Developing stress-free morning routines for children with ADHD

Parenting can be overwhelming. This is most likely due to the tremendous amount of energy, organization and emotional stamina it takes each morning to get everyone out the door and get through each day. And the process can be even more complicated if your child has ADHD, which burdens an already hectic schedule and makes your day feel more frenzied.

It is important to remember that a morning routine begins with getting out of bed and ends with departing for the day’s activities. Different family members may have different routines, but they all need to be coordinated to provide your family with a smoother beginning to each day. Before setting up your routine, answer the following questions:

  • What time should each family member get up in the morning?

  • What should be done if that family member oversleeps?

  • Who needs help getting ready for school and who will help them?

  • What time is breakfast and who prepares it?

  • When is departure time?

Additionally, you may find you need to do a little problem-solving as you answer each question. For example, maybe the “late-sleeper” needs an earlier bedtime. Maybe the “can’t-find-my-shoes” kid needs to lay out clothes the night before. And maybe it would help to have healthy grab-and-go breakfasts available for mornings when someone is running late.


Do

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  • ask for help
  • write up your morning schedule
  • practice to see how long it takes to complete each task
  • prepare for breakfast
  • accomplish as much as you can the night before
Don't

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  • assume everyone will wake up on schedule or easily
  • nag or give repeated individual instructions
  • leave items to pack all around the house
  • wait for dawdlers
  • rescue

Patricia O. Quinn, MD‘s recommendation to ExpertBeacon readers: Do

Do ask for help

Have a family meeting and clearly delineate who will oversee the various steps involved in getting out of the house each morning. For example, dad will supervise dressing and brushing teeth, and mom will be responsible for breakfast and carpool. For single moms, clearly establish what role the kids will have each morning.

Do write up your morning schedule

Post the schedule where all can see. Use pictures for younger kids, so they will know what is their responsibility. By referring to the schedule, all family members–even the little ones–can remain organized and see what needs to be done next. A posted schedule also fosters independence.

Do practice to see how long it takes to complete each task

Be creative and make the run-through fun. Use a timer to move things along if necessary. For example, try recording your morning schedule on tape with various songs as accompaniment. And if your family hears “When Irish Eyes are Smiling,” they should all be in the kitchen eating breakfast.

Do prepare for breakfast

Storing all breakfast items, such as cereal, breakfast bars, bowls and spoons, in the same drawer or kitchen cabinet will allow children to help themselves. Keeping a bowl of fruit on the counter and frozen breakfast meals that kids can heat up in the microwave will offer them additional healthy choices and the opportunity to learn to care for themselves.

Work as a family to create a list of the breakfast choices available and keep it on the fridge to facilitate a smoother breakfast time. Be creative. That leftover chicken leg from last night’s dinner may be just what a picky, anti-breakfast son or daughter is looking for–and it is a great protein source.

Do accomplish as much as you can the night before

Make lunches. Check book bags to ensure everything is packed. Sign all permission slips. Choose the clothes that both you and the children will wear the next day. Now is the time to make sure all clothes are clean and mended with no buttons missing. Locate both shoes. Taking a bath or shower the night before also can save time in the morning.


Patricia O. Quinn, MD‘s professional advice to ExpertBeacon readers: Don't

Do not assume everyone will wake up on schedule or easily

Establish a wake-up routine, such as an alarm clock, parent wake-up or phone call. Sometimes, children with ADHD may need to wake up 30 minutes early and take their medication, fall back to sleep and re-awaken with the medication in effect to help the morning run more smoothly.

Do not nag or give repeated individual instructions

With a list or chart (written or picture schedule), each family member, including the youngest, will know exactly what he or she has to do and at what time. Parents don’t need to nag or give individual instructions. They just have to remind the child to look at his/her list or chart.

Do not leave items to pack all around the house

Have a designated spot for all items that need to be taken with you in the morning. This includes briefcases, book bags, lunches, musical instruments, gym clothes, signed permission slips and dry cleaning to drop off. This could be as simple as a large, red plastic box located next to the front door. In the morning, just pick it up and you are off.

Do not wait for dawdlers

Waiting for–or helping–them get ready will only reinforce the dawdling behavior. The consequences of not getting down to breakfast or not being able to find matching socks will be much more powerful than yelling, nagging or finding their shoes for them.

Do not rescu

Even if you have the time, do not rescue your child because it sends the wrong message and fails to teach your child to be independent and self-reliant. Refrain from always saving the day by bring the forgotten lunch, homework assignment, book, missing permission slip for the field trip or equipment for after-school activities. Working with your child to set up systems that solve the problem is a much more effective use of everyone’s time.


Summary

Getting out of the house each morning can be a hair-raising experience. But a little planning ahead and teamwork can go a long way to creating a saner morning routine and a calmer, more productive day for everyone involved.

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