
A. We are typically too hard on ourselves. We may have earned college degrees, have good jobs or have wonderful skills in other areas, yet we chide ourselves for being incapable of keeping our bedrooms tidy. How then do we expect that of our children?
Answer: we stop comparing ourselves to others, embrace and accept our quirky brains and do the best we can. The same goes with our kids: we help them by shadowing them as they work on chores. We make visual charts, and break down each step so that it’s not overwhelming. We remember that saying “clean your room” is like telling them to clean a cruise ship- it’s too daunting and too general. We learn to praise small efforts and not expect perfect results. Simply moving in the right direction is worthy of a smile and compliment.
B. For many families, keeping the house up is simply not found in their DNA. Now, we can keep fighting with each other about the less-than-perfect results and let a clean house become more important than love and respect that each family member deserves.
Or…we can call for help. I personally do not believe that hiring a cleaning crew is a luxury for people with ADHD. If it’s something you can afford, even for just once a month, go to the phone right now and call a maid service. If it’s still not something that is affordable, consider hiring someone who can clean just PART of the house that stumps you. I’m giving you full permission to reach out for help!
C. It’s time to be open about these issues and to come to terms with them. Learning more about how ADD affects us and our families is imperative and leads to acceptance and improvement in self-esteem.
I know you’re still wondering about how exactly to teach your child organizational skills, so here goes:
1. First, complete steps A, B and C above.
2. Understand your child’s strengths and challenges. Is he visual? Use charts for every chore needed to be done.
Example: Cleaning your room should never be given as a sweeping command: “Stevie, go clean your room!”.
Instead, break each step down into doable parts and write them up on a poster board, and tape it to the wall. It can look like this:
a. Pick clothes up from floor and throw down the chute
b. Gather all glasses, bowls, plates and food items and put in sink
c. Find all books and put on shelf
d. Gather up electronic gear and place in box
e. Cover bed with comforter (who cares if the sheets below are a mess?)
The KEY to this, though, is making sure there is a home for everything! Is there enough drawer space for his clothes? If not, time for you two to weed out old, torn clothes.
3. Baby steps! Don’t expect a child (especially one with ADHD) to be able to stick with the program. Give her frequent breaks. For younger kids, consider rewards for every step forward, ie stickers, coins, etc. They can be saved up for a small prize.
4. Make it fun. Now come on…do YOU like to clean your room? What motivates you to attack that project? Usually the reasons are different than for a child, who often could care less what her room looks like. For your child, making it fun could mean having a contest with her siblings to see who picks up socks the quickest. Or it could mean a pizza party that night. Dancing while cleaning, having music blaring, acting silly- be creative! Kids with ADHDH thrive on novelty and drown in boredom (sound familiar?).
5. Praise each and every tiny effort.
6. Did I say, change your expectations? Bring them down a notch. Your child’s room only needs to be safe and relatively clean. I mean, does anyone actually eat off the floor?
Remember, there’s a reason for bedroom doors on kids’ rooms- if you can’t tolerate the way it looks, well…close the door!